Thursday, November 30, 2006
Tom Petty: The Ironman of Rock
A few days ago I was driving when the local rock station played "Saving Grace" a single from Tom Petty's 2006 album "Highway Companion." I had never heard the song before, I didn't even know that Petty had recorded an album lately, but I instantly recognized his no nonsense, four-chord rock.
Tom Petty has been cranking out his brand of timeless rock-n-roll for thirty years now and has written songs like "American Girl," "Free Fallin,'" "Into the Great Wide Open," & "Mary Jane's Last Dance." These four songs still get regular airtime on many U.S. rock radio stations, and his opera includes countless other songs that most people can sing by heart.
So why is it in this age of one hit wonders and now-you-see-them-now-you-don't artists that Petty can continue to churn out songs that are popular? Why do so many artists get only 90 days of airtime when Petty's music can be heard everyday on classic rock stations, alternative rock stations, and even pop stations?
Some may say that it is due to the fact that Petty long ago established his fan base and therefore he is going to garner a substantial amount of attention for whatever he does. There may be something to this, but it is easy to point to a number of bands emerging in the late 70's that were tremendously popular and have fallen off the face of the earth since. No, I believe that it is something else that keeps Petty on the charts, it is the fact that he is one of the few artists today that writes fantastic rock songs.
It would be fair, I think, to label Petty as a purist. His music is a traditional type of rock that doesn't go out of style--that is the source of his longevity. When one listens to "Highway Companion" there is a certain familiarity in the music that makes it attractive. You can hear riffs and chord progressions that are similar to old Petty tunes, but they are just fresh enough to make one want to listen to the songs over and over again. His music is not repetitive or boring. Petty has a musical language of his own and when you understand it, you are hooked, and even if you don't understand it you know it when you hear it.
This is largely because his music is completely his. There is no over-production on Petty's records. He found his niche in rock and has continued to produce enjoyable records. There is a lesson here for musicians: Find your voice and develop it; there is no need to reinvent yourself with every record just to stay fresh. Petty's work ethic and contributions to rock are admirable and his numerous Grammy nominations, and Hollywood Walk of Fame Star, among other rewards are a testament to this.
I hope he can find it in him to make music for the next thirty years.