“The Balance of Conversational and Poetic Language”
By Shannon MacDonald

After a battle with his record company and the mere anticipation and delay/wait of jumping over to a new label (Backstreet Records), Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers gave us “Damn The Torpedoes”, perhaps the finest album all Petty fans were eagerly awaiting. It was October 19, 1979, the day before he turned 29, that Tom Petty would once again be piloting his own machine and the big radio-wax-spin was his to claim.

“Somewhere, somehow, somebody must have kicked you around some.”

The first song that immediately takes us by the collar and pushes us up against the wall of sound is “Refugee”. New “Heartbreakers” Producer, Jimmy Lovine, was driven hard to make this “the hit”, as he believed it to be their crème de la crème of the album’s songs. He was not wrong and it certainly is one of Jimmy’s finest examples of “hit-making” mojo power.

Refugee is a magical moment in musical building blocks, influenced from a simple chord progression conjured by Mike Campbell’s harnessed arsenal. Like many times before, and after, this Petty-Campbell interaction proves to be a lethal injection of pure musical hit-delivery. Tom heard the Campbell chord progression and found the lyrical and melodic content came quickly and effortlessly. Like many hit songs from songwriters such as Lennon and Dylan, the biggest hits seem to be the ones that come on a silver platter, as they almost write themselves… a sort of mesmeric dance of fire between pen and paper.

“Tell me why you want to lay there and revel in your abandon.”

The lyrics are daring and somewhat rebellious… Yet there is a hidden romance that lurks beneath the biting lines. As we study the lyrical content of the story, we find it is quite paradigmatic Petty sequentialism at its best. Tom’s vocal style combination, both smooth and aggressive, lives deep within his delivery. This is the Tom Petty we have been waiting for. This is the Tom Petty that can only get better from here.

Not just the song “Refugee”, but the entire album, reflects what our ears are in store for as we can hear Tom Petty coming into his own light as a Master of hit-making sorcery. Tom’s balance of “conversation and poetic language” are married into a rock palette of melodic hooks, cutting edge musical substance, and defined song-writing genius. Looking back, we can see him easily morphing onto the “just round the corner” New Wave scene, while never letting go of his raw rock influence. The Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers’ videos stayed true to their own game as they gave MTV a run for their money. They slipped into the camera lens with an elegance and charm of movie-themed/8MM psychedelic story book candor… never having to grab hold of the over-the-top, synth-influenced carnage, like so many other Rock-Guitar Bands that died a soulless death on the MTV gurney.

Don’t Come Around Here No More

Free Fallin’

Into the Great Wide Open

Last Dance for Mary Jane

Running Down a Dream

It’s hard to comprehend that the music has stopped. We can only thumb through the gems of music that have been left to ponder and enjoy. As we challenge our minds to open wide and have a peek into what may be Petty-Perfection, we must remember…
What is here today can only be as long-lasting as its demise.

Come out and see “The Wildflowers” at Saloon Studios Live, a magnificent tribute to the one and only Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers on July 17, 2021. Tickets can be found at

Image: Petty Perfection by Shannon