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Records: ‘Southern Accents’ translates into winner for Tom Petty
By Pete Bishop
The Pittsburgh Press — Sunday, May 12, 1985
The inspiration for Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ “Southern Accents” (MCA-5486) was their last tour, which included a lot of dates below the Mason-Dixon Line.
“I started feeling real Southern again,” said Florida native Petty, “so I started thinking about using various Southern musics and building the album around a Southern theme.”
But “Southern Accents” is not, strictly speaking, a theme or concept album like The Who’s “Tommy,” Kiss’s “Music from ‘The Elder’,” or Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” because it has no story line.
There are indeed some Southern references in the lyrics, such as “Even before my father’s father they called us all rebels while they burned our cornfields and left our cities level. I can still feel the eyes of those blue-bellied devils” and “Now that drunk tank in Atlanta’s just a motel room to me. Think I might go work Orlando if them orange groves don’t freeze.”
And there is a protagonist who pops up in most songs. He’s a clod, a loser who wallows in his woes and never fights back — on “Rebels,” all he needs is a “Kick Me” sign on his back — but no geographical area has a monopoly on sad sacks, and Petty’s not known for writing happy songs to begin with.
Neither is the music especially Southern-sounding, except for “Make It Better (Forget About Me),” a lively, zippy, horn-backed slice of Memphis-style soul reminiscent of Booker T.
A lot of it is the same strong, simple, straight-ahad rock that has made Petty and the Heartbreakers one of America’s best bands, although there are some new wrinkles such as horns, strings, and female backup singers. Never, however, does the hired help clutter a cut or detract from the basic sound.
Winners abound. From Side 1 come “Rebels,” rowdier, funkier “It Ain’t Nothin’ to Me” with Benmont Tench’s piano blasing almost jazz-like over it all at the end; slow, mournful “Don’t Come Around Here No More” with droning sitar by the Eurythmics’ Dave Stewart, and the title track, a ballad with strings adding poignancy.
From Side 2 come “Make It Better (Forget About Me)”; “Spike,” with lyrics resurrecting the stereotypical redneck with silvered shades (the “ya’ll drive careful now” sherriff in the old Dodge commercials), and ballad “The Best Of Everything,” on which the man longs for a lost lover and backing horns add a soulful touch.
“Winner” is an apt summation of “Southern Accents,” Petty and the Heartbreakers’ first album in almost three years. The wait has been worth it.