Tom Petty passed away this morning. He was 66. Here are some of his very best songs:
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.
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
That seems like an entirely reasonable request.