Ruminations on TV Shows, Comics, And Music
I've mentioined this before, but growing up, my parents were lost in the 50s and 60s. Almost all of the music they listened to was Motown, Doowop, Soul Music, and Nostalgic Country. There were Some 80s albums in our house (by the mid-80s anyway). But you were more likely to find a Mousercise album than anything New Wave or even pop. We did have a copy of Thriller mixed in with my Stories on Record (mostly Disney movie synopsies), but I'm pretty sure that was legally mandated at the time. We had more stand up comedy albums than we had top ten music albums.
While my parents' collections were all on vinyl, I eventually started using my newspaper route money to buy tapes. My collection was pretty much all Broadway musicals and Ronnie Milsap until, hanging out with friends I was introduced to Bruce Springsteen, Bon Jovi, Guns & Roses, Poison, and Def Leppard. One of those things was not like the others. But I kept listening to the music that my friends thought were cool. Until one day, visiting my neighbor's house, I heard two albums that I thought my friends might like, but also my parents might not hate. Because they Hated my tape collection from Phantom Of The Opera to Anthrax. Those two albums, Juice Newton's Juice (which was eight years old at that point) and Tom Petty's Full Moon Fever. I only ever bought the one Juice Newton album, but from Full Moon Fever, I built my Tom Petty collection backwards until I had every tape of his I could find, and I bought Into The Great Wide Open, Greatest Hits, Wildflowers, the Playback box set, She's The One, and Echo the weeks they came out. It took me longer to get his 21st century output, but I did get it all, usually within a few months of release.
I wore out several of his tapes. He was one of the first artists I bought on CD. Until I got all hopped up on buying bootleg albums in high school, I had more Tom Petty albums than any other artist.
Now, my Petty love is very specific. I *like* almost all Petty, but the era between Full Moon Fever and Wildflowers is my jam. The other eras of this discography will be akin to The Cars and Queen, where I smoosh a few albums together to make a super album, but the mid-era Petty will be similar to the U2 and Pearl Jam where I actually make the albums longer by including B-sides, rarities, and more.
The first album is definitely a pre-Full Moon Fever Greatest Hits. The radio definitely influenced which early Petty songs I learned, consumed, and sang along with. I don't think there are any true surprises on this album, it's just a really solid collection of Tom Petty writing catchy three-minutesish pop rock.
If you're going to start setting up tracks for a Tom Petty discography, and you don't start off with some jangly guitars, you're doing The Heartbreakers, Tom, and anyone listening to the project a huge disservice. There are going to be a ton of jangly riffs, so why not start off with one of his best? The title of American Girl may give you the impression that we're starting with something at least vaguely political but, no lyrically this song gets as deep as Oh yea / all right / take it easy baby / make it last all night / She was / an American girl. So, fun and jangly, not so much critiquing the mores of modern American society. It's a pretty sweet opener.
Similarly, you might take a look at the second track and think, Refugee? Is this going to be vague early U2-like political rock? Nahhhh. It's really just appropriative lyrics in a love song. But generically appropriative. You cold modernize the word and imagery of like a refugee to in the closet, and it would make more sense. You don't have to live in the closet just doesn't have the easy rhyming of the word refugee.
We manage to get to the third song of the album without any drug references, and shockingly, he's not talking about weed but the cocaine of the impending '80s jerk who's trying to steal the object of his affection in Listen To Her Heart. But if she's done any of that cocaine, you're not going to have to listen very hard to hear her heart. I wonder if the drumline in this song is meant to be her frantic heartbeat.
I love the lone drumbeat that starts Breakdown, as well as the way the guitar creeps in, politely, to take over the lead.
Another drum intro, followed by some more jangly guitar riffs, and then, one of my favorite rock tropes, the lead singer speaks the beginning of each verse before falling into the melody. Here Comes My Girl. Growing up, I thought the chorus was Yea, she looks all right / she's all I need tonight. Turns out it's Yea she looks so right, which is a much more complimentary line but makes me enjoy the song just a little less.
Fooled Again (I Don't Like It) is the first song on this album that wasn't a hit. It's vocals are too weirdly straining, almost like Bob Dylan doing a David Byrne impression, or vice-versa. This song wasn't on my radar until I started doing a writing project where I wrote a poem for the title of every Tom Petty track. Something about the alternating dark, spacey verse backing (for Tom Petty, this ain't The Cure) against the usual happy fuzzy Petty guitars just stands out against his other early work. I also love the I don't like it mantra outro.
Unlike most of my discographies, I don't blend the songs into each other much on Petty albums. His songs don't really lend themselves to fading. But I do like the progression from "Fooled Again" to this other Not A Hit track, You're Gonna Get It. I love the multiple breakdown structure, how it both does and doesn't sound like the 70s album rock that dominated the rock and roll that was being overshadowed by disco. The background vocals are pure disco, but his vocals and the piano and guitar are pure album rock. There's also the open spaceiness, spilling over from the previous track.
You Got Lucky brings us back to the classic Petty hits. But it's incredibly synthy. This could almost be a track from The Cars. The twangy bassline is also a nice touch.
The cover for this "album" is from the video for Don't Come Around Here No More, a lovely weird track that Dave Stewart, from the Eurythmics, wrote about and for Stevie Nicks. The background vocals are completely unlike anything Fleetwood Mac and add a surreal touch to what would otherwise be a pretty basic Petty song.
The natural pairing for "Don't Come Around Here No More" is Stop Dragging My Heart Around, another song by Dave Stewart, this one on a Stevie Nicks album. But the track is just drenched in Heartbreaker. Even without Petty's vocals, it would be hard not to hear the guitar on this song and not imagine Petty playing it.
The Waiting is the only song I've taken from Petty's Hard Promises album. It's not lyrically amazing. It's a song that I heard so many times on classic rock radio in the 90s that I may only enjoy it through some sort of Stockholm Syndrome. Petty's sound especially goofy during the verses, which makes the trite lyrics more palatable.
The drumline intro and building bassline, followed by the It's just the normal noises in here always throw me. What Tom Petty song is th---ahhh, Even The Losers. This is another song that I have heard so many times that I know all the lyrics. Is it one of his best? I don't know anymore. But it does make me want to do the White Guy Shoulder Dance.
It's been awhile since we've had a Billy Joelesque piano lead in. Don't Do Me Like That falls into the triumvirate of the Generic That songs, along with Hall & Oates's "I Can't Go For That" and Meatloaf's "I Would Do Anything For Love (But I Won't Do That)". Unlike those songs, I understand his Generic That.
I Need To Know feels a bit like Refugee but the vocals are buried a bit deeper between the jangle and the spare piano notes. Petty gives a great Waaaaaaaaaaah! before The Heartbreakers hit a guitar solo and keyboard sweep. Pure 70s rock and waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah.
The original Southern Accents was the first Petty album I bought after Full Moon Fever (again, I built my collection backwards). Spike struck me as such a weird, dark, echoey song for Tom Petty. I loved it instantly. I love the doot-dooo d'doo-doo doos and how they counterbalanced his less-nasally-than-usual vocals. Plus, who doesn't love a heavy panting dog outro?
The final track is the title track for this album. Southern Accentsis the first real ballad in this discography. The soft drums, the chord-focused piano. I think these final two songs are a great way to signal that there is an evolution taking place in Petty's music, and it's about to sound very different, while still sounding very ... ummm ... Petty?