Tom Petty wore his influences on his sleeve when it wasn’t cool to pull such a move.
He was an unabashed fan of Bob Dylan, ELO, and Fleetwood Mac when everyone else in the ‘80s were victims of the MTV generation taking over. Speaking of which, how did a scrawny little guy from Gainesville, FL manage to flourish during the most fertile time of the music video era?
It was through sheer inventiveness. The clip for “Don’t Come Around Here No More” isn’t just in the MTV hall of fame, its Alice in Wonderland theme set was tailor-made for a short attention span theater audience. While everyone else was focused on the stylings of Michael Jackson and the overt sexuality of Madonna, Petty slid under the radar with his amped up folk rock.
Take a listen to something like “Jammin’ Me,” “Refugee” or the fantastic Del Shannon nod in “Runnin’ Down a Dream.” Honestly, it’s all a blast.
Finally, in 1988, Petty got the chance to live out his lifelong musical dream, rocking out with his heroes like George Harrison, Jeff Lynne, Dylan and Roy Orbison in what was truly a supergroup, Traveling Wilburys. They all took on uncredited monikers. For the two records, Petty was credited as Charlie T. Wilbury Jr. and then Muddy Wilbury. Tracks like “End of the Line,” “Handle with Care” and “Wilbury Twist” are gleeful shoutouts to the past while remaining current and timeless.