CK Retro Review: Full Moon Fever by Tom Petty

It was essentially his first ever solo album, although Tom Petty wasn’t alone by any means on 1989’s Full Moon Fever. Heartbreaker sidekick Mike Campbell was along for the ride, along with several Wilburys. The result is an album that stands as perhaps the finest of his career in terms of top-to-bottom quality. Here is a track-by-track review.

(The quotes following the songs were taken from Breakdown: Tom Petty’s 100 Best Songs, my recently published e-book which can be purchased in the link below.)


12. “A Mind With A Heart Of Its Own”- This boogeying number didn’t make my list of Top 100 Petty songs, the only one on Full Moon Fever that missed. That’s more a testament to the quality of the album than it is a knock on “A Mind With A Heart Of Its Own,” which boasts some humorous lyrics.


11. “Love Is A Long Road”- “Petty’s nasally singing is a bit affected here, but it’s ultimately secondary to Mike Campbell’s thunderous guitars. They’re the main selling point of a track that really tears it up when played live and would stand out on any normal album. On Full Moon Fever, “Love Is A Long Road” suffers for being a really good song among great ones.”

10. “Depending On You”- “Notice how those refrains play off the verses, as Petty plays it coy with his talk-singing in those parts before powering into the choruses, like a conversation that starts simply before the intensity ratchets up. It’s just a little touch that makes this otherwise humble little number sound downright powerful.”

9. “The Apartment Song”- “Best of all is the brief, Buddy Holly-inspired, guitar-and-drum breakdown. At any moment during that portion of the song, you half-expect Petty to break into a few bars of “Peggy Sue”. It’s that kind of anything-goes approach that made the album so special and transformed “The Apartment Song” from a leftover to a winner.”

8. “Alright For Now”- “To the long list of rock lullabies, feel free to add this unabashedly pretty offering from Full Moon Fever. Tom Petty and Mike Campbell do some intricate finger-picking on acoustic guitar without ever raising the volume level too high. Wouldn’t want to wake up any dozing youngsters now, would they?”

7. “A Face In The Crowd”- “Elegant in its understatement and suggesting a lot without really saying much of anything at all, “A Face In The Crowd” proves Petty’s ability to create waves of emotion without spelling everything out. That it feels like a minimum of effort was exerted on this Full Moon Fever track is even more of a testament to TP’s talent as a songwriter.”

6. “I’ll Feel A Whole Lot Better”- This song was not included in my Petty Top 100 because he didn’t write it (Gene Clark did), but the letter-perfect rendition on Full Moon Fever not only honors Petty’s debt to The Byrds but also injects a jolt of sunny adrenaline to anybody who listens to it.

5. “Zombie Zoo”- “I suppose if you dig deep enough, you might be able to find a commentary on the conformity of youth culture or something like that, but why bother? With that horror-movie organ at the start of the song and lines like “You like Boris Karloff and you don’t even care,” it’s best just to enjoy the aural delights of “Zombie Zoo.” Consider it the victory lap on a triumphant album.”


4. “Yer So Bad”- “Petty’s sense of humor is all over this one, veering from mischievous (pondering the relative unworthiness of yuppies and singers in the first verse,) to gallows (the jilted lover contemplating suicide in the second.) You can imagine the band getting a good laugh as Petty brought those lyrics into the studio. Jeff Lynne gets a co-writing credit here, with his apparent contribution being the structuring of the chords to help Petty get from one section of the song to the next.”

3. “Runnin’ Down A Dream”- “According to Paul Zollo’s career-spanning interview book Conversations With Tom Petty, Petty claims that he and Jeff Lynne watched in stunned amazement as Mike Campbell blistered through the memorable solo at the end of “Runnin’ Down A Dream” in one stunning take, slack-jawed at the brilliance they were seeing and hearing. When it came time to edit the song for release on Full Moon Fever, Petty couldn’t bring himself to cut out any of the magic his guitarist had given him.”


2. “I Won’t Back Down”- “Then the song veers quickly back to the mantra of the refrain, with TP’s good buddy George Harrison seconding that emotion on backing vocals. “I Won’t Back Down” isn’t so much about taking some righteous stand as it is adhering to a certain, unwavering code. It’s about integrity really, and few artists have ever exuded quite as much of that elusive quality as Tom Petty.”

1. “Free Fallin'”- “I suppose that some people find some uplift in these lyrics; as for me, I feel like they speak to middle-age aimlessness. That’s what makes the set-up of the refrain so clever: He says he’s “free,” only to pull the rug out from you with the punch line: “Free fallin.’” Maybe he’s looking for a new world because his misdeeds, committed more through a matter of human frailty than any meanness, have left him without a home on this one.”

(E-mail me at or follow me on Twitter @JimBeviglia. E-books and books based on material that debuted on this site are available in the link below.)


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