- 18 Oct 17
"It’s beautifully simple; he wrote and sang about classic American things," says Thomas...
I grew up in the ’70s and ’80s, so I was first exposed to Tom Petty through ‘American Girl’. It wasn’t hugely well known at the time, but that was my initial introduction. Then later I got into ‘Don’t Come Around Here No More’, and saw him on things like The Old Grey Whistle Test .
The use of the sitar on ‘Don’t Come Around Here No More’ made a huge impact on me, and the video was everywhere as well. At that point, I remember thinking, ‘Wow, this guy isn’t just a Springsteen clone, he’s not just doing rock.’ So for me that was the wow moment.
There was always that wonderful element of humour too. It’s why he was a brilliant Wilbury; he had the comic side. I mean, he even appeared on the final episode of The Larry Sanders Show. It’s always great when musicians appear on comedy shows, especially when they’re as good as The Larry Sanders Show.
That whole thing about the Confederate flag, it was a problem he addressed. He was very self-aware and always changing. Still, it was one of these characters contained in the songs – that was where it came from. People have to remember that a decade ago was a different era in terms of the thinking, nevermind how people understood a flag in the ’80s.
My favourite record of Tom Petty’s has to be Wildflowers, which I bought in Tallaght. It didn’t leave my CD player for a month. Working with Rick Rubin, the impact he had on the quality of the songs was remarkable. I’m not joking when I say the CD player broke.
Other records – Into The The Great Wide Open and Full Moon Fever – they were so huge that it can make you jaded. They’re wonderful, they’re beautiful, but when Wildflowers came out, it was the first real reaction I had to his sound. It was thick and fat, but the funny thing is when they went back to the classic sound 20 years later, Highway Companion pushes Wildflower aside as one of his greats.
It sounded good in 2006, but last year, I put it back on and it never left the CD player again. Wildflowers and Highway Companion are the two great representations of his work.
On a personal level, I’ve seen Jeff Lynne in LA. When I was in his big shed room, I was in awe, because it’s adorned with gold discs, but there’s a beautiful Highway Companion gold disc set on the stairs. That says a lot. To get that number of sales even 10 years ago is an achievement, especially at that point in his career.
It’s beautifully simple. He really wrote and sang about classic American things, driving on the road – it’s like an older version of his younger self driving down the highways, even with the visual accompaniment. I love it. He works so well when it’s not just straightforward American rock; he’s at his best when blending styles.