It’s been a terrible week for the US music business. After the horrors of Las Vegas, the death of Tom Petty was perhaps inevitably somewhat over-shadowed, but even amidst such tragedy, his passing should not go unmarked.
It’s become standard to say, as another rock legend leaves us, that we won’t see their like again. But in Petty’s case, you do wonder if we ever will. He was the kind of musician that used to seem commonplace, particularly in the US; not a megastar (although Petty certainly had his moments in the sun, particularly Stateside), but one who carved out a great career and a large fanbase without ever compromising on the reasons he got into the business in the first place.
It was notable that, on his death, everyone seemed to have a different favourite Tom Petty album. For what it’s worth, mine is Long After Dark, his under-appreciated - at least in the UK - 1982 record that sticks resolutely to the old-fashioned notion that a collection of really good songs played really well is all you need - a resolution that, as it happens, turned out to be correct.
Because Petty’s appeal was not built on a single hit, nor could it be boiled down to a handful of songs with mass appeal. Instead, his name guaranteed songwriting quality across a range of projects and decades. In the streaming age, with its emphasis on blockbuster contemporary songs and classic hits, that’s precisely the sort of career that could fall through the cracks.
That, thankfully, never happened to Petty, whose last UK gig at British Summer Time Hyde Park was surely his biggest-ever headline show here. But the next generation of heroes outside of the mainstream might not be so lucky. We owe it to Petty - and the business - to handle them with care.