I was in my statistics class when I got the news. Sitting amongst fifty other bored students, the quick vibration of my phone alerted me that Tom Petty was gone. But when I checked Twitter, it seemed there had been some sort of mistake; Tom Petty wasn’t dead, but still pulling through. Even on life support, facing death, the dude wouldn’t back down, passing on hours after media reports were claiming he had already died. Although we lost him a while ago, the feeling is still bitter. Reminders have been everywhere of just how iconic his music was, for people of all generations. Even this past game day in the fraternity lots, a frat blared several Tom Petty songs for their parent’s weekend playlist. But it wasn’t just the parents singing along; almost every college kid under the tent raised their Busch Light for the chorus of “American Girl.” It seemed to be an appropriate memoriam for an artist who was the complete manifestation of laid back and cool.
For me, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ summit into ultimate stardom came with the release of Damn the Torpedoes, which basically launched them into the mainstream of the 1980’s. Upon its release in 1979, a Rolling Stone review called it “the Tom Petty album we’ve all been waiting for.” The man released nothing but hits during his expansive career, and this is the record that proved it. Recorded at the infamous Sound City studio under Jimmy Iovine’s production, the album opens with the dramatically explosive “Refugee.” The sweet and melodic “Here Comes My Girl” is a poppy, ballad-esque tune that still can’t escape Petty’s signature badass tone, with his sneering ad-lib of “Watch her walk” before the guitar solo. “Even The Losers” channels new wave and early rock and roll all at the same time. “Don’t Do Me Like That” might be one of the most recognizable tunes in Petty’s catalogue. If you haven’t already heard the track, stop reading this review and go listen to it immediately. Immediately. “What Are You Doin’ In My Life” is a fast-paced blues romp and “Shadow of a Doubt” takes a page out of the Drifter’s handbook, with it’s opening line of “There goes my baby/There goes my only one.” “Louisiana Rain” demonstrates Petty’s southern rock roots, while keeping up a Springsteen-remnant New York tone all at the same time.
There are very few albums in rock music that are completely tolerable to listen to from start to finish. Sure, bands like the Stones and Led Zeppelin had their fair share of classic albums, but can everyone tolerate entire songs dedicated to John Bonham's drum solo? Or the spacey weirdness of the Stones’ psychedelic phase? Probably not. The beauty of Tom Petty’s records was that there was always something for everyone, spanning even into his latest releases in the 2000’s. Despite his multitude of quintessentials, Damn the Torpedoes remains a classic that anybody can listen to in its entirety.
Petty is hailed as one of the least ostentatious rock stars in music history, which is perhaps the reason why he’s a favorite of so many. The Strokes basically photocopied “American Girl” in their into “Last Nite.” Sheryl Crow completely ripped “You Tell Me” in “My Favorite Mistake.” Plagiarism? Nah. More like unconscious idolization.
Tom Petty made music for everyone. He will be dearly missed. Rest in peace, Tom.