Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers: Long After Dark
By Julie Toth
The Observer - December 1, 1982
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers have a knack for being able to repeatedly turn out good, solid rock and roll albums. From their very first Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers (Shelter Records) to their very latest Long After Dark (Backstreet/MCA), their LP's have matured from being a display of young, raw talent into a showcase for a band who has reached full maturity.
On Long After Dark, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers return minus bassist Ron Blair (replaced by Howie Epstein) who was with te group since its conception. His absence does not seem to diminish the group's sound which is at its strongest and best. Although the album is full of familiar guitar riffs and the perpetual theme of the trials and tribulations of loving a woman -- instead of being repetitious -- they have become the groups' trademark.
Petty is a true romantic in the highest sense. Not only do his lyrics ooze with sincerity, but his whiny vocal style excellently conveys his feelings of anger, hurt and love to the listener. His versatility shines through on Long After Dark going from a haughty on conceit on "You Got Lucky": -- Good love is hard to find / You got lucky babe / When I found you," to urgently romantic on "We Stand a Chance" -- "We could stand the chance of a real love / Oh God I love you / God knows I do."
While Petty's lyrics are moving as an entity in themselves, they are strongly supported by excellent guitar work by Mike Campbell (also Petty's co-songwriter), piano and organs by Benmont Tench and drums by Stan Lynch. It is evident that on Long After Dark each cut is smoother and more refined than on past albums. On hits such as "Breakdown" and "American Girl" (from their first album) the group's sound was more intense and rough -- the guitars usually overpowering the vocals. Now the perfect mix has been found making Long After Dark their best work yet.
It is interesting to see although Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers have had tremendous legal hassles their lyrics remain virtually untainted by cynicism and bitterness. Their problems began when the group was still in its infancy. After going to LA to land a recording deal for his unsuccessful group Mudcrutch Petty met The Heartbreakers -- Campbell, Blair, Tench and Lynch. In 1976 they released Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers following soon after with Your Gonna Get It!. Their record company Shelter was having difficulties and as a result signed all its acts to ABC Records (its distributor) whose parent company ABC sold it to MCA Records. While this was occurring Petty was already in debt and had filed for bankruptcy, owing money or obligations (for albums) to both Shelter and MCA Records.
He was sued for breach of contract by both companies and with assets totaling only $56,000.00 against surmounting debts of over $57,000.00, Petty had nowhere to turn until his bankruptcy papers were filed and proceedings against him were halted. Out of the chaos arose Backstreet Records, another affiliate of MCA, on whose label Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers released Damn the Torpedoes, their breakthrough album which spawned such hits as "Refugee," "Here Comes My Girl." As debts were being repaid and it became time to release their 1981 album Had Promises, another conflict surfaced. MCA wanted to slap a $9.98 price tag on the album which Petty said was too high. After a long struggle Petty finally got his way and with the list price lowered to $8.98 the album was released and became a hit -- flooding the FM airwaves with songs such as "The Waiting," "She's A Woman In Love" and "Thing About You." Making it through troubled times, the group remains undaunted and even when Petty writes such lyrics on Long After Dark as, "Sometimes I wonder if this is worth the trouble / Sometimes I wonder whether this is worth the fight..." I think he already knows the answer.