The first time I saw or heard Tom Petty, or Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, was in the movie FM, friends had referred to him as the new Mick Jagger. I don't know how accurate that is or was, but it was memorable. His music was the sound of my teens, my twenties, and so on, it truly mapped the 1970s, the 1980s, and 1990s for me. Hard Promises was one of three albums I bought with my very first paycheck. The great thing about Petty albums consistently is that you not only got the hits like "A Woman in Love (It's Not Me)" and "The Waiting," you also got AOR tunes and hidden gems like "A Thing About You," "Kings Road," and "The Criminal Kind." Yeah, I wore those grooves out.
I can remember having two, not just one, cassettes of Tom Petty's songs recorded from the radio when I first got a cassette recorder. He was an FM rock favorite and almost all of his music got airplay. Even before I graduated high school in 1982 (and Petty was white suburban FM rock and roll then) he had a catalog that included some of the best of the time, from "American Girl" and "Breakdown" to "Listen to Her Heart" and "I Need to Know." He was not a favorite, like Bowie or Prince, but man, he was always there, and always rocking. Yeah, he was a favorite, I just didn't know it.
Later favorite albums would include Long After Dark, which holds a special place in my heart for getting me my first date with a college girlfriend. She was a Petty fan, and my inside knowledge of when the album was coming out (easily found in Billboard magazine which I read obsessively when I worked at the college radio station) dazzled her enough to date me. This album also included Petty's move into the MTV era from that of FM AOR. I remember loving the post-apocalyptic music video for "You Got Lucky," the red vinyl single for "Change of Heart," and my favorite tune off the album, the B-side "Between Two Worlds."
Spike" about a punk rocker, as well as the hit single with acid trip video, "Don't Come Around Here No More," coolly co-written by genius co-producer Dave Stewart from Eurythmics. But it was the weird dance vibe of "It Ain't Nothin' to Me," also with Stewart, that still blows me away. I don't know why, but I love this song even today and turn it up whenever I hear it.
Later Tom Petty, already a superstar in his own right, would officially go solo from the Heartbreakers, and also join with Bob Dylan, Jeff Lynne, Roy Obrbison, and George Harrison to form the supergroup the Traveling Wilburys. Petty, with and without the Heartbreakers, would continue to release albums and singles through to 2014. He was always producing and always innovating. We have lost another legend, a man who filled my life with music, creating a soundtrack of memories. We will all miss Tom Petty. Rest in peace, man.