On 2nd October 2017, Tom Petty died following a heart attack. His unexpected passing marked one of the blackest days of the year, since Tom always felt like someone who would always be there and always be part of life’s fabric. The fact that he left behind a marvellous body of work – most of which never seems to age – means that in some way, he’ll always be a part of millions of lives, but the idea that we’ll never hear a new Tom Petty album is very hard to comprehend, especially so soon after critically acclaimed works like ‘Hypnotic Eye’ and ‘Nobody’s Child.
Those last records featured tracks that were potentially as solid as anything Petty had ever recorded, lending weight to the fact that he was one of the finest and arguably most consistent songwriters of his generation.
With a distance of several decades and a grounding in adult radio friendly rock and country rock sounds, it’s sometimes hard to understand why Petty was sometimes promoted among the new wave in 1976. However, looking at it simply, he excelled in short and sharp chorus songs. Those early songs had far more in common with bands on the power pop fringe like Flamin’ Groovies and Shoes than Yes or Genesis, or indeed, any of the other big selling rock giants of the era.
With this timeless approach to songcraft inspired by The Byrds, Petty was able to seamlessly transition from the 1970s and into the 80s where so many 70s tune-smiths had failed. He didn’t really change – he didn’t need to; his love of a great chorus always won the day. When some of his peers were able to find their feet once again in a more natural sounding 90s, Tom didn’t need to readjust – he was already there, not so much one step ahead of the curve but more so casually riding it, knowing that being Tom Petty and sticking to his well-honed guns would be enough to succeed. He varied things from time to time: 1987’s ‘Let Me Up’ featured a more synth-based sound and 1994’s ‘Wildflowers’ was closer to Americana, but at the root, fans were always able to invest in a new album knowing they’d get a certain quality. He was never about to unnerve us with anything avant-garde (as Neil Young was prone), or merely knock something together. If there’s one word that could best sum up Petty, it would be “dependable”.
As frontman for his own band, or as sideman in the Traveling Wilburys, Tom was never about bravado – all of his recordings felt so much like team efforts. His name may have often been on the front of the sleeve, but his choice of musical peers was always sympathetic to his voice. He possessed a unique voice that, like Dylan and Young, could be considered an acquired taste, but thanks to very accessible material, he so often escaped the heavy criticism levelled at some of his peers.
With no heavy controversies and just an easy southern temperament, Tom’s loudest voice was always captured on record…and what better way to celebrate a musical life than by digging into his broad catalogue.
We invite you to join us as we explore many highlights. Heartbreakers. Solo. Wilburys. Mudcrutch. The hits. The deep album cuts. In Tom’s own words, “The best of everything…”