Music Opinion: Tom Petty Gives Rock Dose Of Rock ‘N’ Roll
By Joel McNally
Charleston News and Courier — Saturday, December 15, 1979
There are a lot of obstabcles that a band has to overcome to make it to the top. It is not enough just to be bad.
Sometimes it is not even enough to be good. There are a lot of very good bands that just never seem to establish an identity of their own.
There is no telling how long the careers of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers were held back because I kept getting them mixed up with Graham Parker and the Rumour.
“Damn the Torpedoes” (Backstreet/MCA) is the album which should finally put Petty and his band above the pack.
It couldn’t happen to a better kind of rock ‘n’ roll, either. Petty combines the melodic rock of the ’60s with the power of rock today.
Petty himself has one of those great rock voices. A good rock singer is not the same thing as a good singer. The ragged edges of Petty’s voice are infinitely more interesting than all that Lemon Pledged MOR crooning.
At the same time, Petty’s distinctive rasp can blend with the rest of the Heartbreakers (what a beautiful name) for moments of Byrd-like harmony. It’s almost like they planned it that way.
The melodic arrangements are catchy enough to be pop singles. But theya re also substanitive enough to please the more sophisicated listener. You know, the kind we all are.
“Refugee,” for instance, is a rock single if you have ever heard one. It’s one of those tough street-wise songs about girls who have been kicked around some. It is sung suitably tough.
But just as effective is “Here Comes My Girl.” (How long as it been since a song has been named that?) It is one of those whee Petty’s rough Dylanesque vocal keeps accidentally slipping into harmony.
There are echoes of the Beatles themselves in “Shadow of a Doubt” and of Bob Seger in “Even the Losers.”
It is not that anybody is copying anybody. It’s just that all of those people know what rock ‘n’ roll is supposed to be.
Besides, Petty and the Heartbreakers are sufficiently original to give their own flavor to the music. “Louisiana Rain,” for instance, is not a ripoff of either Elvis Presley or the Allman Brothers. It is Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.
We have all read (or quit rading) plenty about rock being invaded by waves and fusions and stuff. It is about time that rock music got a dose of rock ‘n’ roll.