Tom Petty Tribute
October 20, 1950 – October 2, 2017
By Paige Sears
Jammin’ to You’re Jammin’ Me
When I was twenty-something I would hang out at my oldest brothers’ house, and I would jam to his CDs. My brother always had great music to listen to and he usually had found the next big group and had their CD years before they would make it mainstream. Listening to his stereo blaring full blast was sensational!
There were times though when I drove my brother insane. I have this annoying tendency that when I have found a CD, group or song I like. I play that song over and over and over and over and over and over and over again… ad nauseum.
And when he bought the Tom Petty and Heartbreakers CD Let Me Up I Have Had Enough. I proceeded to play that CD over and over especially the song You’re Jammin’ Me. That is when I fell in love with Tom Petty’s music
And to this day I absolutely love Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.
The Care Package
When Tom past away on October 2, 2017 for about two weeks afterwards I was constantly posting mournful Facebook posts concerning his death. And the same brother, who I drove crazy by playing his Tom Petty’s CDs way too much, decided to send me some gifts to console me during my time of Tom Petty mourning.
His Tom Petty Care Package (that is what my brother coined it) included 3 Tom Petty t-shirts, a “I Won’t Back Down Bumper Sticker”, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers 4 CD live anthology set, Mudcrutch CD, The Tom Petty Biography by Warren Zanes, a Tom Petty For Ukulele song book and last but not least a Tom Petty Coloring book.
My brother sent all of these via the mail. So for about a 2 week period I was constantly getting something in the mail that was Tom Petty related and each day I eagerly awaited to greet the postman to see what new gift was in my mail box.
The “Research” Begins
So once I confirmed from my brother that all of the gifts had indeed arrived I knew exactly what I had to do, I must undergo a serious Tom Petty “research” project by engulfing myself in the world of Tom Petty. And I did this by reading his biography, listening to the 4 CD live anthology set and Mudcrutch. I instinctively knew that I had to do this so I could put my feelings about Tom Petty in writing which would allow me to find a way to console myself as I was mourning the loss of what I consider to be one of the finest Rock ‘N Roll musicians and storytellers.
Tom Petty Coloring Book Pic
Soundtrack to My Life
Inside the cover inset of the Tom Petty and Heartbreakers 4 CD Live Anthology set, Tom Petty lists the goal and purpose of the anthology. He says,
Risking understatement, I have to say I’m proud of this band. In creating The Live Anthology, I hoped for a document that could really show people why. And I think we got it. In the midst of the long days we put in –fueled by the coffee and the inspiration born of listening-one thing that stuck me was the way in which the recordings were like a crowbar that opened the storehouse of memory. Moments that were otherwise lost me came back in full color as the songs played. That’s one amazing thing about music, the way it enters people’s worlds to become part of the soundtrack to their lives.
This list of 15 Tom Petty songs to me are soundtracks to my life. So, in reviewing my favorite Tom Petty hits, I will also try to convey the memories and the impact that his songs had on me individually. Let’s now take together take a crowbar to open our storehouse of memories, feelings and thoughts. These crowbar-memories are obviously a sort of a ranking, but after #1 and #2 all of the other songs on the list could easily be swapped day-to-day depending on my mood and what is going on in my life. Keep in mind is that even though Tom Petty’s solo album Full Moon Fever is my favorite album of his, I must admit that I played that album so much and heard those songs so much on the radio and elsewhere that even I became a victim of self-inflicted burnout. Therefore do not be surprised if many of the hits that were on the Full Moon Fever album did not make my list or you think should rank higher. Who knows in a few years that burnout may subside and those songs may belong a bit higher.
Crowbar Memory # 1 – Refugee
I love fight songs that push ones soul to keep on moving on. So it is no accident that some of my favorite songs come from the Rocky movies. I love Eye of the Tiger by Survivor and ‘Gonna Fly Now’ by Bill Conti. I also have recently enjoyed listening to The Karate Kid song You’re the Best by Joe Esposito. I really like the personal inspiration that these songs give me. They are great songs to exercise to.
With that in mind, it should be no surprise that my all-time favorite Tom Petty song is exactly that a fight song! No – not necessarily exercise music but to me Refugee is a fight song for the soul.
This song is the perfect song to play loudly to get yourself out of the dumps and quit throwing yourself your own personal pity party. It is the perfect song to quit “reveling in your abandon”. Life is a journey and as I am on this journey as a transwoman, a father, a family member, a friend, a workmate, and national citizen, Refugee pushes me to fight through the personal pain of the past and realize that I can be free of past pain if I want it, but I have to be willing to fight for it.
Also, I love this song because it really captures what happens in many romantic relationships. To me, Tom Petty in this song is talking directly to his lover who seemingly is struggling to keep or find her identity as they become a couple. Tom Petty’s lyrics give us all an impetus or drive to fight the temptation of becoming enmeshed in your partner and lose your sense of identity.
The Heartbreakers Fought to Perfect Refugee
Interesting fact about Refugee was exactly how hard the band worked to perfect the recording of Refugee. The band did close to seventy takes of the song. In fact according to Mike Campbell lead guitarist and lifelong collaborator with Tom it was the only time that Campbell walked out of a recording session
On page 146 of Petty – The Biography written by Warren Zanes, Campbell provides the following quote.
In Refugee,” he says, “I had a mental breakdown. I just couldn’t take it anymore. It was my song, a co-write with Tom, and we kept playing it over and over and over, changing the thing, changing the sounds. It sounded like Nazis marching. There was no groove. We got into this hole of misery cutting that song. And I said, ‘I need to get out of this room for a few days. This is not healthy.’ It’s the only time I’ve walked out of a session.
It is a good thing that Campbell and Petty went back and finished Refugee because in my opinion it resonates as one of the cleanest, clearest and rockingest songs ever made!
Best line – Tell me why you want to lay there, revel in your abandon
Honorable Mention – Who knows maybe you were tied up and held for ransom
Crowbar Memory #2 – You’re Jammin’ Me
This song is the one that I drove my brother crazy with. I put this song in an endless repeat loop. I am aware that this song is probably much higher on my list than most other Petty fans. But this song to me completely rocks out and exemplifies the rocking sound of the Heartbreakers. To me, this song represents the group at its best.
The other reason I just love this song is that how blatantly it gives the middle finger to the media and basically says, ‘I am sick of your shit! Quit inundating me with silly slogans, television commercials, and worthless pop culture references!
I think one of the reasons I fell in love with this song was because at the time that this song came out I had just started undergrad in college and I was getting a Communications Degree and I would later become a Communications Coordinator for a Kansas City based health insurance company. So as I entered the field of communication as a vocation, this song pointed out in a real and obvious way of the over-reaching effect that tireless and endless media details can have on one’s psyche.
Now looking back on my life it is easy for me to see that because I could never really adapt to this line of media manipulation it was one of the reasons why I switched my career from marketing communications to working with the disabled. Impacting someone’s life in a real personal tangible way provides me with a much better feeling of accomplishment than that of selling a brand or a product.
Best line – Take back your Iranian torture, And the apple in young Steve’s eye
It is amazing to me how dead on Petty was on the future of Apple and Steve Jobs with this line. And 30 some years later this line is still valid and a crushing commentary on advertising.
Crowbar Memory # 3 – Don’t Come Around Here No More
If you have seen the video for this song, it is hard not to picture the Alice in Wonderland themed video in your head. And since I have always been a huge Lewis Carroll fan, I immensely enjoyed this quirky and odd rendition of both the song and the story of Alice.
However, if I am thinking of just the lyrics and not the video, what comes to my mind is the frustration one feels when you have basically given someone the boot out of your life and they just keep trying to find a way back into your life. Personally, I find these type of individuals tiring because they are usually well versed Drama Kings or Queens who try to infuse a bit of their unwanted emotional drama back into my life. These lyrics say it all and say it forcefully. Get out! And Stay Out!
Best line – I don’t feel you anymore. You darken my door.
Crowbar Memory # 4 – American Girl
Fittingly, this song was recorded on July 4, 1976 the bicentennial birthday of the United States, and the fact that this song was recorded on America’s birthday seems to be very appropriate when you consider how eloquently this song depicts the dreams of many young teen girls in America. If this song had been written a decade later, we would have gotten to see what Petty would have done to this song by creating a video for it.
But it many ways it is probably better that there was not a video created for it because the way Petty describes and sings the song you easily can put yourself in the shoes of a young woman deciding to leave her Midwest lifestyle and come to make it big in Los Angeles. This song was a harbinger of things to come for Petty at least lyrically. American Girl proved he could conjure and create a compelling story that anyone within earshot of the song could easily understand and relate to. Great storytelling in his songs would eventually become a Petty signature, and this song was the beginning of his legendary storytelling.
Best line – Well it was kinda cold that night, She stood alone on her balcony, Yeah she could hear the cars roll by, Out on 441 like waves crashin’ on the beach.
I love how Petty compares the sound of traffic on Highway 441 to waves crashin’ on the beach.
Tom Petty All Smiles
Crowbar Memory #5 – Don’t Do Me Like That
It is easy to relate to the story told in this song. Petty has just heard from a good friend of his that his friend’s girlfriend has just dumped him. And it is so easy to put ourselves in the singers’ shoes. After hearing such a story, one immediately tends to analyze what you have in your relationship. And it is such a heartfelt plea that Petty belts out to his lover to not do the same thing to him. I think we all have been there in that place of our lives at one point or another. The song does such a great job capturing the fear and passion of Petty’s plea.
Best line –Then he said, you better watch your step, Or your gonna get hurt yourself, Someone’s gonna tell you lies, Cut you down to size.
Crowbar Memory #6 – Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around
Stop Draggin’ My Heart around reminds me of my personal relationships . Specifically relationships that I knew were not going to work out, but both me and my partner really did not want to be alone, so we hung onto the relationship much longer than the expiration date for our partnership.
Stevie Nicks and Tom Petty do a great job conveying this dynamic as they croon the lyrics of this song.
Petty’s producer Jimmy Iovine dated Stevie Nicks and Iovine convinced Petty to allow Nicks to sing the song on her Bella Donna album. When I heard this I could not help wondering what the Heartbreakers’ finished project would have been like without Iovine’s intervention.
Best line – Baby you could never look me in the eye, Yeah you buckle with the weight of the words
This line depicts how difficult it can be to finally have the strength to tell someone that the relationship is over. Petty calls his lover to the carpet and chastises her for not being able to admit that the two of them have finally hit the end of their time together.
Crowbar Memory #7 – You Got Lucky
One can almost see and feel the tension and the anger in Tom Petty’s voices as he belts on “Yeah, go just go, but remember Good love is hard to find.” This song to me does not imply just to relationships, but obviously that is the main interpretation. This song can help repair the damage to our fragile egos anytime that we are rejected by a group of people, an employer or family.
As I listen to this song, I can hear the author say, “Who the hell do you think you are to reject me! Don’t you know who I am! I am going to make you regret rejecting me!
Best line: Girl, if you can do better than me, go, Yeah, go but remember, Good love is hard to find
Crowbar Memory #8 – Breakdown
Breakdown is another Heartbreaker song that just plain rocks! And it sets such a foreboding mood. Petty perfects the feeling and intensity of that moment when the relationship has finally reached the peak and both parties are ready to take the relationship to the next level. In some ways, Breakdown kind of feels like a song in which the singer his almost begging for sex as he finally gets his girlfriend or lover to “breakdown and go ahead and give it to me”, but it in a weird way it is also intensely romantic and passionate. I think it probably aptly describes the mood and ambiance of how many teens lose their virginity and innocence.
Best line: Your eyes give you away, Something inside you is feeling like I do
We said all there is to say, Baby, breakdown, go ahead and give it to me
Crowbar Memory #9 – I Won’t Back Down
This is another “fight” song. This song helps encourage me to keep fighting even through the toughest circumstance. In life I have found that at times, not everyone will get me or understand me or even agree with me, but listening to this song gives me the courage to keep pressing through the pain and to keep fighting to be myself. Basically this song is beautifully simplistic and finds a way to encourage the soul to endure lifes’ trials.
Best line: You can stand me up at the gates of hell, But I won’t back down
Crowbar Memory #10 – Runnin’ Down a Dream
This song to me always has felt like the ultimate Rock ‘N Roll road trip song. As soon as you hear the screaming guitars in the intro, you know that you are heading into an adventure. This song inspires me to pursue my dreams with all my heart and soul.
Best line: Runnin’ down a dream, I felt so good like anything was possible, I hit cruise control and rubbed my eyes
Crowbar Memory #11 – Free Fallin’
Sometimes when I am listening to this song I start to imagine myself as Alice falling endlessly down the rabbit hole. Yet at other times, I think the song just has a way of depicting the life of a teenage girl who has just been broken up with a guy who she thinks is the man of her dreams. On the other hand, the guy broke up with her to gain independence and freedom. He does gain freedom, but at the same time he now realizes he has entered into an unknown abyss.
Best line: It’s a long day, living in Reseda, There’s a freeway running through the yard.
I love the imagery that ‘a freeway running through the yard’ brings to my mind, it provides a very distinct and clear background setting for this love story gone wrong.
Crowbar Memory #12 – Even the Losers
We all have felt rejected. We all have felt unwanted. But this song gives those internal moments of self-doubt, a certain source of unexpected strength. Besides easily identifying with the “loser” aspect of the song, the other strength of the song lyrically is the vivid pictures the song creates. To me when I hear this song I easily retreat back to some of my “party” memories where- “I smoked cigarettes and stared at the moon.”
Best line: It was nearly summer, we sat on your roof, Yeah, we smoked cigarettes and we stared at the moon, I showed you stars you never could see, It couldn’t been that easy to forget about me.
Crowbar Memory #13 – Last Dance with Mary Jane
This is another Tom Petty song that if you have seen the video it is very hard to get the video out of your head. It is not that often that you see a mortician dancing with a beautiful corpse in a wedding dress.
But with that said, I really love the guitar intro to this song. Often this song is referred to as a tribute to marijuana. And if you pay close attention to the lyrics it is hard to refute that the song does in a sense pay homage to the wacky weed.
However, I do not really pay attention to the drug references of the song but this song takes me to the place of my birth, Indiana. When he pipes out the phrase, “Indiana boys on an Indiana night” a sense of hometown pride rushes through my body even though I have lived most of my life it Kansas City, Missouri. Still, I was born in Indiana and have several relatives from Indiana. For me when I listen to this song it is hard for me not think of those road-trips that our family made every winter and summer to see our relatives in Indiana.
Best line: But she grew up tall and she grew up right, With them Indiana boys on an Indiana night
Crowbar Memory #14 – The Best of Everything
When I think of this song, it reminds me of old flames. I can just picture this guy who is singing this song taking a stroll down memory lane after he has had a few too many drinks at the local bar and then for some reason this old flame comes back to his memory and he wonders “I wonder what the hell she is up to now.” And as he explores the past emotions that this girl conjures up, he finds himself not remorseful or angry but just in prayerful reflection and hope that this former flame is doing well and she has finally found what she was searching for and has the “Best of Everything”.
Best line: But listen honey, wherever you are tonight, I wish you the best of everything in the world, And I hope you found, whatever you were looking for.
Crowbar #15 – Here Comes My Girl
This is a simple song from a man who is just proud of his girlfriend. You can just sense the joy and pride oozing off the singer’s voice as he sees his girl walking down the hall heading for him. It really is a beautiful song.
Best line: …Watch her Walk… ‘Nuff said!
So there you have it. Those are my top 15 Tom Petty songs. I am sure that if you are reading this there are some songs you agree with where they are placed and some you feel are placed either too high or too low, but we all can agree on the fact that Tom Petty was a master musician who knew how to touch his audience with great lyrics and melodies.
When I first began this tribute, I told you that I received as a gift the 4 CD live anthology of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. This CD set is much more than just a greatest hits compilation. It does have most of your favorite Tom Petty tunes, but it also has rousing covers that the band played live. I especially liked the old blue songs covers like Diddy Wah Diddy, and, Just Want To Make Love to You. I also really liked the rendition of the 007 James Bond tune – Goldfinger that the band played.