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Music / Tom Petty

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Well I started out, down a dirty road,
Started out, all alone.
And the sun went down, as I crossed the hill,
And the town lit up, the world got still.
—"Learning to Fly"

Thomas Earl Petty (October 20, 1950 October 2, 2017) was an American singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist from Gainesville, Florida. He was the frontman of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and a member of Mudcrutch. He was also a member of the supergroup The Traveling Wilburys, under the pseudonym of Charlie T. Wilbury Jr. He recorded a number of hit singles, many of which remain heavily played on adult contemporary and classic rock radio. Likewise, his music, most notably his hits, have become increasingly popular among younger fans as he hosted sold-out shows in his recent tour dates.

Petty was also a vocal critic of the modern recording industry and the disappearance of independent radio stations.

He was supported by his band, The Heartbreakers, for the majority of his career. He occasionally released solo work, as was the case with 2006's Highway Companion, on which he performed most of the backing instrumentation himself. However, members of The Heartbreakers played on each of his solo albums and the band always backed him when touring in support of those albums. He also toured with Mudcrutch in order to promote their debut album. Petty was managed by Tony Dimitriades from 1976 until Petty's death in 2017. On February 3, 2008, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers performed at the Super Bowl XLII Halftime show.

He had a minor but credited acting role as a mayor in Kevin Costner's post-apocalyptic disaster film The Postman (where it's very subtly hinted that his character actually is Tom Petty) and was the voice of Elroy "Lucky" Kleinschmidt (Luanne Platter's redneck boyfriend turned husband) on the later seasons of the FOX sitcom King of the Hill (though the first time Lucky appeared on a King of the Hill episode was "The Redneck of Rainey Street," which focused on Kahn and Minh becoming trailer trash after Kahn, Jr. gets rejected from a college prep summer school program).

Petty died on October 2, 2017 in Malibu, California, after suffering cardiac arrest earlier in the day. He had just played the final gig of the Heartbreakers' year-long 40th anniversary tour the week before.


With the Heartbreakers

  • Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers (1976)
  • You're Gonna Get It! (1978)
  • Damn the Torpedoes (1979)
  • Hard Promises (1981)
  • Long After Dark (1982)
  • Southern Accents (1985)
  • Let Me Up (I've Had Enough) (1987)
  • Into the Great Wide Open (1991)
  • Songs and Music from "She's the One" (1996)
  • Echo (1999)
  • The Last D.J. (2002)
  • Mojo (2010)
  • Hypnotic Eye (2014)

Solo albums

  • Full Moon Fever (1989)
  • Wildflowers (1994)
  • Highway Companion (2006)

Notable Tom Petty songs:

"I'm runnin' down the tropes:"

  • Alice Allusion: The whole video for "Don't Come Around Here No More."
  • All Girls Want Bad Boys: Gender-Inverted in "Free Fallin'" Where he sings about breaking up with a girl because she's too nice and wholesome.
  • American Accents: Tom and guitarist Mike Campbell are almost poster boys for Northern Florida.
  • Animated Music Video: "Runnin' Down a Dream."
  • Artist and the Band: Bandmate Mike Campbell co-wrote some hit songs for Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers.
  • Audience Participation Song: "Breakdown." He didn't even need to sing it live during his later years, he just gave the cue and let the audience do the work. On the Pack Up the Plantation - Live album, recorded in 1985, after the audience belts out an excellent rendition of the first verse and the chorus, he quips: "You people are gonna put me out of a job." On "Learning to Fly" he often got the audience to sing the chorus while he sang counterpoint lines between them as seen here.
  • Bo Diddley Beat: "American Girl."
  • Body Horror: At the end of "Don't Come Around Here No More", Alice turns into a cake and is eaten by the band.
  • Book Ends: "American Girl" is the final song of both the band's debut album and of the last concert before Tom's untimely death.
  • Break Up Song: "Don't Come Around Here No More" has the singer just completely sick of their ex and trying to drive in that it's over.
  • Classical Antihero: Virginia in "Leave Virginia Alone", very probably. The lyrics of the third stanza seem to describe her as a loser, yet nonetheless a kind and idealistic individual.
  • Deadpan Snarker: While Tom was pretty articulate most of the time, he is known to have been one.
    • For one example, he and Bob Dylan were asked at a press conference in 1986 why they decided to tour together. Petty's answer: "Money."invoked He also added in a newspaper interview: "It also helped that Bob asked me."
    • Once, when asked if using cocaine affected his songwriting during the recording of Southern Accents, Petty replied: "No, I think it affected my breaking my hand."note 
  • Downer Ending: "Into the Great Wide Open" is about a young man moving to LA to start a music career and almost succeeding at getting something going, but in the end all that happens is his ego gets inflated and he starts living beyond his means. When his music career stalls, the song does too: We have no idea what exactly happens next, but it probably isn't any good for him.
  • Drop Dead Gorgeous: The famous music video for "Mary Jane's Last Dance" features Kim Basinger's corpse receiving quite a lot of Male Gaze before Petty's character takes it on an actual date.
  • Determinator: "I Won't Back Down", a song he wrote after an arsonist set fire to his home, destroying most of his possessions. NPR ran an article about how this song served as source of determination for others.
  • The Ending Changes Everything: While the tone of "Into The Great Wide Open" is often rather sarcastic, the song does detail a young nobody's rise to musical fame and success... until he hits the brick wall of 'Your music isn't good enough' and his career grinds to a halt and the final lines of the song are the chorus seemingly mocking him for having no idea where to go from here.
  • Fake-Out Fade-Out: "A Mind with a Heart of Its Own" falls silent for a few second, but then the music plays for about another 40 seconds.
  • Frivolous Lawsuit: Petty quoted the trope word-for-word when mentioning why he never took legal action in response to the similarities between the Red Hot Chili Peppers' song "Dani California" and his song "Mary Jane's Last Dance", adding that most songs sound similar. invoked
    "I don't believe in lawsuits much. I think there are enough frivolous lawsuits in this country without people fighting over pop songs."
  • The Good King: Claims this is what he would be in "It's Good to Be King":
    • "Yeah the world would swing, oh if I were king..."
  • I Am the Band: Tom Petty was the lead singer, frontman, and primary songwriter for the band. Guitarist Mike Campbell was only other member of the band to write or co-write songs.
  • Ironic Death: Tom Petty was part of a band called the Heartbreakers, and died of a heart attack.
  • Irony: The video for "Don't Come Around Here No More" was nominated for, and won, the Best Visual Effects award at the 1985 MTV Video Music Awards, despite technically only containing one shot (Tom's Mad Hatter swallowing Alice) which would be considered visual effects (the rest of the video was done with camera tricks and practical effects).
  • Last Dance With Mary Jane: The music video for Tom Petty's "Mary Jane's Last Dance" tells the story of a mortician who takes home the corpse of a Young Woman (played by Kim Basinger), and has a relatively lovely romantic evening with her. The song's chorus features the line, "Last dance with Mary Jane."
  • The Last DJ: His song of that title is the Trope Namer.
  • Let's Meet the Meat: In the "Don't Come Around Here No More" video, Alice's body turns into a cake and the Mad Hatter and his guests cut up and eat the cake.
  • Long-Runner Line-up: Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers were Tom Petty, Mike Campbell, Scott Thurston, Ron Blair, Bennmont Tench, and Steve Ferrone from 2002 until 2017. Petty, Campbell, and Tench had played together since 1971, when they were all part of the band Mudcrutch. Blair was with the Heartbreakers from 1975-1982 and returned in 2002, replacing his own replacement, the late Howie Epstein. The original drummer, Stan Lynch, was with the band for eighteen years as well.
  • Music Video Overshadowing: "Mary Jane's Last Dance" by Tom Petty. Song: A love song about leaving childhood behind, or perhaps marijuana. Video: A mortician takes home the corpse of Kim Basinger for a romantic dinner.
  • Mummies at the Dinner Table: The Music Video for "Mary Jane's Last Dance," the former Trope Namer.
  • Nice Guy: Since childhood, Tom had been described as a "mild mannered kid interested in arts". As an adult, and especially after his death, he has described by relatives, friends and other artists as well, as a gorgeous person, and a very kind and honest man.
  • Ode to Intoxication: "You Don't Know How It Feels", with its famous line:
    Let me get to the point, let's roll another joint.
  • The Oner: "You Don't Know How It Feels."
  • Protest Song: "Peace In L.A." is about the 1992 Los Angeles riots.
  • Spoken Word in Music:
    • On the CD version of Full Moon Fever, Petty put a Hidden Track in the spot between what was the last track of Side A, and the first track of Side B:
      Hello, CD listeners. We've come to the point in this album where those listening on cassette, or record, will have to stand up, or sit down, and turn over the record, or tape. In fairness to those listeners, we'll now take a few seconds before we begin side two.


      Thank you. Here's side two.
    • At the start of the album version of "Even The Losers", a woman can be heard saying "It's just the normal noises in here!". This was Mike Campbell's wife Marcie, as accidentally captured on one of his home demo recordings - Mike complained about the sound of a washing machine interrupting his recording, and this was her response.
  • Step Up to the Microphone: Scott Thurston sang Roy Orbison's lines when Petty performed Wilburys material live. While Roy's voice was pretty much unique, Thurston did a very fine job of capturing the feel and sound of his singing - audiences often spontaneously cheered at his renditions.
    • Mike Campbell contributes an extremely rare lead vocal on "I Don't Want to Fight", off 2010's Echo.
    • Then drummer Stan Lynch sang lead on a Cover Version of The Count Five's "Psychotic Reaction" in concert c. early 1990s.
  • Studio Chatter: Several times. One notable example is on an obscure B-side called "Heartbreakers Beach Party;" at the end Tom says: "All right, another modern classic."
  • Surreal Music Video: "Don't Come Around Here No More" and "Runnin' Down a Dream."
  • Take That!: "Zombie Zoo" is one to Goth culture.
  • Throw the Dog a Bone: "Even the Losers" (...Get lucky sometime.)
  • Urban Legends: His song "American Girl." Because Petty came from Gainesville, home of the University of Florida, the story goes that he based it on a college girl jumping to her death from a balcony of Beaty Towers, the tallest dorms on campus that just happened to be right next to US 441 (the road is mentioned in the lyrics). Not true. Petty lived in Los Angeles at the time he wrote the song lyrics, he merely used 441 in the song as it fit the lyrics, and Beaty Towers doesn't have any balconies. There are no recorded suicide jumps from the towers during the years in question.
  • World Gone Mad: Mentioned by name in "Yer So Bad:"
    "In a world gone mad, yer so bad"

Alternative Title(s): Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers