Exploring New Music: Tom Petty

When I was looking for a subject for this month’s edition of Exploring New Music, I was again inspired by seeing Alfie perform, this time at Scarborough.  The song choice was Wildflowers by Tom Petty and I loved it:

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers are musicians that belong to the rarefied greats of music but aside from a monster hit of an album in the late 1980’s, I had not really listened to their music.  Regular readers will know that of the seven previous editions of Exploring New Music, I’ve not liked them all and nor did I expect to; after all, if you don’t expose yourself to new sounds, how will you ever find the performers of tomorrow?  However, you’ll be pleased to know that after listening to a good number of Heartbreakers albums, I love this music!  Thank you Alfie for introducing me to yet another fab musician.

I started with the Heartbreakers first, eponymous, album from 1976, which wasn’t a great hit at the time.  That came later, after the release of Damn the Torpedoes.  The 60’s inspired sound is a mixture of great tunes, rhythm and catchy hooks spread over nine tracks that range from fast and frantic to mellow, laid back and everything in between.  American Girl and Breakdown are the stand out tracks.

The group’s third album, Damn the Torpedoes was released in 1979 and the band very much needed it to be a hit. Luckily, it had some fantastic tunes. From the very first notes of Refugee to the very last notes of Louisiana Rain, it’s clear that this is a stonking good record.  There is not one track you’d skip, it’s all great.  My favourites are Louisiana Rain and Don’t Do Me Like That but really, I could have picked any of the songs.

Moving on, we come to the Tom Petty I remember from my teenage years; the Travelling Wilbury (always had a soft spot for George Harrison) and all round superstar, perhaps as a result of 1989’s Full Moon.  A solo album (with a couple of Heartbreakers playing on it), this album was a complete runaway success, with at least three classic Petty tracks coming from it: I Won’t Back Down, Free Fallin’ and Runnin’ Down a Dream.

I would love to hear Alfie singing this – it seems perfect for him.  Anyway, never mind Alfie, I’m thinking of adopting it as a personal motto from now on.

The last album I’m looking at is a more stripped back affair: Wildflowers from 1994.  Another solo effort, this reveals the soft, acoustic, mellow side of Petty’s music.  Encompassing folk, upbeat tracks with great danceability, rock and blues, the best tracks for me are You Wreck Me, Cabin Down Below, Broken Heart and the title track.

We’ve long known that Alfie loves rock music and it’s no longer a surprise to hear him introducing new rock tracks into his live sets.  In fact, one of the best things about seeing Alfie live is wondering which rock band will he choose to cover tonight? It’s one of the reasons why I love his live sets – you never know what you’re gonna get.  So next time someone says life is like a box of chocolates, say “no – it’s like an Alfie Boe concert!”

Of these albums, my favourite is Damn the Torpedoes, available here:

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