Category Archives: Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers

Rocks In The Attic #530: Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers – ‘Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers’ (1976)

rita530It’s a shame that the songwriting of Tom Petty hasn’t earned him a personalised adjective like other famous rockers. You could throw a couple of chords together and somebody might say it sounds Dylanesque, or if your song has a melodic walking bassline it could be accused of sounding McCartneyesque. But unfortunately if you write a song that has all the hallmarks of a Heartbreakers song, nobody says that it sounds a bit Petty. Maybe this does happen and all the recording studio bust-ups are over a simple misunderstanding.

I recently had a week off work. I caught a horrible virus from my four-year old, and felt like death for a few days. During that week – and you need that amount of time to set aside – I watched Peter Bogdanovich’s four-hour Tom Petty documentary Runnin’ Down A Dream. I would probably have enjoyed it more if I hadn’t been ill, but it was a really great watch regardless.

It’s become de rigueur for an all-encapsulating documentary to be directed by a big-name director. As well as Bogdanovich’s Petty-thon, there’s Scorsese’s doco on George Harrison, and Cameron Crowe’s Pearl Jam film. Concert films attract big names too – Jonathan Demme’s work with Talking Heads and Neil Young, Scorsese’s Last Waltz with the Band, Wim Wenders foray into Cuban music, Taylor Hackford’s profile of Chuck Berry, Scorsese’s and Hal Ashby’s work with the Stones. The list is endless, and probably driven by the fact that most film directors are big fans of music to begin with.

I can’t make my mind up about Tom Petty. I love his earlier material, like this album and the unequalled  Damn The Torpedoes, but his later work in the ‘80s, ‘90s and beyond stray a little too close to the middle of the road for my liking. Maybe I’m just being a little Petty in saying that.

Hit: American Girl

Hidden Gem: Breakdown

Rocks In The Attic #318: Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers – ‘Damn The Torpedoes’ (1979)

RITA#318I never really understood Tom Petty. He seems to carry an air of grandeur around with him, and whenever he appears as a talking head on music documentaries, he’s a bit unnerving to watch – the guy can look like a freakin’ zombie. I’m guessing him and sunlight are not best friends .He also seems to be the weak link in the Travelling Wilburys. Well, him and Jeff Lynne. Damn, Jeff Lynne is even the weak link in E.L.O.

I had never really heard anything of note by Petty except for cheesy radio-friendly hits like Free Fallin’, so there was obviously something I was missing. I knew this album – that red album by Tom Petty – was supposed to be a classic, so I picked it up at a record fair in Auckland last year.

What a great record, a truly solid album. There are three big hits – Refugee, Here Comes My Girl and Don’t Do Me Like That – but the rest of the album stands up very well. All killer, no filler, as they say.

Production-wise, the album sounds ahead of its time. Produced by Jimmy Iovine, it has a remarkable feel, released in the last year of the 1970s but achieving the kind of clarity of sound that would be synonymous with 1980s production.

I’m not sure if I agree with Rolling Stone when they said that this is “the album we’ve all been waiting for – that is, if we were all Tom Petty fans, which we would be if there were any justice in the world,” but I’m glad I have this album in my collection.

Hit: Refugee

Hidden Gem: You Tell Me