The Joup Friday Album: Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers – “Into the Great Wide Open”

Tom PettyOur family was middle class, blue collar, Polish and suburban. If you look at the average income of all the Chicago suburbs, Palos Hills falls literally right in the middle. Whatever “middle class” is these days, but in 1991 there was still a middle class and my brother and I grew up in it. As such we generally took one family trip a year, that is if my parents could afford it and get off of work. In the summer of 1991 we traveled west for not one but two weeks! I think my father’s rationalizing was we hadn’t taken a trip the previous year, and odds on after I graduated high school would not take another one as the four of us. This was “the last big family adventure!”
In late July we pilled into our tan Chevrolet four-door Suburban (the SUV before SUVs) and headed west on I-80. I will hand it to my parents, it was an epic trip and more then likely spawned my travel bug for years to come. We made stops at Pike’s Peak, the Grand Canyon, four corners, Las Vegas, The Great Salt Lake, Yellowstone National Park and The Devil’s tower. I’m sure there were a few kitch stops as well knowing my mother.
Appropriately enough, I read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy during that two weeks. I had a black Sony Walkman and I loved that machine. I played so much music through that contraption in the four years between sophomore year in high school and freshman year at the university. On this trip it was REM’s Out of Time, Sting’s The Soul Cages and of course Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers Into the Great Wide Open…today’s Friday album.

It’s still a shock really. I mean he passed nearly four weeks now and it seems like yesterday when I saw Tom Petty and his Heartbreakers this past summer. Petty had just completed his tour comemerating his 40 years with the Heartbreakers. 53 dates spanning 6 months across the US and Canada. There is no easy way to say it, but I am fortunate to have seen him preform once.

At least one road trip to Milwaukee per summer is required for anyone from Chicago. There’s the Milwaukee Art Museum with it’s brilliant modern wing design by Santiago Calatrava, the Wisconsin State Fair with it’s wide variety of exhibits and of course beer and brats, the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park, or Summerfest with it’s week long glory of hundreds of bands from literally around the world. Petty was playing the second of two nights after the fourth of July and he did not disappoint. 2 hours, 19 tunes and a dozen stories from forty years went by too quickly. The ran through the years with tunes from the entire catalog. Fortunately, he hit a few tunes on my favorite album Into the Great Wide Open.

Into the Great Wide Open begins with one of Petty’s most notable singles: “Learning to Fly.” The 12-string guitar intro can recognized by any rock and roll fan. Petty goes on to spin his yarn as he had for the past 15 years till that point:

Well I started out down a dirty road
Started out all alone
And the sun went down as I crossed the hill
And the town lit up, the world got still


The song is literally four chords the entire duration, but yet one of the most memorably singles in his catalog. “King’s Highway” is next with a glimmer of hope in Petty’s pen:

Oh, I await the day good fortunate comes our way
And we’ll ride on the King’s Highway, yeah…


And of course the title track from the album with one Mr. Johnny Depp playing Eddie Rebel in the video. (Petty played his roadie Bart.)

“Two Gunslingers” is my personal favorite with big accents from timpani drums and full orchestral horns. It’s the telling tale of just walking away.
Listen for the keen guitar lead of longtime bandmate Mike Campbell on “The Dark of the Sun.” The simply mean “All or Nothin’” written by Campbell and Petty concludes Side A with Petty infamously instructing cassette listeners to flip over to Side B. Something I appreciated on my trip through the west.

So Side B starts with another beautiful guitar intro on “All the Wrong Reasons.” The accenting timpani drums again swells the sound providing a much bigger sonic experience. This is the keen work of ELO’s Jeff Lynne working alongside Petty and Heartbreakers. Something I had no idea about till recent research. Of course Lynne was a Traveling Wilburry along with Petty.
The cautionary tale “Too Good to be True” follows in a realization that, unfortunately, many dreamers have time to time. Again Campbell shines with tasteful killer leaders. By this moment a realization of how important Campbell’s guitar parts are to all of these songs and all of Petty tunes for that matter.

More big rock guitar on the lamenting “Out in the Cold.” Terrific background vocals from the Heartbreakers and more shredding guitar from Campbell. You can never have enough guitar…never especially on this level. Another quick interlude with Petty in his narrator role and then the hopeful “You and I will Meet Again.”  Perhaps a tip of the cap to his past is “Make Some Noise.” And of course what is a Petty album without a love story that only he could tell? You’ll find that “It’s Built to Last.”

I really had found a Great Wide Open on that trip some time ago, well what I though anyway. It had changed me into recognizing that world is a much bigger place then I had imagined but there are some common truths that somehow stitch it together. Petty always had the pulse on that.
While his death is sad, one should remember that his music career was quite impressive. He released 13 albums under the guile of Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers and another three solo (which The Heartbreakers were musicians on some tunes). He toured the US and sometimes the Earth nearly every year for 40 years! He was part of the possibly the best supergroup ever. And whether you subscribe to it or not he is a Rock n Roll HOFer. I say let’s revel in him and his music for that is what he truly gave us.

Joe Grez

Joe Grez

Joe Grzesik (JGrez) is still an artist developer trying to keep up with new technologies. Photography still has been one of his strongest passions. However, now his main focus has led him back to music where he teaches guitar, piano, saxophone and percussion privately. Music education can never be short changed.

One Response to The Joup Friday Album: Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers – “Into the Great Wide Open”
  1. Shawn Reply

    GREAT write-up Joe. I especially like the way you relate the personal experiences that surround your introduction to this awesome record. As I briefly recounted almost three years ago when I chose another Petty album as my pick for another edition of The Joup Friday Album I was also introduced to Into the Great Wide Open back when it came out and it left an indelible impression on me. Great way to honor the passing of a legend!

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