Song of the Day #1,207: ‘Rebels’ – Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers

Jumping back into the Tom Petty theme weeks, we arrive at 1985′s Southern Accents. This is the second Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers album I consider a classic (the first being Damn the Torpedoes).

It’s not as well-regarded by Petty or the band, who disagreed about the direction of the record. It was intended to be a concept album about the south but the inclusion of several songs (including the hit ‘Don’t Come Around Here No More’) diluted the theme. Tempers rose during the recording and production process to the point that Petty shattered his hand punching a wall during the mixing of one track (today’s SOTD, in fact).

Despite the turmoil, or perhaps in part because of it, Southern Accents is a rich and resonant work. It signaled a new direction for Petty, typified by the poignant piano ballad that gives the album its title and, on the flip side, the punk affectations on the shuffling, jazzy ‘Spike.’ ‘Don’t Come Around Here No More’ is a left-field psychedelic stunner that made a big splash on MTV thanks to its Alice in Wonderland video.

Two of my favorite tracks are southern rock anthems that were clearly part of the album’s original inspiration: the Springsteen-esque ‘Dogs On the Run’ and today’s track, ‘Rebels.’

‘Rebels’ is the lead track on Southern Accents and it sets the stage brilliantly. Following one of Petty’s signature guitar licks we get the fabulous opening line, “Honey, don’t walk out, I’m too drunk to follow.” He goes on to paint a picture of a man “with one foot in the grave and one foot on the pedal” who’s unlucky in life and love but primed for the fight.

Honey don’t walk out I’m too drunk to follow
You know you won’t feel this way tomorrow
Well – maybe I’m a little rough around the edges
Inside a little hollow
I get faced with some things sometimes
That are so hard to swallow – Hey!

I was born a rebel
Down in Dixie on a Sunday morning
Yeah – with one foot in the grave
And one foot on the pedal
I was born a rebel.

Well she picked me up in the morning
And she paid out my ticket
Yeah she screamed in the car
And threw me out in the thicket
Well – I never would’ve dreamed
That her heart was so wicked
Oh – but I keep coming back
‘Cause it’s so hard to kick it.
Hey, hey, hey

[Chorus]

Even before my father’s fathers
They called us all rebels
Burned our cornfields
And left our cities level
I can still see the eyes
Of those blue bellied devils
When I’m walking round tonight
Through the concrete and metal.
Hey, hey, hey

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2 thoughts on “Song of the Day #1,207: ‘Rebels’ – Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers

  1. Dana says:

    I too love this album. And that’s great background info as to the making of the album.

    Given Petty’s later mellower and more nuanced solo work, such as the wonderful Wildflowers, I suspect that the making of this album reflected a time when Petty wanted to evolve beyond being a great garage band, while his band mates were comfortable with what had worked to that point.

    As the Beatles demonstrated years before, out of tension and artistic differences can often come great work. Southern Accents is a fine example of that.

  2. Amy says:

    I love this album, but I especially love “Southern Accents.” Today’s SOTD is another favorite. It makes me a little sad to think he smashed his hand while making it, but I guess great art sometimes demands pain. :)

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