Music Opinion: Petty Gets Back To Basics
By Joel McNally
The News and Courier — Saturday, December 11, 1982
It is nearly impossible to teach someone how to sing in a good rock voice. It sounds like grinding sausage.
There are rules like: First, you kind of scrunch up your vocal chords. Them, you sort of squeeze the lyrics out.
The end result is that instead of coming out all smooth and boring like the singing of all those horrible old crooners, rock singing has all sorts of interesting textures.
I told you it couldn’t be taught. It has to be natural. Or at least, it has to be developed naturally through years of out-shouting amplifiers and staying up all night.
One of the most recent really great rock voices is Tom Petty, who also makes some pretty great natural rock ‘n’ roll with his band, The Heartbreakers.
In fact, Petty’s new album, “Long After Dark” (Backstreet), is a good example of how good rock style rises above material.
Shortly after enjoying the album for the first time, I realized I couldn’t remember any of the songs. So I checked it out again. Yep, I still liked it. But the songs still weren’t very memorable.
Oh, there were a few, A slow, echoing ballad “A Wasted Life” does have the memorable line: “Don’t have a wasted life.” With any luck at all, it will replace “Have a nice day.”
“Straight into Darkness” is a good dead love song. And “One Story Town” (where everything’s close to the ground) is a song conveying just how dead everything else seems some days.
But the real message of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers is hidden in “The Same Old You.” With all the changing rock fads, all the way to David Bowie disguises and back again, good rock really hasn’t changed much.