#298: Full Moon Fever, Tom Petty
Constantly hitting milestones. This is the final Tom Petty album on the RS 500 list, and I’ll miss him.
ELO’s Jeff Lynne helped Petty write and produce this record, his solo debut. I’ve joked before about Petty being petty and not crediting the Heartbreakers. In this case, the Heartbreakers were actually a little bit heartbroken.
MCA was reluctant to release Full Moon Fever because they “didn’t hear a single,” according to RS, which is bonkers because I had heard most of these songs at least once. His surprisingly faithful cover of the Byrds’ “Feel A Whole Lot Better” became a classic in its own right. And “Free Falling” was certainly his signature song; it was the first Tom Petty song I ever heard, maybe the first song I could sing along with the chorus to, the one that made me think I could be a good girl or a bad boy or possibly a vampire.
There’s something about these old-school rock stars that I love — they just sound so grizzled and free. Even though I know it’s a facade, just like pretty Instagram photos or a robot helmet, it’s so good I don’t care. I take mental notes every time I hear “I Won’t Back Down,” a bratty, stubborn anthem about standing up for yourself in spite of how shitty the world can be. “Runnin’ Down A Dream” is another one that’s hard not to be inspired by. Chase your dreams, man! They never will just come to you! Also here’s a badass guitar solo! If that doesn’t help you achieve your dreams, nothing will. On the other hand, “The Apartment Song” is a more realistic portrait of what being grizzled and free actually means. I’m okay most of the time/ I just feel a little lonely tonight.
The flip side of being an old school rock star, of course, are the love songs. “Yer So Bad” makes me wish I was worse. Believe it or not, “A Mind With A Heart Of Its Own” has the same opening chords as George Michael’s “Faith,” cheerful and sexy. Some are jaded, like “Love is a Long Road.” Some of them are downright adorable, like the solo acoustic “Alright For Now” and the Barney & Friends-worthy “Depending On You.” (I mean that in the best way.) Either way, I don’t get sick of Tom Petty love songs the way I do on other albums. I think I have a crush on him.
Tom Petty’s sense of humor and casual delivery makes every song sound both like a poem and a really great joke. “Zombie Zoo” describes a scene we will all come to recognize: looking around a club, and realizing you’re old, and also realizing that all the young people are so freaking precocious. Painting a picture of precociously young kids acting like sexual savants, Petty knows that he risks sounding like a crotchety old man, so the song is a synthy blast.
I read a great quote from him in RS about plagiarism. He said, “A lot of rock ‘n roll sounds alike. … The Strokes took ‘American Girl’ for their song ‘Last Nite’, and I saw an interview with them where they actually admitted it. That made me laugh out loud. I was like, ‘OK, good for you.’” RIP Tom Petty, who knew you couldn’t do anything but laugh.
Only Song I Didn’t Care For: “A Face In The Crowd.” I don’t know! I just didn’t!