Tom Petty Just “Won’t Back Down”
By John Rescigno
Clarkson Integrator — Tuesday, September 4, 1990
Most everyone can name several of Tom Petty’s past hits. His music style is straight rock and roll, and his singles have all been quite memorable. From oddities like “Don’t Come Around Here No More” to “Live Like a Refugee,” Petty has entertained both sides of the Atlantic for years.
His approach to music has always been a simple one, never experimenting with questionable music styles, that has proven long-lasting. His work with The Heartbreakers has been the bulk of what the world has heard, but how his first solo release has been available throughout the summer. Full Moon Fever is Petty’s first break with the Heartbreakers (other than the Traveling Wilburys) and has proven that he can stand rather well on his own.
Produced by Jeff Lynne, who produced the Wilburys, Roy Orbison’s “Mystery Girl,” George Harrison’s “Cloud Nine” among others and the Brains and Brawn behind the legendary Electric Light Orchestra, Full Moon Fever is an enjoyable mix of Lynne’s leadership and Petty’s talent.
The album has produced several singles and most of it has received sufficient airplay to make it one of the summer’s hottest sellers. The first two singles: “I Won’t Back Down” and “Free Fallin'” are typical of Petty’s medium rock style. Won’t Back Down is reminiscent of Wilbury material, while tracks like “Love is a Long Road” and “Depending on You” is quite similar to the early Petty/Heartbreaker material.
While most of the songs are written in an at least basically serious vein, the song “Yer So Bad” touches on some of Petty’s humor. The lyrics:
My sister got lucky, married a yuppie/Took him for all he was worth/Now she’s a swinger, dating a singer/I can’t decide which is worse
are definitely unusual. It is a collaboration between Lynne and Petty and has received a great deal of play on MTV. The song is, shall we say, memorable.
While Petty generally prefers to stick to his own material, only playing originals, The Byrds’ “Feel a Whole Lot Better” is covered (the first song on the second side) and covered better than the original recording. The original has a very muddled sound, and the 12-string — the heart of the song — was terribly misrecorded back in 1965. Using modern recording techniques, Petty captured the way the song was supposed to sound — not altering any of the melody or rhythm, rather recording the song over and making it sound a “whole lot better.” He has proven that he can take a classic and make it sound just as good as anything he had ever written.
Considering the album is AAD (analog recording, analog mastering, digital playback) the sound is remarkably clear and noise is not a problem at any point on the record. In fact, the album’s sound is excellent throughout. This again may be attributed to Lynne’s help. The mixes are very clean, bringing out the best sound from each instrument and the vocals come through very clearly.
When Petty decided to release the album without the aid of The Heartbreakers, many were concerned with what personnel he would be using in the studio. I think it is safe to say that no one was disappointed with his voices. Mike Campbell, Jeff Lynne and George Harrison played on much of Full Moon Fever. Also appearing on the album in less important capacities were Roy Orbison and Del Shannon.
Petty’s work with Orbison, Lynne, Dylan and Harrison mark him as one of the day’s most talented songwriters. As part of what is now a small tight-knit group of musicians, Petty’s music will never fail to entertain and be a notch above the other music that is available at any given time. Full Moon Fever is far from being a disappointment, it is an excellent addition to anyone’s music collection. Even those who have heard little of his previous work will probably enjoy this latest release. Petty will never be an artist that is “here today, recorded over tomorrow.”
Available from MCA records in LP, Tape and CD — MCA 6253