Tom Petty Keeps on “Rolling”
By Richard Vergara
The Stony Brook Statesman — Thursday, March 23, 1995
Tom Petty has been putting out great songs since the mid-seventies. From his 1976 self-titled debut album that featured one of his biggest hits, “American Girl,” to his Greatest Hits record in 1993 which produced another successful hit, “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” — Petty has never let his fans or the public down.
I say this because you do not have to be a long-time fan of Tom Petty to enjoy much of his music. His singles are usually radio friendly enough for those people who enjoy listening to not only the pop radio stations, but the classic rock stations, easy listening stations, and of course MTV.
Still, his loyal fans will continue to buy his records because he could never be considered a sell-out pop-artist. He is a modern rock artist who simply produces classic rock songs for everyone to enjoy.
His latest album Wildflowers (1994), proves again that he has what it takes to be unanimously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame the first time he is eligible. It’s a softer and more maturing sounding album, but it is still vintage Tom Petty.
By now you have probably heard the first single, “You Don’t Know How It Feels” many times, over the radio, MTV, and VH1. Of course, you heard the censored version of the song. They changed the beginning of the chorus from: But let me get the point, let’s ROLL another joint, to “let’s roll TO another joint” (Madonna’s allowed to put her hands down her crusty hands in her videos, but Petty can’t talk about smoking a little reefer — yeah, whatever). Maybe MTV should start worrying more about the content of their own creation Beavis and Butthead before they waste their time censoring one of rock’s great artists. Either way, both versions of the song are enjoyable, as is the second single from the album, “You Wreck Me.” The latest song is much more up-beat and rock and roll than the previous single. Petty can play it slow and play it fast equally well. With lyrics like: Tonight we ride, right or wrong/Tonight we sail, on a radio song, it is obvious that Petty understands that his music is going to reach a wide spectrum of listeners. He’s not afraid to acknowledge the people who are only familiar with his latest chart-topping singles. He can pull it off, without selling-out his long-time fans because even though he is a modern rock artist, he plays classic rock music. Not many artists can reach such a large audience, continue to sell-out stadium venues, and not compromise their music integrity for as long as 20 years (can you say The Eagles).
I’m not sure what his next single is going to be, but I’ll put my vote in for “Only A Broken Heart.” It is simply a beautiful and well-written song. I know your weakness, you’ve seen my dark side/The end of the rainbow is always a long ride. Nothing too mind-boggling, but like all of his songs over the years, it’s true and sincere. Another great song is “Wake Up Time.” Well, if he gets lucky, a boy finds a girl/To help him to shoulder the pain in this world. These seemingly simple words are combined with a great melody and a subtle harmony, thus packaged into another classic Petty song. Other titles include: House In The Woods, It’s Good To Be King, and Cabin Down Below.
If there is down point to this record for song, it may be the fact that the music is much mellower than his previous recordings. In a few ways, its reminiscent of Petty’s good friend Bob Dylan’s work. It’s not a complete folk rock record, but it definitely has its long duration of folk song, A few fans might be expecting more in the way of 1989’s Running Down A Dream rather than a new song like To Find A Friend. In Petty’s defense, it has been almost 20 years since his first album, so you would have to expect him to eventually slow down a little bit — at lest for an album. It’s probably more a case of his continual artistic maturation than anything else. He’s not going to write the same kind of songs now, as he did when he was in his twenties.
Even though this album is a slight departure from his last two studio releases, Full Moon Fever and Into The Great Wide Open, it holds its own quite well. It has been on the charts awhile, but in case you may have missed it — check it out!!
FINAL GRADE: B+