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Tom Petty Goes It Alone
By Jeffrey Ressner
Rolling Stone #550 — April 20, 1989
‘Full Moon Fever’ marks the chief Heartbreaker’s solo debut
“It’s just a little term I use when I’m doing things and I don’t know why,” says Tom Petty about the title of the new Full Moon Fever, his first album without the Heartbreakers. “I thought the phrase pretty well fit the circumstances behind this album.”
Petty stills shakes his head in disbelief at the twists and turns it took to complete his solo debut, originally conceived in late 1987. The album had its genesis in a chance meeting with George Harrison’s producer Jeff Lynne at a traffic light that Thanksgiving. Petty and Lynne met again soon afterward at a restaurant, and then they hooked up to kick around some sketchy song ideas during the Christmas holidays.
Lynne and Petty became fast buddies, and even faster collaborators, whipping through the writing and recording of a pair of tunes — “Yer So Bad” and “Free Fallin'” — in just two days. “I wasn’t really planning on doing a record,” Petty says. “But the Heartbreakers were spread out all over the globe, and I thought, ‘Shoot, we done these in a day each — we’ll just go back and write nine more and put out a solo album.” Like so many other attempts at doing an instant record, however, the project eventually took more than a full year to complete.
Last summer both Petty and Lynne got happily sidetracked on the Traveling Wilburys album with pals Harrison, Roy Orbison, and Bob Dylan. Then Petty and Lynne helped work on material for Orbison’s comeback album, Mystery Girl. Orbison also sat in for some background vocals on Full Moon Fever, while Harrison sang backup and contributed acoustic guitar on one track.
A different sort of time factor also stalled the release of Petty’s album, which was expected last year: The nine songs Petty recorded totaled just twenty-two minutes, hardly enough for an album. Petty same up with six more songs, including a “mystical rocker” with the Bangles that was never finished to his satisfaction. One of three new tunes that did make it onto the album is a nearly exact, note-for-note cover of the Byrds’ “Feel a Whole Lot Better,” recorded days after Petty and Lynne saw a reunion concert by the group.
Full Moon Fever also reflects many other influences. A greatest-hits album by the Searchers, Petty says, led him to write “Depending on You,” while the jaunty “You’re So Bad” owes a solid debt to the Kinks. Other songs popped out of odd phrases Petty had picked up. The title “Zombie Zoo,” for example, is taken from the name of an L.A. dance club he heard about from a group of Mohawked punks while he was eating at a diner. And “A Mind With a Heart of Its Own” is a nonsense switch on an old Connie Francis tune, “My Heart Has a Mind of Its Own.”
“I didn’t want this album to be too serious,” Petty says. “I’m not such a serious person all the time.” Nor, he says, should Full Moon Fever be interpreted as the end of the Heartbreakers. The members of the band have just recorded two new songs, and they are planning a summer tour.
“I’m still very much in the Heartbreakers,” says Petty. “I wouldn’t think of performing with another group.”