The second time I saw Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers was on September 4, 1982, the second night of the first US Festival.
Tim and I and a guy named Mike made the five-hour drive from Fresno, slept two nights in sleeping bags in the dirt parking lot, and endured temperatures as high as 108 in order to see a whole slew of amazing bands — Talking Heads, Police, Fleetwood Mac, Ramones, Kinks — because at 19, I could endure just about anything for rock ‘n’ roll.
The thing I remember the most about Tom Petty’s headlining set that evening was that they played a couple of new songs from the upcoming Long After Dark album. One of those songs was the first single, called “You Got Lucky.” And I thought it was absolutely and utterly amazing, and couldn’t wait to hear it when the album came out.
(Now here’s the thing: I know it was 35 years ago, but I can’t find any proof they actually played “You Got Lucky” at the US Festival. I pinged Tim, and he was no help. On the other hand, I was completely sober for the entire thing — no alcohol allowed, plus I was 19 — so I trust my memory. Who knows, maybe the upcoming US Festival documentary which I helped kickstart might verify — or negate — that memory.)
In any event, a few weeks after the show, MTV premiered the video for “You Got Lucky” — it was a huge deal, an expensive concept video which got a World Premiere — and I . . . I hated it. It was the same song on the chorus, but it didn’t seem as anthemic, and I kinda hated the synths. Now, this was neither the first nor last time I wasn’t initially enamored of a Petty single — it happened with “Breakdown,” “Don’t Do Me Like That” “A Woman In Love” and “Mary Jane’s Last Dance,” too.
The difference is that I came around on those songs, but I never really have on “You Got Lucky.”
Meanwhile, the other new song they played that night was the leadoff track from Long After Dark, the keening “One Story Town,” which is probably the rockingest song they ever led off a record with.
All full of Mike Campbell’s bendy, near-psychedelic leads, with Petty setting vocal phasers to Dylanesque, “One Story Town” also heralded the overall sound of Long After Dark: thick, weary and sludgy, all of the polish that was on Hard Promises and Damn The Torpedoes completely wiped off.
Which completely served a set of songs that definitely reflected a band that was clearly a bit wiped out.
Oh, I’m lost in a one story town
Where everything’s close to the ground
Yeah the same shit goes down
Nothing turns around
It’s a one story town
Or as I liked to sing: “lohaaaast in a won staaaaaaarrry tawwwwmnnnn”
As it turns out, “One Story Town” and its companion rocker, “Finding Out,” was the end of the road for a certain type of Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers song. During their Jimmy Iovine period, they perfected uptempo jams full of guitar leads, extra percussion, organ fills and vocal interjections, and while they never fully abandoned big uptempo rockers, things like “Jamming Me” or “Free Girl Now” or even “Running Down a Dream” never felt quite as … free, I guess, as songs like “Century City” or “Kings Road.”
This is a thing, BTW, I never even realized until … well, this morning, actually. It’s just that I’ve spent this week unexpectedly hardcore thinking about these songs that I’d internalized decades ago, so it was clearly never an issue. It’s just that I never realized how much Iovine helped them put themselves together as a straight-ahead rock band.
And once that happened, of course, they wanted to be more. But first, they needed to take some time off.
“One Story Town”
“One Story Town” performed live at the US Festival, 1982 (terrible quality)
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