In Memoriam pays tribute to those who have left this world, and the songs they left us to remember them by.
It’s been a few weeks since we lost Tom Petty. A few weeks since one of the major music artists of my teenage years left this world. I can vividly recall so many memories of driving with my boyfriend in his old brown Toyota…listening to “Wildflowers,” “It’s Good to Be King,” “Free Fallin,” “I Won’t Back Down.” The simple chord progressions and repetitive chorus lines perfectly capturing the spirit of a wild (and internet-free) childhood. In that simplicity, Petty was able to create hit after hit that would span generations.
In his short list of covers, Petty chose songs which fit his carefully crafted formula for the perfect rock song. One of his most effective covers was “Something in the Air”, originally by Thunderclap Newman. Petty’s piercing high tenor rings similar to Speedy Keen’s vocals, but that is where the similarities diverge. Gone are the accompanying strings (arranged by Pete Townshend, who was the catalyst of the formation of Thunderclap Newman as well as the bassist for the band) and the jazzy, arpeggiated piano solo busted out by Andy Newman. The Heartbreakers made the song their own, with their signature rock sound.
Another equally fantastic cover featured long time friend Stevie Nicks in duet with Petty. Originally recorded by Jackie DeShannon, “Needles and Pins” was much more effective in the hands of Petty and Nicks.
I can’t talk about cool Tom Petty covers without mentioning “Asshole”. His biting rendition of an early Beck song fit perfectly on the soundtrack for the movie She’s the One. Decidedly slower and more rock than grunge, Petty’s version feels like that weathered friend giving you the 411 on the girl you should avoid at all costs.
Need some encouragement in your quest to become a musician like Petty? Take his advice from the cover “So You Want to be a Rock ’n’ Roll Star”: So you want to be a rock and roll star-Then listen now to what I say-Just get an electric guitar-Then take some time and learn how to play.
The Heartbreakers version is very similar to the original by The Byrds…it just feels a few decades newer and a bit more sarcastic in the hands of Petty. It’s hilarious watching him in this video. His expressions make it very clear that it’s not as easy as it sounds to walk the path he has walked.
“Change the Locks” is another of the few covers on the She’s the One soundtrack. The song was originally recorded by Lucinda Williams, who takes the tempo slow to get the most growl and angst from the notes. The Heartbreakers, in comparison, inject their signature cool rock style into this bluesy song about how to deal with a clingy ex.
Today would have been his 67th birthday, and all we can do is say thank you, weathered friend. For your covers, your originals, your sage advice, your devotion to the music.