This post is extremely sad for me. I must have written 5 different drafts over the past few days, just trying to convey how much Tom Petty meant/means to me. He's been with me since I was 8 years old when I saw the video for "Refugee" on some precursor to MTV. And aside from that incredible song, what I most remembered at that time was just how cool that man looked. There was no artifice to him or his band, no hairdos or pyrotechnics, just a serious dude with his gang, belting out a righteous song with an indelible hook. 'That's what rock n roll should be about.', I thought to myself.
In the days since his passing, a multitude of tributes have been written; folks that knew the man personally and the millions of listeners and music fans who were touched by his singular style of rootsy, balls out, unadorned music. For the integrity of this column and because I can't seem to reign in my emotions, I decided I would write about one of his albums that is often overlooked, but as essential as any in his catalog, the Rick Rubin produced album ECHO on Warner Brothers.
The album came out in the early spring of 1999 and due to the hospitalization of my grandfather at the time, I became utterly engrossed in its "heavy"veil of deeply personal songs. My commute to the hospital took about an hour. Each night after work I'd jump in my car and onto the Long Island Expressway and listen to this album. I'd sing every word, and get lost in the songs. I had no idea what Tom Petty was going through when he recorded this album, but because I was always a fan I just gave into the music, the performances, the production. And like all of his albums, you got just that; the sound of a great band playing razor sharp tunes, recorded by professionals who only wanted to capture that moment accurately. No studio effects or trickery. Just pure rock n roll.
Now to clarify, 1999 was a difficult year to find new vinyl and so I only had the CD. For years I looked and looked for the Vinyl pressing but as was the case, the copies I did find were very expensive and so the Echo CD, became one of a hand full of CD's I toted around and continued to play through all those years between then and now. But to my overwhelming joy I read that Tom Petty reissued his entire catalog on wax and Echo would be among the titles to be sold individually. When this stuff happens I get excited like a child the night before christmas. And so, after nearly 20 years, I now have a copy of Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers, "Echo" on double vinyl and it sounds absolutely phenomenal.
There is a great biography about Tom Petty that came out not too long ago. Its written by Warren Zane of the Del Fuegos and in it Tom talks about the stresses he was going through while writing and recording "Echo". Its a tremendous book and I highly recommend it to any Tom Petty fan.
But back to the album: I will go so far as to say that song for song, this album is as good, if not better than many other Tom Petty albums. Now before you all get your pitchforks let me clarify, I love, love all his albums, so I'm basically comparing apples to apples. However, there are always a few apples that are even more juicy than the already juicy apple you may have had. Get it? And more to the point, I am speaking about the totality of the album. Because there is not a sub par song on it.
"Room At The Top "( which in addition to being one of his best songs also contains one of Mike Campbell's most glorious solos) "Free Girl Now", "Swingin'", "Accused of Love", "Won't Last Long", "About to Give Out", and yeah. Every other song. These songs are meticulously written, though I did read that , "Swingin'" was made up on the spot, such is the intuitive nature of the Heartbreakers. There is a deep emotional undercurrent flowing throughout the album. A soul baring of breathless intensity. A struggle playing out ("Rhino skin") an internal wrangling with getting through the next day ("One More Day, One More Night"). Its is an album of the realities we all face; loneliness, depression, struggling with this person or that person, and kicking against the pricks even if you don't know what it will yield.
Every song is melodic, every song is balanced and well thought out, every song is sang and performed expertly. There are moments of high octane rocking that Tom had not done in some time, "About to Give Out" or "I don't Want to Fight" juxtaposed with pitch perfect Byrds-ian glory, "This One's For Me".
It is a perfect album to play in times of strife or uncertainty, or fragility. Tom Petty's greatest strength was his commitment to honesty in his songs. He connected with us, because there was no bullshit, no sales pitch. I'd say in times like these , we need that purity more and more. It will keep us sane. Help us to see the shit from shinola. Get us through one more night. Like I said before, "That's what rock n roll should always be about"