Finally, in the last third of his recording career, Tom Petty began to slow down a bit, releasing only five studio albums (if you count the two Mudcrutch records, and you should) between 2002’s The Last DJ and his death.
Compare that with eight albums (if you count the Traveling Wilburys, and you should) between 1976-1988, and seven (again, counting the Wilburys) between 1989-2002, and it was clear the Tom Petty was going into a more relaxed phase of his life. And why not? He’d already had a nearly unprecedented run of success, and was as beloved as any musician of his era could possibly be.
So that meant records like Highway Companion, which happened to be the third record in two separate trilogies: Tom Petty solo albums and Tom Petty albums produced by Jeff Lynne. However, unlike the fraught band politics surrounding Full Moon Fever, Into The Great Wide Open and Wildflowers, Highway Companion was just Petty, Lynn and Mike Campbell, period.
Hell, Petty even played the drums on the record and given the usual straightforward, simple songs, acquits himself quite well, especially on my favorite track, the slightly melancholy and possibly at least somewhat autobiographical “Flirting With Time.”
In 2006, of course, Petty was working with Peter Bogdanovich on the Runnin’ Down a Dream film and probably thinking about being in the music business for 30 years, which no doubt inspired verses like this:
This could well be your last stand
Hold the sunlight in your hand
Spread your fingers
Feel the sand fall through
I’ve done all I can do, now it’s up to you…
With a typically straightfoward acoustic/electric guitar mix — Campbell tossing in a lovely 12-string solo — and Lynne singing low-key harmonies, “Flirting With Time” has yet another indelible chorus in a career made on them.
You’re flirting with time baby
Flirting with time, and maybe
Time, baby, is catching up with you
With Petty’s slightly different elongation of “tiiiiiiiiimmmme” in each line providing the hooks, it’s so catchy that you might not even notice Petty double-timing on his snare to give that chorus an extra bit of oomph as they repeat it over and over at the fade.
And then you also realize that Tom Petty did much more than flirt with time, he pretty much got to fuck it.
“Flirting With Time”
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