Saturday, May 26, 2012

It's Such A Drag When You're Living In The Past...

    It cannot be said enough how much Tom Petty affected my early musical education in my teenage years.
   It was probably sometime in late 1994 when I got my tape of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers Greatest Hits... (yes... a tape...The dividing line between the two sides of the album  being between "You Got Lucky" and "Don't Come Around Here No More").....
   While my friends were immersed in Green Day and the Offspring, in the aftermath of Nirvana... I found something that clicked with me in Petty's songs. Teen angst was fun and all, but I'm guessing that I was subconsciously trying to find something with more background.... (in later years, I found the background/influences for most of these mid-90's acts to be of interest as well... oftentimes way more interesting than the bands of my generation.....)
    Now, I'm not writing this to explain the intricacy of the music,  because.. let's be honest... Tom Petty's songs aren't complicated. But there's something nicely brilliant about these simple songs that get their point across without dumbing down too much for the listening audience.
   Looking back on it, most of these songs by Petty were no less angry than the average grunge band on the radio at that time. It was just that the anger was more controlled and joined alongside other emotions, rather than the one-dimensional aggression that was exhibited by anything on the so-called "alternative" radio stations.
  Petty's lyrics touched on loss, resentment, and their own kind of anger; "You Got Lucky" being a prime example of a  pithy kiss-off to a lover. "Don't Come Around Here No More" illustrates just that and I'm still not sure what "Mary Jane's Last Dance" is specifically about... (however, that's part of the beauty of it, I think)....and "Here Comes My Girl" hits all the bitterness of living  in a small town, all the while producing a glimmer of hope by each chorus.
       Which brings me to the point that these songs always seemed to have a bit of hope in them, (mostly by the time you got to the songs from "Full Moon Fever")... An element that didn't really fit into most of those 90's band's vernacular...
     I listened to that tape constantly - so much to the point that the song-listing on each side was worn off, making it nearly unreadable for anyone except for myself.
     And then as years passed, I didn't listen to it quite as much. I moved onto other music and other bands. Yet those songs were always there, part of my teenage DNA. Even now as I'm a hell of a lot older, I still remember the words to every single song on the tape, (which is kind of a rarity for me).
    Several years later, I moved up and got an audio CD of that album, then it moved to my iPod., so it's never really left. As for the actual tape, it's still at my parents' house somewhere, along with its tattered insert. Which to me, seems like a fitting place. After all, if my parents hadn't sprung the money for a broke teenager, I might not be writing this particular blog entry.
  

5 comments:

BrianV said...

I was enjoying that same album in the late '90s, the dramatic themes soothing my overly dramatic teen soul. Great post! I appreciated your perspectives on the themes in some of the songs. Petty is particularly interesting in that he was a mainstream popular artist whose rock stayed pretty simple and kept an organic edge through a period when music often tried to be as big and synthetic as possible. Don't Come Around Here No More is the exception on this album, of course.

Bryan Larson said...

Agreed, Brian. Tom Petty's always had is own niche of things and hasn't really varied much from that. Which I think is actually pretty refreshing in it's own right - No real need to "experiment" or "progress their sound" etc... It leaves out some of the pretention.
Although, (and I'm playing Devil's advocate here), even Petty did occasionally dapple into slight trend variations - As you correctly pointed out in your comment - "Don't Come Around Here No More" and the music from "Southern Accents" and couple of the mid 80's albums had that gated-drum-sound on the snare which drives me crazy... Although, honestly, you can't blame Tom Petty for that, cause you'd be hard-pressed to find any band in the 80's that didn't have that drum sound - (hell, I have the last 2 Black Flag albums from that time period and even they ended up with that drum sound on record, which is probably when they had more money, so I suppose getting that "cool, big" snare sound cost lots of money at the time?) Anyway, I digress...
In short, you're right on the money about the organic feel of Petty's songs.

BrianV said...

Interesting--I've only owned Greatest Hits and Full Moon Fever. Apparently that still leaves a pretty big gap in his musical evolution, as the Greatest hits record only uses three songs to span the gap between 1979 (still plying the classic rock trade) and 1989 (hello acoustic guitars, dry mixes and three note guitar solos!).

Which brings up another interesting question. Does Petty deserve credit for being a trend setter with 1989's Full Moon Fever? Based on my, somewhat limited knowledge, it seems REM was the only other well-known "acoustic" band around that time, but that the acoustic movement would take the industry by storm four or five years later. Thoughts?

Bryan Larson said...

Yeah, Petty's albums after "Damn the Torpedoes" - were "Hard Promises" and "Long After Dark" which did okay, but weren't huge.. And then you have "Southern Accents" which has some really good songs, (i.e. Rebels, Don't Come Around Here...., and Southern Accent), but have this dated production sound.. And then 1987 had "Let Me Up I've had Enough" which is Petty's least album, (in my opinion)... The earlier 80's Petty is good, bu Mid-80's Petty... Not so fantastic. However, "Full Moon Fever" came out of the slump pretty well and I'd say revived his career again - although not WAY different from previous stuff,
it was a imrpovement in production sound AND song-writing, in my opinion....
As far as a trend-setter regarding acoustic guitar in mainstream music? Well, you could possibly say that... but I think it's more likely that the ever-revolving circle of pop music just came back around to acoustic guitars again.. Most of Petty's stuff is a pretty good mix of the electric and the acoustic - throughout his career.
So, I personally think that every several years the singer/songwriter acoustic guitar aspect comes back around to prominence... It happened in the 90's - in the 2000's you've M.Ward, Bon Iver, I guess.. and a multitude of others who just turned out to be in the right spot at the right time - (or at least that's how I see it :-)
Hell, even metal has come back around again, in it's own fashion... It's like the circle of life, except it's pop music...

Overland Trailer said...

Tom Petty was in great circulation for me as well in those teen years. Sometimes, the angst of growing up (or life in general) couldn't be satiated by another plaid wearing grunge band. Petty could deliver on a deeper level (emotionally & often lyrically) than most of his contemporaries.