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Tom Petty Has Died

Tom Petty passed away this morning. He was 66. Here are some of his very best songs:

Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers – I Won't Back Down

Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers – Don't Come Around Here No More

The Last DJ – Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, official video

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers – Time to Move On

There are, of course, dozens more. Literally, dozens. The man made good music for 40+ years. Frankly, it would be impossible to suitably capture the entirety of the man’s musical contribution. So instead of doing that, we will briefly explore ten days that the man spent with four musical legends.

The Traveling Wilburys

This is a true story. In 1988, George Harrison casually mentioned recording an album with the Traveling Wilburys, a band that nobody had ever heard of. Harrison had just finished recording an album with Jeff Lynne (from Electric Light Orchestra) and wanted to continue making music, so he and Lynne agreed to meet up with some other musicians for additional collaboration. Those other musicians were Roy Orbison and Bob Dylan.

For the sake of conversation, those four alone have sold roughly 190 million – million – records, and that is without including Harrison’s work with The Beatles. But when it came time to record a new track, Harrison realized that he had forgotten his guitar at Petty’s house, and while he was there to pick it up, he invited Petty to tag along. Petty was no slouch by this point – although his lifetime sales would eventually top 80 million, at that time he was clocking in at roughly 15 million total sales  – but at that particular point, Petty was likely to have had the lowest profile in the recording studio.

Upon hearing the song the group recorded together – a song that was intended to simply be a B-Side on a Harrison single – the studio asked about the possibility of an entire album. The song was “Handle With Care.” According to the group, the entire process, from start to finish, took five hours. All five had a chance to sing, and to harmonize. The result is as damned near perfect a song as has ever been recorded.

The Traveling Wilburys – Handle With Care

Because they had so enjoyed recording the one song, all five agreed that they would mess around and see what else they could come up with. It took the five all of nine days to record Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1, one day for the each of the album’s remaining nine songs. It went triple platinum. It earned the group a Grammy.

And in a room with some of music’s biggest names, Tom Petty fit right in. He was three years younger than Lynne, and he was a year away from Full Moon Fever (if you look closely in that first video, you can find some familiar faces in the background), and more than half-a-decade removed from what had been his biggest-selling album, Damn The Torpedoes. And yet the Wilburys – as casual a supergroup as there has ever been – wouldn’t have been the Wilburys without Petty’s contributions. They are everywhere on the album, perhaps most notably on “Last Night.” but most fittingly, for today anyway, on “End Of The Line.”

That song’s video was recorded after Roy Orbison had died. It features the four remaining Wilburys performing next to a rocking chair with Orbison’s guitar. Petty features heavily on the song, singing:

Maybe somewhere down the road aways
You’ll think of me, wonder where I am these days
Maybe somewhere down the road when somebody plays
Purple haze

That seems like an entirely reasonable request.

Traveling Wilburys – End Of The Line


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13 thoughts on “Tom Petty Has Died

  1. Well some say life will beat you down
    Break your heart, steal your crown
    So I’ve started out for God knows where
    Guess I’ll know when I get there

    I’m learning to fly, around the clouds
    But what goes up must come down

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  2. The Traveling Wilbury’s was one of my favorite albums growing up. Too many greats are gone.

    Also, is it just me, or is Jeff Lynne one the most underappreciated singers out there?

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  3. The summer I was 13 I helped my aunt out in her gift shop for $3.25/hr. The Traveling Wilburys was one of two cassettes she was inclined to play in the shop. No memory of what the other one was…. but those guys will stick with me forever. Even at thirteen I could tell how much fun they were having.

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  4. I don’t know that it’s his creative best, but it is the distilled essence of his craft:

    Well, I won’t back down.
    No, I won’t back down.
    You can stand me up at the gates of hell,
    But I won’t back down
    No, I’ll stand my ground.
    Won’t be turned around.
    And I’ll keep this world from draggin’ me down:
    Gonna stand my ground.

    Simple, repetitive lyrics, strong harmonies. This makes the song easy and fun to sing along to. There’s a tight emotional focus in the lyrical message. It has a near-universal emotional resonance: we’ve all faced adversity and either stood up to it (or at least wished that we had). That elevates the song to “anthem” territory.

    And here’s the thing about Tom Petty: all of his work is like this. All of it. From the very beginning of his career — “Breakdown” on Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers released in 1976, to the very end — “U Get Me High” on Hypnotic Eye released in 2014. Is that blend of folk, blues, and southern rock, harmonies that are made to sing along with, and devil-may-care attitude a “formula?” Well, I don’t know about that — seems to me that it’s the core what people look to rock and roll music to get.

    Tom Petty’s music never fails to put a smile on your face and fun in your heart, even if only for a few moments and even when the world is trying to drag you down. RIP, Tom, and thank you for forty years of fun.

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