On Tue, 3 Oct 2017 16:33:54 +0000 (UTC),
Post by J.D. Baldwin
Petty was one of the few bright spots on top 40 radio from that dark
era of the late 1970s / early 1980s. Rock and roll was dead on
mainstream crappy urban radio, with the exception of a couple of
hard-line stations in a few really large cities. Sure, Ramones and
Elvis Costello and other brilliant artists were *out there*, but they
weren't getting airplay in Minneapolis (where I grew up) or Newport,
RI (where I was living when "Refugee" hit the charts).
Sacramento had a station that from 1968-1978 went through various
minor adjustments of its format but remained more or less
"underground" to a great degree the entire time. By 1973 or so, when I
listened to the radio, that's what I was listening to.
Consequently, my sense of what was or wasn't a hit has been completely
faulty for 40+ years. There are a lot of genuinely popular songs from
that era that I've never heard and a lot of songs that *I* thought
were globally big but weren't. I've been reminded of this over the
last day by seeing references to "Breakdown" and "American Girl" not
being huge, but I heard them every day when they were new. The same
station introduced me to Elvis Costello, Devo, the Sex Pistols, Phil
Manzanera/801, Pink Floyd, Journey (pre-whatshisname), pre-hugeness
Fleetwood Mac, etc.
When the station finally went full-on corporate blandness, Petty was
one of the artists who still got played. I don't think I fully
realized it until yesterday, but he seems to have transcended genre
somehow even though he seems pretty straightforward to pigeonhole. And
his reputation seems to have made those who weren't necessarily fans
of his music become fans of *him*. An elitist friend who'd get along
great with you and Marcus because everything he hates is "crap" while
everything he likes is "good" once said "I don't like his songs, but I
like his 'tude!"
In 2015, a bunch of the old-timers got the brilliant idea to resurrect
the station as a non-profit, non-commercial operation with a 100 watt
mono transmitter and most of its audience listening in stereo over the
Internet. For historical reasons, the first thing they played was
Harvey Mandel's "Christo Redentor", but once that and the introductory
announcements were out of the way, the very first song they played was
Petty's then-new "American Dream Plan B". It soon became clear that
they'd be playing a LOT of Petty and the on-air folks have even
explicitly mentioned playing more of his stuff than any other station.
Back at the end of August, I finally digitized a vinyl bootleg I've
owned since the late 1970s:
Digging it out reminded me how I always giggled and/or scratched my
head over Tom Petty winding up as part of that compilation, but
apparently he was tossed in with punk and/or new wave back then a lot
more frequently than I was aware.
Petty's output is my musical equivalent of comfort food. It's not
groundbreaking but I never mind hearing it. I don't think I've ever
bought any of his stuff without the extra push of a gimmick (red
vinyl, surround mix, whatever), but I'm glad to have it around.
When I mentioned the comfort food analogy to a friend yesterday, he
responded "Like Pat Benatar!" I run with a bad crowd.