Sample Week: “Don’t Come Around Here No More” by Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers

Tom Petty was a little frustrated at the stagnancy that he felt had crept into the band’s sound on their fourth album, 1983’s Get Lucky. He channeled that frustration into the fountain of creativity that led to this one-of-a-kind single. “Don’t Come Around Here No More” was proof to any skeptics that doubted that the Heartbreakers could do anything besides straight-ahead rock ‘n’ roll. Moreover, the memorable video brought the band to a younger group of fans and helped ensure that their popularity wouldn’t be waning anytime soon.

Dave Stewart was Tom’s simpatico collaborator on this madcap tour de force, and his spirit of experimentation inspired Petty to make some very un-Petty like choices. For example, there’s the sampled drum pattern that repeats throughout the song, which, combined with that mystical sitar that seems to endlessly feedback onto itself for a wash of head-spinning sound, creates the oddest rhythm bed you’ve ever heard.

That wasn’t all of the insanity running rampant with this song. Stewart also sent the track to a bass player (Dean Garcia,) whose work was completely unusable save for the quirky little bit that kicks the song into gear. Female backing vocalists were brought in to give some counterpoint to Petty’s rejoinders, and Stewart allegedly ran into the control room with his pants down in an effort to get one (Stephanie Sprull) to hit that high note that kicks off the harder-rocking section at the song’s end.

It’s as if Petty included that closing section to remind everyone that the Heartbreakers were still very much a force, and, thanks to the contrast of all the weirdness before, that section rocks righteously indeed. TP also fully invests himself in the role he’s playing here in a performance that’s reminiscent of some of Mick Jagger’s memorable cads from the Stones’ catalog.

Petty has stated in interviews that he regrets the video somewhat because he feels like no one can hear “Don’t Come Around Here No More” now without imagining Alice In Wonderland. I disagree. When I hear it, I don’t picture Petty in a goofy hat. I hear a vibrant, slightly-daft, never-dull, whirlwind of a single that reinvigorated a career.

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