UMN Expert: Tom Petty’s voice was one-of-a-kind
U of M Associate Professor of Musicology Peter Mercer-Taylor reflects on the career of musician, singer and songwriter Tom Petty.
“Tom Petty remembered seeing the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show when he was 13, and he later spoke to how formative that was. I was 13 when I saw Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers on Saturday Night Live, and remember it like it was yesterday. I was sure I was seeing the salvation of rock right there on the screen.
“Tom Petty had a way of writing songs that sounded classic and back-to-basics, but it usually wasn’t about being retro or nostalgic. They were just sturdy, great songs. And his music often sounded simpler than it was. ‘Here Comes My Girl’ is in the key of E, but there are no E chords until almost a minute in. Through the verses of ‘American Girl,’ every musical phrase is longer than the last, which is really unique. This music doesn’t sound complicated, but there is a lot of craft there.
“Even in a generation of distinctive voices—from Patti Smith to Ric Ocasek to Chrissie Hynde—Tom Petty’s voice was one-of-a-kind. It was one of those voices that made you believe every word was true.”
Associate Professor of Musicology, College of Liberal Arts, University of Minnesota
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