Pick of the Week
“Breakdown” by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers (1976)
When I was a teenager my friends and I decided to go skating at the Lagoon. To go to the rink we had to go down this steep hill (85th Street) that was on the edge of town. It was of course winter, and the road was icy. The cars in those days were huge. The B-52s refer to a ‘Chrysler as big as a whale’ which was not that much of an exaggeration. We were travelling in a Plymouth I think. So if a Chrysler can be compared to a blue whale, it was only as big as say a hump-back whale. The radio was playing “Don’t Do Me Like That” by Tom Petty. For whatever reason the driver of the car (yes, we were inexperienced) lost control of the car and it spun around a few times, plunging down this road. Everyone cringed and grabbed a hold of something. Miraculously we ended up going back down the hill in the same direction, didn’t hit anything and no one hurt. We looked at each other and thought “What the hell just happened?” and down the hill we went. This was all to the tune of “Don’t Do me Like That” mind you, so it is kind of engrained in my memory now. Loved Tom Petty that day and still do.
It is hard to believe that “Breakdown” one of Tom Petty’s earliest, only peaked at number forty on the U.S. charts. It is a very well known, practically the signature song if you were an early Petty fan. Fans that jumped on the band wagon (so to speak) later, would be reintroduced to Tom via “Free Fallin’” “Runnin’ Down a Dream” or “I Won’t Back Down” from his solo 1989 album “Full Moon Fever” or “Learning to Fly” or “Into the Great Wide Open” on Tom & the Heartbreakers 1991 album titled “Into the Great Wide Open” (This is where Tom got a lot of help from Electric Light Orchestra’s Jeff Lynne).
Tom was born and grew up in Gainesville, Florida. When he was 10, his uncle was working on an Elvis Presley set and he met Elvis. He was blown away, and the next thing he knew he was trading his Wham-O sling-shot for a box of Elvis 45’s. Then Petty saw the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show and he knew he wanted to be in a band.
With Mike Campbell (lead guitar), Benmount Tench, organ, harmonium and vocals), Ron Blair (bass and vocals) and Stan Lynch (drums and vocals) the Heartbreakers were launched in 1976.
In the time of the demise of southern rock, bands like Lynard Skynard, and Little Feat on the decline and the rise of punk across the pond, Tom went to Los Angeles to seek his fortune and fame. He wanted to stay true to a southern sound. He found the formula he was looking for with pal Mike Campbell1 who went with him. They somehow found the magical pop hook and the understated Southerners would surprisingly and quietly proliferate rock history (and having now sold some 50-60 million albums)
In 1988 Petty would join Bob Dylan, Jeff Lynne, George Harrison, and Roy Orbison to form the Traveling Wilbury’s. - a super group that no one expected, but had some stong, yet idiosyncratic success.
Other songs well worth checking out from the massive Heartbreakers library include: “You Got Lucky”, “Even the Losers”, “Here Comes my Girl”, “Don’t Come around Here No More”, “You’re So Bad”, “The Waiting”, “Mary Jane’s Last Dance”,”Jammin’ Me”, and “You Don’t Know How it Feels”.
1. Mike Campbell, Petty’s band mate in his early Florida bands would become a prolific writer and producer not only for the Heartbreakers but many others. Outside the Heartbreakers, Campbell has co-written and performed a huge volume of songs, for Don Henley (the Boys of Summer), Johnny Cash, Fleetwood Mac, Rodger McGuinn, Tracy Chapman, Warren Zevon, George Harrison, Stevie Nicks, Brian Setzer , J.D. Souther, Jackson Browne and many, many more.)