The Weekday Ramble is a daily dose of sports, music, culture, and more from Rambling On founder Erik Ritland. For more information check us out on Reddit, Twitter, Facebook, or at our website.
Thursday February 5, 2015
Any day is a good day to celebrate Tom Petty.
Quote of the day
Do something you really like and hopefully it pays the rent. As far as I’m concerned, that’s success.
- Tom Petty
You got it, man. Probably leads to happiness or something, too. Hopefully I’ll get there someday.
Somehow, Tom Petty is underrated
He’s one of the most revered singers and songwriters in classic rock. His hits spanned four decades. Yet Tom Petty is underrated.
How does that work?
Sadly Petty is sometimes seen as an irrelevant dinosaur. Because his hits like “Refugee” and “Breakdown” are overplayed on the same stations that call the Doobie Brothers and Poison “classic” all the things that set him apart from the rest of his contemporaries are ignored. His songs are more nuanced, have more energy, and mean more than, say, those by Bob Seger or John Mellencamp. Plus he only got better as he aged.
The proof is on the vinyl. Petty made his best, most consistent albums between 1994 and 2002. This was after his groundbreaking, back to basics ‘70s albums that included iconic songs like “American Girl” and “Even the Losers” It was after 1989’s classic Full Moon Fever with smashes like “Free Fallin’” and “Runnin’ Down a Dream.” Any musician’s career would be seen as successful with even a fraction of these highlights. But his best material hadn’t even been made yet.
She’s the One, although it contains multiple versions of songs, outtakes from Wildflowers, and covers, is nearly as classic, although far from as heralded. “Walls” is an all-time Petty (and rock n’ roll) classic. His well-chosen covers of Americana singer Lucinda Williams’ “Change the Locks” and early Beck track “Asshole” improve on the originals, making them seem tame by comparison. “Angel Dream,” “Supernatural Radio,” and “Hung Up and Overdue” are among Petty’s best. Few rock songs in the ‘90s are better.
Although you don’t hear them on the radio anymore several songs from Petty’s 1999 Echo were played heavily when it was first released. “Free Girl Now,” “Swinging,” and “Room at the Top” all had regular rotation, hitting numbers 5, 17, and 19 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock chart. This was well-deserved, even if the stations that gave them their popularity are now too busy playing “Sweet Home Alabama” twelve times a day to bother with them. The rest of the album is filled with other emotional, well-written songs like “Counting on You,” “Echo,” “Rhino Skin,” and “One More Night, One More Day.”
The Last DJ, released in 2002, marked the end of Petty’s final push. Along with She’s the One the critical consensus is that it is among his worst. Unsurprisingly, the critics are wrong. There are some weaker songs – “When a Kid Goes Bad” and “Lost Children” come to mind – but it is still a strong album. Petty’s willingness to “bite the hand that feeds him” by criticizing the greed of the record industry throughout is admirable. The results are some of his most biting songs, including the criminally underrated title cut, beautiful “Dreamville,” and catchy, meaningful should-have-been hits “Have Love Will Travel” and “Can’t Stop the Sun.”
Unfortunately it’s hard to change the tide of critical opinion, much less that of fans themselves. The traditional outlooks on Tom Petty – from typical songwriter in the Seger/Mellencamp/Springsteen vein to great artist whose time is gone – will most likely continue to prevail. For those of us who know, though, his entire catalog, especially his later albums, will endure