Today’s Cool Album of the Day (#947 in the series) is Tom Petty, Hypnotic Eye
Every couple of years, starting in 1976, Tom Petty demands our attention. With his debut, self-titled release, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, a game-changing blend of straight ahead Rock, Ramones style Punk, and Byrds harmonies, a new contender for the title of future King of American Rock and Roll was Born. Stretching their influences instead of imitating them, this was about as strong a coming out party as you could possibly find, and “American Girl,” the first actual full-length song that Petty ever wrote, created the blue print for the straight ahead sound, and the lyrical purity that has served them well over all these years, and earned the band a membership into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
And now, with the release of Hypnotic Eye, 15 albums in, every picture tells a story, the stone keeps a rollin’, and the song remains the same. This record could have been released in 1979, 1985, 1993, 2006, or right now in 2014, it’s that fresh and vibrant with Petty, along with Heartbreakers Mike Campbell, and Benmont Tench at the absolute top of their game, showing no signs of tread wear on those Rock Star tires. The songs all sonically and lyrically stand on their own, and would have fit hand-in-glove on any of the groups’ prior releases. If you were to put together a play list of 15 songs, one from each album, and released it as a deluxe reissue that seemingly included unreleased tracks from The Hypnotic Eye sessions, no one would have been the wiser. And so we did, with the radio on, runnin’ down a dream.
- American Girl – Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
- I Need to Know – You’re Gonna Get It
- Refugee – Damn the Torpedoes
- The Waiting – Hard Promises
- You Got Lucky – Long After Dark
- Don’t Come Around Here No More – Southern Accents
- A Self Made Man – Let Me Up (I’ve Had Enough)
- Runnin’ Down a Dream – Full Moon Fever
- Two Gunslingers – Into the Great Wide Open
- You Don’t Know How it Feels – Wildflowers
- Billy the Kid – Echo
- Have Love, Will Travel – The Last DJ
- Big Weekend – Highway Companion
- Lover’s Touch – Mojo
- Forgotten Man – Hypnotic Eye
But, I digress.
This is a seriously good album. Might even be album of the year worthy pending further digestion. From the opener “American Dream Plan B” where the gauntlet is thrown down with a seriously cool mid-song guitar solo courtesy of Mike Campbell the likes of which we have not heard since the Live Anthology box set, the message is clear. Black Keys and Jack White be damned, despite what you might have learned from Loggins and Messina, your Mama might not be able to dance, but she certainly can Rock and Roll.
There is not a whole lot to not like here. 11 songs strong, the perfect number of tracks (10 is not enough, 12 is ok but not preferred, and 11 is perfect), each song with the exception of the sublime closer weighs in around 3:30, which is a nice attention-keeping number. The mix of slower tempo tunes side by side the kick-ass pulse increasing ones is masterful, and the whole thing has an over-all arching feel that there was an awful lot of fun being had in the studio during these sessions, and the whole thing was signed, sealed, and delivered in a couple of hijinks filled weeks, which exactly as it should be.
“Fault Lines” is the “Running Down a Dream” equivalent worthy of your updated Driving Tunes playlist, with the Heartbreakers sounding like the Mudcrutch vintage band that they are with classic riffs that feature the excellent musicianship of the band including spotlight sharing turns on bass and harmonica with a back beat that will keep your heart racing. This song is perfect for that top-down cruise down the California coast. Northern California style, of course.
Petty can do laid back with the best of them, and on “Full Grown Boy” he dials it down J.J. Cale style while accenting his stay in your lane vocal style that never stretches beyond his abilities and always seems to be the perfect blend for the song at hand. “Power Drunk” is a favorite song on the record, and is a perfect old school example of the Tom Petty songwriting style bringing to life ordinary people in ordinary situations living the just below middle class American dream.
“You Get me High” and “Burnt out Town” might be semi-autobiographical from the vantage point of a been there done that rock star with a light that is still burning brighter than ever after forty years of applying his craft. As a one-two punch, buried as deeper cuts on the record, both of these songs are strong with founding Heartbreaker and keyboard artist extraordinaire Benmont Tench taking center stage. For those interested in extra credit, Benmont’s latest release You Should Be so Lucky is well worth some of your ear time, and features a nice version of “Corrina Corrina” and a sterling cover of Dylan’s “Duquesne Whistle” currently on tap for your listening pleasure.
The closer “Shadow People” wraps everything up, and places a bow on the package quite nicely. Once again, drifting things back to their Gainesville Mudcrutch days, the vibe is a bit raw, free-form, and a more than a little psychedelic in all the right places with the 60’s style organ riffs meandering over the song like an un-bogarted joint, a fitting end to a great album.
After long getting over the break-up of The Faces and the untimely death by super model of Rod Stewart, the solo artist within a band, haven’t written a good song in decades, corporate machinations of the Rolling Stones, the ongoing the bitch slap, cat fights that seem to be business as usual with Aerosmith, and the defection of Richie Sambora from Bon Jovi, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers just might stand alone as certainly the freshest, and probably the best old-school Rock and Roll band still kickin’ it today.
Come to think of it, after a couple of spins through Hypnotic Eye along with a journey or two down the rabbit hole of our newly made playlist, and with all due apologies to The E-Street Band, J. Geils, and The Flamin’ Groovies, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers just might be the best American Blues based Rock band ever.
And ever my friends, is a very long time.
— Bernie Sparrow, San Francisco, Ca.
- American Dream Plan
- Fault Lines
- Red River
- Full Grown Boy
- All You Can Carry
- Power Drunk
- Forgotten Man
- Sins of My Youth
- U Get Me High
- Burnt Out Town
- Shadow Town
- Tom Petty – vocals, rhythm guitar, production
- Mike Campbell – lead guitar, production
- Scott Thurston – rhythm guitar, harmonica
- Benmont Tench – acoustic and electric piano, organ
- Ron Blair – bass guitar
- Steve Ferrone – drums, percussion