Tom Petty’s best songs were from Rock’s greatest decade: the ’70s

Tom Petty’s death is a reminder that the greatest music in the history of rock and roll was made in the 1970s.

The Rolling Stones, The Who, The Kinks.

The Grateful Dead, The Band, The Eagles.

Pink Floyd. Led Zeppelin. AC/DC.

Neil Young, David Bowie, Eric Clapton.

Paul McCartney, John Lennon, George Harrison.

Meatloaf, Queen, Fleetwood Mac.

Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Allman Brothers, ZZ Top.

Bob Seger, Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty.

(I would love to put The Beatles on this list, but the group released only Let It Be in the 1970s.)

These artists produced the best music of their careers during the 1970s, when albums mattered, sides one and two mattered, artwork mattered. There was texture, rawness, authenticity. There were liner notes, and there were guest appearances. Session musicians were also a big deal. Take a look at the musicians who played on Meatloaf’s Bat out of Hell album (never mind, I’ll tell you: Todd Rundgren, Roy Bittan, Max Weinberg, Edgar Winter, among many others).

The 1970s was the decade in which I bought my first album, Elton John’s Greatest Hits. Granted, the album was a compilation, but it contained material only from the 1970s, including Your Song, Daniel, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, Rocket Man, Bennie and the Jets and Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me. If he released no other albums or Disney soundtracks or tributes to dead princesses the rest of his career, the man’s work would still be revered. (BTW, Dead Princesses could have been a great name for a band in the 1970s.)

In the ’70s, I also received my first albums as gifts. For my 11th birthday in November 1977, I was given Meatloaf’s Bat out of Hell, and Boston’s debut album.

The decade was the highlight for rock and roll. Aside from the work of The Beatles in the 1960s, it is the ’70s that remains the pinnacle for rock music.

I’ve been listening to a lot of albums in their entirety recently. I can’t explain it, but I find myself letting a whole album play. Hotel California by The Eagles, Pink Floyd’s Animals and Springsteen’s Darkness on the Edge of Town. Petty’s Damn the Torpedoes, too, which was released in October 1979, and was one of those events that – in hindsight – brought the decade to a symbolic close. The others were the release of Pink Floyd’s The Wall a month later; and then the death weeks after that of 11 fans at a Who concert in Cincinnati. Twelve months later, John Lennon was killed.

Damn the Torpedoes was recorded at Sound City, the studio that gave us Neil Young’s After the Gold Rush; Fleetwood Mac’s Fleetwood Mac (my wife and I danced to the song Crystal from that album at our wedding); and the Grateful Dead’s Terrapin Station, to name but a few. (In the 1980s, Nirvana’s Nevermind was recorded at the Van Nuys studio, and so was Rage Against the Machine’s self-titled album.)

Petty’s death on October 2 – 18 days before his 67th birthday – is a sad moment for those of us who love his music. But there remains two reasons to smile.

In the 208-minute long, Martin Scorsese-directed documentary about George Harrison titled Living in the Material World, Petty tells the story about receiving a phone call from Harrison the day Roy Orbison died in December 1988. Petty says that Harrison asked him: “Aren’t you glad it’s not you?”

This story may sound callous, but the truth is we are all lucky for every day of life, and we should be grateful we have more time. Petty’s response: “Yeah, I am.”

Petty went on to say that Harrison said: “He’ll [meaning Orbison] be okay. He’ll be okay. He’s still around. Just listen, he’s still around.”

The second reason to smile is the joy we still get when listening to this music that will remain with us forever.

Michael Jabri-Pickett Speechwriter • Editor • Journalist