Ron Rosenbaum, Writer

February 3, 2008

Tom Petty Gets (Some) Respect Tonight

Filed under: Uncategorized — ronrosenbaumwriter @ 3:10 pm

…or maybe not. Petty detractors (in both senses of the word) will use his Superbowl halftime appearance tonight against him. “Too mainstream.” While to me he still doesn’t get the respect he deserves from the non mainstream. I just got a copy of his latest best hits collectionAnthology and although there are two unforgivable omissions, there are a certain songs therein that, to me place him in the Neil Young, Van Morrison, Bruce class to which usually is denied entry.

One of the Great Omissions in the new collection: Louisiana Rainone of the all time great driving songs–the kind of song driving was invented for– or for binge CD repeat listening. Or both.

And come on: Refugee! The harsh but compassionate analog to Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone”. Along with Even the Losers and The Waiting, it makes you realize that the way Dylan and the folkies had compassion for the economically and racially oppressed, Tom Petty reaches out to the emotionally oppressed, the love-deprived and love-sick, and tells the oppressor Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around(The hard-to-resist duet with Stevie Nicks is on here.)

Then there’s American Girl: holds its own with Bowie’s “Young Americans” and when paired with Petty’s classic California girl tribute, Free Fallin’you realize one thing he does better than most is write songs that display a good natured dazzled and respectful awe at American girls that would make Brian Wilson smile

And then for pure pop pleasure Here Comes my Girl. So directly joyful. It’s the kind of charmingly earnest song that if you find yourself driving with someone you love and it comes on the radio, you point to her and make her giggle, embarrassed and (usually) pleased.

And then his inspirational songs. I promise to post this before halftime, so I can make this prediction that one of the numbers he does is I Won’t Back Down. And good for him: We all need songs to psych us up at times, right? This is one of those songs.(I’ll bet the other one he does tonight is “Refugee” unless they veto it on grounds it’s too political, considering the immigration issue. Don’t let them Tom!)

). But there’s a little known Tom Petty song from a movie soundtrack that is the other Great Omission of the new greatest hits album. Another inspirational song of a sort. It was from the soundtrack of an Ed Burns movie She’s the One( whatever happened to Maxine Bahn?) and it’s called Walls and its refrain “Even walls can fall” is fuel for optimism for lovers about to give up hope everywhere.

But wait, there’s also the obvious-from-the-title uplift of Learning to Fly, and if you’re tired of uplift then you’ve got to go straight for the brilliant melancholy Straight Into Darkness. An amazing little known lost-love song. “Being in love is a man’s salvation./The weak get strong, The strong carry on…/Straight into darkness.” The ringing guitar riff both celebratory and funereal that undergirsds the words “straight Into darkness” is a killer.

Give the guy some respect is all I’m asking.



  1. Petty and the Heartbreakers revitalized Dylan on the 1985 tour with gems like “Across the Borderline” and “Lucky Old Sun” and Petty’s absolute best is his cover of “License to Kill” at Bobfest 1992, but tonight was all about the GIANTS…WOW!!! Hillary drops out Wednesday.

    Comment by charlie finch — February 4, 2008 @ 1:00 am | Reply

  2. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers are, in my opinion, the greatest American rock band. They have done so many perfect, PERFECT songs. “Even the Losers” is my favorite, and I also really love the stuff they did with Stevie Nicks (especially “Insider,” which just kills me with “I’ve had to live with some hard promises”).

    I thought they were great last night. The whole stadium singing along to “Free Fallin'” was wonderful. My only complaint is Mike Campbell’s new hairdo. . .but his outfit was inspired.

    Comment by jaime — February 4, 2008 @ 10:33 am | Reply

  3. Petty is under-rated. You’ve got to be a pretty good songwriter to stay in the room with Bob Dylan, and Dylan’s Wilbury work with Petty was probably the strongest stuff he produced in that period. He knows his stuff, too– his XM Radio show, “Buried Treasures” is consistently well programed, and his commentary demonstrates a deep respect for the music that influenced him.

    His band is pretty good, too.

    Comment by Bill Altreuter — February 4, 2008 @ 1:21 pm | Reply

  4. Ron –

    Can’t agree more (about Tom Petty being “underrated”). There is nothing harder than consistently turning out pop gems with a fair amount of bite. My preference is for Tom’s earlier, “spikier” version (1977-79). Back in the days when guys like Petty, and John Hiatt (for that matter), were considered “punk.” Or “new wave.” Or whatever.

    Anyway, my brother used to make me mix tapes (while I was on a Mormon mission to Mexico City), and the one I treasure has early Petty. (I wove in the Mormon business because I knew you were sick of discussing it, but I must say that it never would have occurred to Mitt Romney, or me, for that matter, to have questioned the church on Blacks and the priesthood, baptim for the dead, etc. It’s just too much of a top-down institution. And more’s the pity. Believe me, Mormons are struggling with the questions you have raised, which are quite fair and apt in my view.) Cheers.

    Thanks on both counts.

    Comment by Don Dalton — February 4, 2008 @ 2:23 pm | Reply

  5. Former Sleater-Kinney guitarist Carrie Brownstein had some good commentary on the musical implications of Tom Petty’s performance.

    Comment by Shane — February 4, 2008 @ 5:14 pm | Reply

  6. I don’t think I’d heard an entire Tom Petty song until I flipped to the 4-hour doc directed by Bogdanovich – Running Down a Dream. Couldn’t stop watching. I agree about Petty being underrated but not quite about the half-time show. It was terrific, but . . . I kept thinking I was watching a man who’d played all those songs more times than he’d ever intended. A little like watching The Band during The Last Waltz. Terrific performances, but also tired, in a way. The Band, that night, seemed more interested in playing music by other people than in playing their own. At the Super Bowl, even the best moments seemed a little like they were on automatic pilot.

    So I couldn’t dream of Dylan showing up for a kick-ass “Like a Rolling Stone” before the second half started?

    Comment by Ed — February 6, 2008 @ 7:49 pm | Reply

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