Thursday, 21 June 2018

Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers - Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers (1976)

She stood alone on her balcony....


Released November 1976

Recorded in Hollywood, California

Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers came on to the scene in 1976, after a few years gigging as Mudcrutch, and because of the time they emerged, they were considered punk. I guess they had a swagger and wore leather jackets, but they were no Ramones. They were, quite simply, a Southern States US rock band, albeit with a penchant for short, concise, sometimes fast-paced rock songs. Their influences were The Byrds, The Rolling Stones and even 60s pop bands like The Searchers.


1. Rockin' Around With You
2. Breakdown
3. Hometown Blues
4. The Wild One/Forever
5. Anything That's Rock 'n' Roll
6. Strangered In The Night
7. Fooled Again (I Don't Like It)
8. Mystery Man
9. Luna
10. American Girl                                        

Their debut album has a rough-edged rudimentary sound and kicks off with the Beatles-ish “Rockin’ Around (With You)” and then we get the bluesy, organ-led slow rock of “Breakdown”, which remained a favourite for years. It is the second best track on the album. “Hometown Blues” was a far too short, sharp piece of Southern rock, where Petty’s strange, at times weak voice was exposed somewhat, as indeed it was on slightly Springsteenesque “The Wild One/Forever”. Despite that, though, he clearly had something. These are good, punchy, riffy and catchy rock songs. Quite what the punks saw in these Southern States boys to let them in to their anarchic movement, however, is unclear. This was just US riffy rock. The semi-hit single, “Anything That’s Rock n Roll” was a hit with the punky/new wave crowd. I guess it had that attitude they liked and The Heartbreakers’ image sort of went along with that of The Ramones or The Dead Boys. I remember seeing the band live in 1977 and they played their rocking set to a crowd of pogoing punks.

“Strangered In The Night” was a slab of Bourbon-soaked rock with a vague bit of punk attitude, sort of Lynyrd Skynyrd meets the Patti Smith Group. The thing about US punk was that bands like these, Patti Smith, Richard Hell, Television, Blondie and so on were considered punks. They were quite different from their UK equivalents.

“Fooled Again (I Don’t Like It)” has a Stonesy sneer to its vocal delivery and a rumbling, down n dirty slow-paced rock feel. “Mystery Man” has an addictive, slightly reggae skank to its guitar parts, backed by some jangly Byrds-style guitar at the same time and a appealingly lazy Petty vocal. This is a favourite from the album. It is pretty hard to categorise however. A problem I do have with all of the album, though, is the sound. It is supposedly remastered but is tinny, lacking in punch or depth of bass. A lot of Tom Petty’s earlier material suffers tis way, and is often better heard on his later live performances. “Luna” is a mysterious, slow rumbler with some fine organ, keyboard and drum parts but a bit of on odd vocal. I believe Petty’s voice improved considerably over the years.

The album’s jewel in the crown is, of course, the mighty “American Girl” with its wonderful guitar intro and similarly impressive extended guitar ending. The song was also used to great effect in the film “The Silence Of The Lambs”. Listening to that intro now, it just makes we think again that this album could really do with a remastering. Tracks from it (“American Girl”, “The Wild One”, “Breakdown” and “Hometown Blues”) are given a bit of a clean-up on the “Anthology compilation, where they are clearer and certainly bassier, which is good to hear. It makes them sound better tracks.

Much as this album is a reasonably pleasant listen an is pretty nostalgic for 1977, I have to say it is nothing special. The band were to produce much better.


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