Extra Notes: Petty leads mainstream rock revival
By Paul Speelman
The Age — Thursday, April 18, 1985
There are still those who place him among the New Wavers whole former ‘Rolling Stone’ editor Dave Marsh puts him up there alongside Springsteen and Bob Seger as one of the great American mainstream rockers.
Marsh is right, of course, but that diversity of opinions only goes to show what an extraordinary sponge for influences Tom Petty has been since he and his Heartbreakers made their record debut in 1976.
And if the classic 1979 Damn the Torpedoes or its 1981 follow-up Hard Promises has not convinced the cynics, let me tell you that Southern Accents (MCA 5486-1, through WEA), Petty and the Heartbreakers’ sixth album and their first since 1982, will prove once and for all what a classy band this is.
What makes Accents such a fascinating album is that not only does Petty put the country back into his brand of country-rock with a vengeance, he also parades most of his influences for all to see and hear.
Superficial listeners inevitably will say that he has pinched this from so-and-so or that from somebody else but they are way out of line because Tom Petty goes not steal, or even borrow. What he does is incorporate other artists’ ideas and he ends up with a brand of music that’s his own — and that is called evolution.
On Accents there are influences ranging from the Byrds and Bob Dylan to Randy Newman and Jackson Browne to Van Morrison and even a touch of Schmilsson.
There are also a couple of new ones: David A Stewart, probably better known as half of the Eurythmics, who co-wrote and co-produced three of the nine tracks with Petty, and Robbie Robertson who came in to help produce one of the outstanding tracks, The Best Of Everything, and brought along two of his former colleagues from The Band, Garth Hudson on keyboards and Richard Manuel on great harmony vocals.
Add longtime producer Jimmy Iovine, regular Heartbreakers Benmont Tench (keyboards), MIke Campbell (guitars), and Stan Lynch (drums) — bassplayer Ron Blair seems to have been replaced by Howie Epstein — and the fact that the album was put down at Petty’s own studio, giving it a homely feel, and the result is a marvelous album.
One of the Petty-Stewart collaborations, Don’t Come Around Here No More, has been selected as the first single and it probably is a wise choice; it starts with some lovely sitar sounds from Stewart and quickly establishes its hypnotic theme with utilises repetition to great effect.
But try listening to the title song which features atmospheric acoustic piano by Tench, nice dobro from Campbell and great string arrangements by Jack Nitzche to back some superb singing by Petty and Epstein (on harmony vocals) on this Jackson Browne-like ballad.
Or the beautiful The Best Of Everything with Robbie Robertson’s big production and Garth Hudson’s and Richard Manuel’s touch of classic or the swampy harmonies and laid-back guitars and keyboards of Spike; or the great country-rock of Dogs On The Run, so reminiscent of The Waiting…
On Southern Accents Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers put the accent heavily on class and there is no doubt that this will go down as one of the best albums in 1985.