Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Tom Petty: Day Three.

I became friends with a guy named Al. He worked at J&R Music World. I showed up every Friday with my allowance and bought three records for $9.97. Back then, a new record, $6.98 list, was priced at $3.69 in J&R. They also had a small area behind the front door, to the left, where they sold budget records for $1.69. Every Friday, I would race downtown and buy two new records and one budget record, and leave myself $.03 for the week.

Al got a kick out of me. One Friday, he held up a copy of the first Tom Petty record and said, "Buy this. It's the greatest rock and roll band in the world." I looked at the picture on the cover and asked, "Is that YOU?" Al looked liked Tom Petty. He laughed and said, "No. I live on Sullivan Street." I didn't buy the record, but Al and I remained friends, always talking music, especially on the day I bought Steely Dan's "Aja," which was priced at $4.49, and threw off my whole pricing scheme. "What gives?" Al informed me it was the first $7.98 list record that he had seen. I remember almost every trip to, and every record I bought at J&R and every time I listen to Tom Petty, I think of Al and how he wasn't so far off base with his proclamation about The Heartbreakers.

It always takes a death to motivate the living, especially in music. For weeks after David Bowie's death, you couldn't find a copy of "Ziggy Stardust" for less than $100, a record that sold regularly for $25. In 2002, on Bowie's NYC Marathon" tour, where he a played a small club in each of the five boros, I saw him play three times. (I skipped Staten Island and Queens.) "Jimmy's Bronx Cafe" was 3/4 full...for David Bowie. I stood to the left on a cat walk and was able to freely make my way up to the front of the stage a number of times during the performance. I stood in front of David Bowie, with room to breathe. I could see the color of his socks, that's how close I was. It's hard to believe, but it's true. No one gave a crap about David Bowie from 1989 until his death in 2016.

So here we are again, binge listening to another artist whose untimely death has rattled the music world. And here am I, guilty as ever, rediscovering the Tom Petty records I own but thought I didn't care for. Even as a fan, I never liked "A Woman In Love," and "The Waiting," great the first 10,000 times I heard it, was something I thought I never needed to hear again. So, "Hard Promises" never gets pulled off the shelf. But it did yesterday. It's fantastic. I am listening chronologically and taking notes on the songs that seem new to me. I'm already excited by the list.

So back to Al and J&R for a minute. He played "Breakdown" for me that first day and I hated it. I still don't like it and once I realized it was a direct rip of "Cheating" by The Animals, I hated it even more. I never bought Tom Petty's debut. But my friend and neighbor Frank, someone I spent hundreds of hours with, just drinking beer and spinning records, played "Hurt" for me, a song on Side One of the then just released, second Heartbreakers record, "You're Gonna Get It." Frank had a great stereo and everything sounded amazing. Those opening chords shot me into the stratosphere and to this day, "Hurt" remains my favorite Tom Petty tune. It may not be his best, but it was my first.

Someone mentioned on Monday how one of the saddest things about Petty's death was never knowing how much more music he had left to give. I don't know. Maybe that's true. One thing though, he sure did go out on top. If you are suddenly feeling like hearing new Tom Petty music, listen to those records you think you know. I bet you'll find a dozen new favorites.


Rodger Stroup said...

"You're Gonna Get It" was the Petty record that hooked me. I didn't care for the debut, but " Listen to Her Heart" and "When the Time Comes" were it for me. It took, I can't believe I'm writing this, 40 years for me to buy the first album again. I traded it in the first time I bought it, back when it was released. I'm not crazy about "Breakdown" either, but I kicked myself for not being more patient with the debut when I bought it the first time. Patience wasn't my strong suit when I was 20.

I've welcomed every Petty record since, grabbing them up on the day they dropped. I've seen the band a couple times. First, back in '78, and then again in the late 80s. The shows were fine, but I found the records to be more interesting. I was looking forward to what the next chapter of Petty's musical life would sound like.

I listened to "Echo" yesterday, and I didn't understand why I didn't listen to that one more. It's fantastic, even though it was a terrible time for Petty personally.

Thanks for all you've been writing about Petty's passing, Sal. It's taken me until today to organize my thoughts in a way that made a little bit of sense.


"So here we are again, binge listening to another artist whose untimely death has rattled the music world. And here am I, guilty as ever, rediscovering the Tom Petty records I own but thought I didn't care for."

Great line and so true.

Anonymous said...

I bought the first album when it came out. I was pretty impressed with it. Bought the second one when it came out and I was blown away. I liked it better than the first. You're right "Hurt" is an all time fave but my favorite TP song has to be "Luna" Man, if I was to sell my TP vinyl collection, do you think I could become a millionaire?

buzzbabyjesus said...

"Breakdown" wouldn't have done it for me either. If Al had played you "American Girl", or "Anything That's Rock N Roll" things might've been different.

I downloaded "Hypnotic Eye", but haven't listened to it. Maybe now is the time.

I've gone hot and cold on Bowie over the years. I HATED "Young Americans" and didn't come back until "Low". "Tonight" didn't work for me at all, and I left again.

That's why, in 1988, when someone with a clip board approached me near the Astor Place cube, and asked if I wanted to be in a Bowie video, I said, "No Thanks".

"Never Let Me Down", possibly his worst, was the latest, and I really thought he was done. I didn't buy another Bowie album until "Heathen", which I thought was so-so.
After his death I read an interview with Brian Eno, who fondly recalled collaborating on "Outside". I eagerly acquired it and was severely disappointed. It is just as bad as "NLMD", but in a totally different way.
"Hours" on the other hand is worth a listen.
I liked "The Next Day" very much.
I love "Blackstar", by the way. "I Can't Give Everything Away" is a classic.

Christine said...

As is typical of me, when I heard about Tom Petty's death, I immediately tried not to think about it. I didn't want it to be true, and cursed myself for not appreciating him and his music while he was alive. I loved some of the hits, of course, but I had always planned to listen to more of his stuff, and of course, see him perform live. I never did and now I regret that. It's been an awful time of music hero loss. I didn't cry about this one until I heard a song on the radio today, for the first time. It was "Forgive it All" by his band Mudcrutch. I'm not sure what the lyrics mean, but the song hit me hard, and I am now ready to scream and throw things. This really sucks.

Anonymous said...

Hello, please remain seated,

Me? I loved Breakdown back then and still do.

As far as re-discovering TP songs goes...from more latter day output, I love Room At the Top from Echo. Great song, great dynamics. I assume that Mike Campbell is the one playing those loud, trashy, thrashy chords - perhaps on a Gibson SG as the video indicates? In any case, God, wouldn't I just love to play that rig with that exact setup for just 5 minutes?

Oh, and harkening back to a post of yours from earlier in the week, I'd urge David Gilmore to be tapped to do Room At the Top if there's a TP tribute concert. The song has a Pink Floyd vibe in my mind's ear. Stretch it out, Dave.

Lastly...Swinging, from the same album is also awesome.


Anonymous said...

i used to write for a free weekly that was offered an interview with Tom Petty on the release of You're Gonna Get It. the hitch was that the interview would only happen if Petty was put on the cover of the next issue. Can't say that his management wasn't trying! Anyway, nobody at the paper was a big Petty fan at that point and the editor passed on the interview. it made me curious about the band, tho, and You're Gonna Get It turned into my favorite Petty album.

FD13NYC said...

Another excellent observational story Sal.
I’m very bummed out about Petty’s death, just like that of all our musical “heroes” that have left this mortal coil as of late. Been a fan of his for 40 years. His music will live on. Thanks for the mention, we turned each other on to a hell of a lot great music back then.

Bombshelter Slim said...

Thanks for mentioning Hurt (my very favourite TP song), and Top Of The World (my third fave).

Chris Collins said...

I love "You're Gonna Get It", actually. I spent a LOT of time driving aimlessly around NJ with my friend Sean listening to that record.

"Southern Accents" is probably my favorite. Or "Into The Great Wide Open", which caught me RIGHT at that moment in my life when I needed it. Although objectively I think "Wildflowers" might be his best overall album

I'm really upset about Tom passing. My friends and I just called him "Tom" when we were growing up. Like he was one of us. It felt like he was.

draftervoi said...

I was early into "New Wave." I'd spent '74-'76 trying on a bunch of musical hats that didn't fit. I bought Patti Smith's 1st LP, bought the Ramones LP the week it came out. Bought that first Petty LP late in '76. I was an evangelist; I'd show up and try and talk my friends into listening to them. They were unconvinced. "Punk" put them off. SHORT hair? What the hells was wrong with me?

From 2017 it's hard to remember how badly that first Petty LP flopped; it didn't get airplay. Petty worked that record, he toured relentlessly, played hundreds of gigs...and finally the LP broke in England and the success washed back across the Atlantic Ocean and in '78 "Breakdown" hit the U.S. charts.

I went over to my pal Dennis' apartment in late '78 to buy...uh something, let's leave it at that. Dennis told me he was "totally into this new punk rock thing." He'd bought the first Petty album, now over a year and a half old. Hey, Petty had a leather jacket, just like the Ramones, so the category wasn't completely without merit.

Petty wasn't a punk, though, he was classic Rock & Roll musician who'd absorbed a slew of 60s rock influences (Beatles, Stones, Byrds) and a bunch of the '50's founding fathers licks (Berry, Diddley, Waters).

I was wrong about a lot of things back then. Eddie & The Hot Rods were not going to make it big here; Blondie would have to "go disco" before America would listen, the Count Bishops turned out to be a footnote...but I was not wrong about Petty. Damn, I was 100% spot on the money with everything I said about him back then. He was the real deal.

kodak ghost said...

Great post and interesting comments. I preferred TPs quieter moments rather than the bombast he (and the band) was capable of. I did not know of the health/drug problems till I read a good article in No Depression. And yep "Hurt" is right for right now.

dogbreath said...

Excellent article, nice stories & very enjoyable. Nothing to feel guilty about in digging out an overlooked album or two; there's much worse things in this world. I can honestly say I've listened to 3 or 4 TP & The Heartbreakers tracks every month for years now, dipping in and out of albums at will. As a tribute on Monday night, BBC TV over here replayed the Rock Goes to College gig from 1980 which meant I was late to bed that night (but well worth it).

kevin m said...

I had mentioned in a prior post that Petty has been the soundtrack to my life since 77. Here is a good example.

20 years ago I was living in SF and my first wife and I separated and eventually divorced. It was not a good time for me. Thankfully music was their to help me and Tom Petty's "Echo" was key. Songs such as Room at the Top, Free Girl Now, I Don't Want to Fight and Billy the Kid got me out of my doldrums every time (still do). I remember reading that Petty was going through his own personal issues at the time he mad that record.

Fast forward to 2014 and my current wife (15 years!) and I went to see Petty & Heartbreakers kill it at Fenway Park in Boston. She got the tickets for my birthday cuz she knew how much I loved them (and she's a fan as well).

I really wish I bought tickets for their recent shows at Forest Hills. But it was a school night, I was busy at work, insert any other silly excuse. I just figured he'd be around again I'd see him next time.

Gene Oberto said...

When Petty arrived on the radar, I was working in the "Biz" i the pacific nw. At the time, that area was deep into the Eagles/Ronstadt/Browne mindset. The Heartbreakers fell right into that groove. I was not a fan, my r&b/blues/Springsteen/punk ethic was my bag. In Portland, the Ramones were to open one of those FM radio promotions where the label basically paid for the show. Showcases was the name, if I remember. The closing act was Tom Petty.

The Ramones opened and played a blistering, non-stop 40 minute attack. I was dumbfounded, awed and thrilled beyond expectation. I never saw the band live again, as the chance that night would be tainted by another performance. Most of the "in crowd" was in the lobby drinking and being seen. When Petty came on, the lobby emptied, seats filled and the 12 string jangle began. I said I was not a fan, and after the Ramones set, i mean, Petty never had a chance to change my mind.

It was the Wilburys that opened my ears to Petty. I mean if that crew accepted him as a peer, I figured there had to be a reason, right? While I never pulled out any Petty album to play, I am amazed at the number of songs I appreciate or damn well admire after I played the Spotify "This is...Tom Petty" as a wake and found many songs that I actually enjoyed. However, I still shudder at "Breakdown" with that fingernails-across-a-blackboard shrill "Braake-downnn" backup.

Here's the best tribute to Tom Petty to date. 90,000 fans singing "I won't Back Down" at the Gator football game in Gainesville last Saturday: