I recently listened to a podcast called ‘The Great Albums,’ on which the hosts do track-by-track reviews of their favorite records. They were discussing a Tom Petty album (one I’ll feature this week) and wondered why it was that Petty’s name didn’t automatically come up when people discuss the giants of rock-n-roll.
Their conclusion was that Petty suffers from the curse of consistency. His albums were all so good that he avoided any sort of comeback narrative throughout his career. And he never had that one standout blockbuster album (think Rumours or Born in the U.S.A.-level sales) that pinned him to the top of a list.
Instead, 13 of his 16 albums (solo or with The Heartbreakers) went Gold and seven went Platinum. Consistently great, easy to take for granted.
That changed early this month when a nation still reeling over the horrific mass shooting in Las Vegas was hit with the news that Tom Petty had suffered cardiac arrest at his Malibu home. It seems callous to compare the death of one rich musician to dozens of concertgoers mowed down in what’s become a sick American tradition, but it would be a lie to say that his passing didn’t hit almost as hard.
Great artists become lifelong companions whose work comforts us in times of sorrow and buoys us in times of joy. Our memories are scored by the music we’ve loved, and the composers earn a place in our hearts. No wonder it hurts so much to lose them.
Tom Petty hit my radar sometime during high school, which is (frighteningly) almost 30 years ago now. I have liked or loved every one of his albums, with the five I’ll feature this week rising to the top.
#5 – Southern Accents (1985)
It might be stretching it to call this a love-it-or-hate-it album, but it does seem to divide both critics and fans. Some find it a bit of a hodgepodge, and it’s hard to argue with that view. Originally intended as a concept album about the south, Petty wound up shelving a few on-topic tracks and adding a few off-topic tracks in their place.
The songs that do stick to the theme — ‘Rebels,’ ‘Southern Accents,’ ‘Spike’ and ‘The Best of Everything’ — are all standouts. But there’s nothing wrong with the rest, including hit single ‘Don’t Come Around Here No More,’ ‘Make It Better (Forget About Me)’ and ‘Mary’s New Car.’
One of my very favorite Southern Accent tracks is ‘Dogs On the Run,’ which features a great part slur-part snarl vocal by Petty. This song is like ‘Born to Run’ set in Los Angeles.
Yeah, when the leaves had died and all turned black
Back when the wind was cold and blew them around
When we laid our blankets on the ground
Yeah and I woke up feeling hungry
Looking straight into the sun, and left a cold night on the ground
Like a dog on the run
I fell overboard and washed up on the beach
Yes, let waves and sand roll over me
I was helped to the home of a young bleached blonde
Who said honey I discovered early in life
There’s ways of getting anything I want
Yeah, some of us are different
It’s just something in our blood, there’s no need for explanations
We’re just dogs on the run
The room was painted blue and grey
All my meals came on a silver tray
Oh she would laugh, and light my cigarettes
She said honey ain’t it funny how a crowd gathers around
Anyone living life without a net?
And how they’ll beg you for the answer
But it won’t ever be enough, there’s no way you could ever tell ’em
It’s just dogs on the run