Tom Petty’s Affection For The Byrds

This morning, my streaming music provider served up a great Get Up! playlist, which was based on my listening habits. It included Tom Petty’s version of Feel a Whole Lot Better. Not only did the tune immediately put me in a good mood, but it once again reminded me that in addition to writing so many great songs, Petty also performed fantastic covers. The Byrds and Roger McGuinn in particular were important musical influences. I also happen to dig the latter two, so I thought it would be fun to put together a post of Petty’s Byrds covers.

Let’s start with So You Want to Be a Rock ‘n’ Roll Star, which appeared on Pack Up the Plantation: Live!, the first live album by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers from November 1985. Co-written by Roger McGuinn and Chris Hillman, the tune was first released in January 1967 as the lead single to The Byrds’ fourth studio album Younger Than Yesterday, which came out the following month.

Next up is the above-mentioned Feel a Whole Lot Better. Petty included that tune on his solo debut Full Moon Fever released in April 1989. The song was written by Gene Clark and first appeared in June 1965 as the b-side to the single All I Really Want to Do. Both of these songs were included on The Byrds’ debut album Mr. Tambourine Man released one week after the single.

For the last clip, I needed to cheat a bit. Mr. Tambourine Man, of course, is a Bob Dylan tune; however, it was The Byrds who popularized it in April 1965. And while Dylan has written many great songs, I think The Byrds not only made Mr. Tambourine Man their own, but also significantly improved it in the process! The following cover by Roger McGuinn and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers is from a beautiful concert that took place at New York’s Madison Square Garden in October 1992 to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Dylan as a recording artist. Most of that show was captured on a live album released in August 1993 and separately on VHS, DVD and Blu-ray.

In the wake of Petty’s untimely death in October 2017, McGuinn was interviewed for a story published by Philly Voice. He recalled the first time he heard American Girl, the third single off the eponymous debut album by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. “I said, ‘when did I record that?…I was kidding, but the vocal style sounded just like me and then there was the Rickenbacker guitar, which I used. The vocal inflections were just like mine. I was told that a guy from Florida named Tom Petty wrote and sings the song, and I said that I had to meet him.” And he did, and the two hit it off!

McGuinn added, “When I covered ‘American Girl,’ I changed a word or two and Tom asked me if it was because the vocal was too high and I said ‘yes.’ I had fun with Tom’s song…There is nobody like Tom Petty.” I couldn’t agree more!

Sources: Wikipedia; Philly Voice; YouTube

10 thoughts on “Tom Petty’s Affection For The Byrds”

  1. I’m a huge fan of both. You can tell Tom was influenced by Roger. I could hear the 12 string Rick for ever more and be happy.
    I was lucky that I got to see Tom and I also saw Roger in 1988 I believe.

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    1. Luckily, I got to see Tom as well. The first time was in the late ’80s together with Dylan. Roger McGuinn actually opened up. Roger and Tom were terrific, Dylan was a huge disappointment! I saw Tom a second time in the wake of Hypnotic Eye. That show was great as well!

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      1. Oh man…you saw them all at one concert! That is great. I’ve seen Dylan 8 times with only one so so show…he only played for 45 minutes…I was confused…but that was it.

        I saw Petty on the Great Wide Open Tour.

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  2. Tom Petty war in seiner nasalen Insistenz ebenso stark von John Lennon wie von Bob Dylan geprägt, und auf der Gitarre orientierte er sich am schimmernden Klang von George Harrison und dem Byrds-Sänger Roger McGuinn; er war ein Songwriter unter Einfluss, ein Vertreter des sogenannten Classic Rock. Schliesslich hatte der Amerikaner Musiker zu werden beschlossen, als er die Beatles zum ersten Mal spielen sah, 1964 in der „Ed Sullivan Show“. Tom Petty war, wie alle grossen Musiker, selbst ein Fan.

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  3. That influence was evident early on- there are worse bands to be influenced by than The Byrds- a candidate for greatest and most influential American band ever.

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  4. I know that Tom was influenced by the Byrds but apart from what you feature here, I never really heard it. The first song I ever heard by Petty was ‘Breakdown’ which I fucking loved. And that was just bluesy. And “American Girl” has some influences but rocks harder than the Byrds. Pound for pound, I’d take Petty and the Heartbreakers over the Byrds every day of the week. As to seeing Tom, I think it might have been you that suggested I should go see him on the last tour. Wish I had taken your advice. 🙂

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