Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Tom Petty showed he could solo on 'Full Moon Fever'

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers was one of the most important bands to emerge from the 1970s. Playing clean and simple rock and roll influenced by The Byrds, the band was the antithesis of what the genre was becoming in that decade. Rock and roll was becoming bland and corporate, and those are two adjectives that could never be applied to the band.

In 1989, Petty released his first solo album Full Moon Fever. Though it was not totally a solo album (Heartbreaker guitarist Mike Campbell was a co-producer of it), most of the album was unlike his previous work. The two most familiar tracks 'Free Fallin' and 'I Won't Back Down' sound like they could have been done by the Heartbreakers. After that, there were surprises.

The Electric Light Orchestra's Jeff Lynne was also a co-producer of the album. He brought his patented airtight production that he had also applied to albums by George Harrison and Roy Orbison around this time. Lynne was going through a period in which he seemed to have developed a Midas touch when producing other people's work. Petty benefited from that.

'Running Down a Dream' is a beautiful rocker that contains stinging guitar so sharp that it could draw blood. 'The Apartment Song' is almost Buddy Holly-ish in its sound. 'A Mind with a Heart of its Own' has absurdist lyrics that are laugh out loud funny.

However, the best song may be 'Zombie Zoo,' which closes the album. The song has whimsical lyrics that bring back warm memories for me. The album was released while I was in college, and this song's lyrics remind me of the group of people that were referred to as 'Goths' or 'Gothic' during that period. They may still be referred to as that for all I know. They typically wore black and had chalk-like complexions. Girls often wore lipstick and makeup that were black.

That whole group of people seemed to be so pretentious and self-aggrandizing that I could not help but find them funny. I liked to refer to them as The Undead. For me, 'Zombie Zoo’' does a nice job of lampooning those folks.

It is hard to believe it has been more than 20 years since this album was released. It sounds as vibrant as it did then. If it is not part of your collection, consider getting it.

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