There is nothing more American than a Tom Petty song.
And…. those perfect moments when it’s mid-summer, top down, two-lane highway straight ahead, “I Won’t Back Down” on the radio would come along and make that picture perfect moment that much better. And most of the time you didn’t realize it, you just sang along to the song. But like a songwriting ninja, that 3-minute moment became indescribably better because Tom Petty filled the air.
Much like his career, Petty flew under the radar, with a treasure trove of music that always reminded me of my childhood, much like everyone else in my age group. However, there are distinct moments that are burned into my psyche, most notably Petty’s music videos.
I was 6 when “Don’t Come Around Here No More” was released, and the video, which had an Alice in Wonderland motif, got heavy airplay on MTV. I was scarred for life. As an adult the song became one of my favorites. “Running Down a Dream,” with an LSD inducing cartoon sequence was, is, amazing, “Refugee,” where I wondered how he could shut his mouth over those front teeth, and “The Waiting” where The Heartbreakers played on ginormous boxes that had no reason to be in the space, and where I concentrated on the phrase “the hardest part” cause he said it weird, as if he couldn’t move his tongue.
Wildflowers was always my favorite album of his. Each song could be listened to alone, as well as under the umbrella of a full record. Petty’s simplistic, unassuming, and unpretentious songwriting felt so natural. The 3 minute pop songs were crafted, not written, and I challenge anyone in the world to try to do it. Delivering pizzas became easier with each song. “You Don’t Know How it Feels” was so taboo in 1994 when they silenced the word ‘joint’ during the chorus. But It’s the brilliance of songs like “Wildflowers”, “You Wreck Me”, “Only a Broken Heart”, and “A House in the Woods” that really put his songwriting on display. “Time to Move On” was the lead song on a mixtape that I made for my first love, and subsequently, my first heartbreak. It is a stellar album.
Related: Quiz your Tom Petty knowledge
I mean, who can say that they played in a band with Roy Orbison, Bob Dylan, George Harrison, and Jeff Lynne in The Traveling Wilburys. He had a monster hit as a duet with Stevie Nicks, “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around”, and resurrected his old band from his youth with his buddies in Mudcrutch. And… Mudcrutch released two stellar albums of material.
Whether you know it or not, Petty is somewhere behind the scenes of pivotal moments in your life. He was like your favorite blanket that you took with you to college, or your cool uncle that Mom didn’t think was responsible enough to take you anywhere. He was the man, and he will be missed.
Raise your glass….
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