Southern Accents

30 Years Ago Today

March 26, 1985 – Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers: Southern Accents is released.

Southern Accents is the sixth album by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, released on March 26, 1985. It reached #7 on the Billboard 200 Top LP's chart, and #23 on the UK chart. The album's first single, "Don't Come Around Here No More", cowritten by Dave Stewart of Eurythmics, peaked at #13 on the Billboard Hot 100. Its music video featured Alice in Wonderland imagery.

Few musicians can manage to produce simple, pop-inflected rock & roll with as much integrity as Tom Petty. Possibly the definitive FM rock radio star, Petty has been combining great hooks, unabashedly straightforward arrangements and a Dylanesque, clenched-teeth-whine on great records since the mid '70s. Southern Accents, though not up to the snuff of his earlier efforts, still delivers in suitable fashion. Southern Accents is notable chiefly for the unbelievably great, sitar-drenched, drone-groove of "Don't Come Around Here No More," a song that manages to be distinctly Petty and, at the same time, like nothing he's done before. While not Petty's best, Southern Accents is still an example of the thing Petty makes best: honest pop music.

Originally conceived as a concept album, the theme of "Southern Accents" became somewhat murky with the inclusion of three songs co-written by Stewart, and three other songs originally planned for the album left off. Songs cut from the track list include "Trailer," "The Image of Me" and "The Apartment Song". These can be found on Playback, a box set released 10 years later that included familiar songs with outtakes, b-sides and other rarities.

While mixing the opening track "Rebels" Petty became frustrated and punched a wall, severely breaking his left hand. Subsequent surgery on his hand left him with several pins, wires and screws to hold his hand together.


"There's a southern accent, where I come from/The young 'uns call it country/The Yankees call it dumb," sings Tom Petty on the title track of his long-awaited Southern Accents. The Gainesville, Florida, native knows all about stereotypes. You know, slow talking equals slow thinking, good rocking equals no thinking. This, his sixth album, is a fierce defense of his Southern roots and an ambitious fight for his creative honor.

It's easy to see, though, how Petty's good-ol'-boy caginess — his reluctance to lay all his cards on the table — could be mistaken for shallowness. There isn't much lyrical heft to songs like "Even the Losers," "Don't Do Me Like That" and "You Got Lucky." His is straightforward boy-girl rock on a strictly personal level, what you get when you cross an impulse toward folk-rock introspection with an unrepentant pop-single sensibility. But Petty's voice — a live wire of raw emotion and unexpected vulnerability — is where the action is. On his most fully realized albums, Damn the Torpedoes and Long after Dark, Petty's urgent yowls and forlorn mutters tied together a string of seemingly unconnected tracks. Damn the Torpedoes became a heartfelt meditation on the balancing act between sudden fame and solid love, and Long after Dark searchingly measured the aftershocks of a romantic breakup.

It's only when you dig down into Petty's albums in search of a philosophy that you come up short. Petty's records don't tell us much about him except that he has found that it's no picnic at the top. And they tell us even less about ourselves: unlike, say, Bruce Springsteen, another working-class hero with whom he is often paired, Petty doesn't leave enough space between his lines for listeners to write their own dreams. He reveals himself in fragments — a distrust of the rich ("Listen to Her Heart"), a stubborn idealism ("The Waiting"), a faith in love-as-healer ("Here Comes My Girl"). But he has never been able to articulate his concerns on vinyl with as much sureness or dignity — or with as forceful a rallying cry to his constituency — as he has displayed in his well-publicized legal skirmishes, which are themselves the stuff of an old Jimmy Stewart movie: Mr. Petty Goes to Court, the little guy fighting his record company for a fair retail price. But, for all his good intentions, Petty remained, on record, a blueprint for a rock star; he needed fleshing out.

Which is why Southern Accents held such promise. Here is Petty at his most forthcoming, telling us how it feels to be a born-poor Southerner — an outsider in the glittery East Coast-West Coast music establishment. The album cover, after all, eschews the standard rock-star mug shot in favor of Winslow Homer's 1865 painting The Veteran in a New Field. And the record's stinging opener, "Rebels," sounds like a breakthrough. Its embattled-but-scrappy antihero, born "in Dixie on a Sunday morning," still smarts from years of humiliation at the hands of "those blue-bellied devils." He is both a Petty surrogate and a personification of the rural, working-class South, tenaciously hanging on to its identity as the New South remakes itself in the "concrete and metal" image of the North. Perry shrewdly boils cultural displacement down to a matter of pride and frustration. We have all been "faced with some things sometimes that are so hard to swallow," so we can sympathize with the character as he walks a tightrope between two worlds, trying to stay true to the convictions of one while making it according to the dictates of the other. Propelled by drummer Stan Lynch's booming beat, the song's anthemic chorus, "Hey, hey, hey/I was born a rebel" — and Petty recklessly rhymes "rebel" with "pedal," as in, Hit the gas and go — becomes Tom Petty's long-sought statement of identity.

As a vivid scene setter full of bedraggled humor, "Rebels" should have been the first chapter in a juicy story. But just as we have settled down to hear how this engaging loser survives after his girlfriend bails him out of a drunk tank and dumps him by the roadside, he disappears — and with him goes the album's cohesiveness. The Heartbreakers' sound — chiming guitars, welling organ, crackling drum — goes too, making way for a pair of keyboard-and-horn-laced experiments that Petty wrote with David A. Stewart of Eurythmics. "It Ain't Nothin' to Me" and the second-side opener, "Make It Better (Forget about Me)," aspire to the Rolling Stones' old black-and-blue dance mood, with call-and-response vocals, a jangling guitar riff, snippets of jazzy piano and pseudo-funk horns. But the songs have a calculated, secondhand feel, as if Stewart were building a scale-model soul review as a project for anthropology class. A Dixie boy like Petty ought to know better than to go searching across the ocean for what he can find in his own back yard.

Still, the Petty-Stewart collaboration yields one great song, the edgy, hypnotic single "Don't Come around Here No More," that reveals what this unlikely couple saw in each other. Eurythmics' "Who's That Girl" and "Here Comes the Rain Again" and Petty's "Breakdown" and "The Wild One, Forever" share an obsessive, desperate passion. On "Don't Come around Here No More," Lynch metes out a shuddering rhythm while Stewart's sitar is layered between a cello and the wordless exhaling of female voices to create a trancy, Eurythmics-like elegance that's slashed by Petty's tense, love-wounded cries and spun into a dizzy coda by guitarist Mike Campbell's wah-wah wailing and Howie Epstein's galloping bass. This song doesn't have much of a Southern accent, but if you're going to get sidetracked, this is the way to do it.

The protagonist of "Rebels" returns for the moving title ballad. Though he's barely surviving — drifting out of an Atlanta drunk tank to visions of the Orlando orange groves — he savors his independence. Then he vanishes again until midway through side two when he literally washes up on a beach in the reedy, Dylanesque rocker "Dogs on the Run." Living by his wits, he has scavenged his way into the lap of luxury, where he feels the irony of his fate and the conflict between his impoverished past and his privileged present all around him ("The room was painted blue and gray/All my meals were served on a silver tray"). And there Petty lets the story drop. But, by this time, it doesn't matter much: he has already forfeited continuity by repeatedly losing track of the riveting semi-autobiographical journey at the heart of the record. Nor can he quite bring off Southern Accents as a collage of sounds and styles arranged around a central theme, like Sandinista! or Exile on Main Street. His point of view is inconsistent, and on many songs the Southern connection is too vague or simply absent. Besides "Dogs on the Run," only the laid-back menace of "Spike" adds any local color, Petty incarnating intolerance in the role of a nasty redneck. Southern Accents needs more of these pungent vignettes of Southern life. (Petty reportedly toyed with the idea of making this a double album, using the extended form to foray in bluegrass and C&W. Had he exploited the subject matter fully, he could easily have filled four sides.) When the expansive, horn-showered "The Best of Everything," coproduced by Petty, Jimmy Iovine and Robbie Robertson, blares out of left field to end the record, it has the weight of an elegy, but it's not clear who, or what, has died. Between the roaring setup of "Rebels" and the grandiose finality of the last cut, a vital chunk of Petty's tale never gets told. Southern Accents is a muddle all right, but it's an interesting and maybe even a noble attempt to counter regional chauvinism. As Petty tries to figure out who he is by remembering where he has been, he also gives us Yankees the chance to grow up Southern. ~ Joyce Millman (May 23, 1985)

Listen to the album here.


Behind the Curtain: On Tour with Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers

“We’ve gotta thank our audience,” Tom Petty told the crowd in Boise, Idaho on August 5, 2014. “We’ve had quite a long career as far as rock’n’roll bands go. Throughout that long career, and many records, we’ve never been able to get past number two on the charts. So I want to thank you because Hypnotic Eye is now our first #1!”


We Love You J.L.

In 1980, during the recording of the Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers album ”Hard Promises“, Petty was looking forward to meeting John Lennon, who was scheduled to be in the same studio at the same time as him.


Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers First #1 Record

Rolling Stone Review

BY Jon Dolan | July 29, 2014

I don't like to make the same record twice. - Tom Petty

Tom Petty emerged in the mid-Seventies, he was the perfect down-to-earth rock star for the times: a hungry Southern boy playing tight rock & roll in mellow Southern California, kicking against the era’s soft-bellied complacency with hard-jangling realness. On Hypnotic Eye, the 63-year-old and his eternal Heartbreakers return to the scrappy heat of those early days with their toughest, most straight-up rocking record in many years, deepened by veteran perspective. "I feel like a four letter word," Petty sings on "Forgotten Man," which sounds like "American Girl" remade as a Bo Diddley roof-rumbler. You can be sure as shit that four letter word isn’t "darn" or "rats"

Hypnotic Eye took three years to make, but it often sounds like buddies out on a weekend garage-jam bender. It’s especially reminiscent of their first two records, 1976’s Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers and 1978’s You’re Gonna Get It!, before they hit on the crystal- line polish of 1979’s Damn the Torpedoes. It’s also of a piece with the foundational vibe of 2008’s Mudcrutch, where Petty convened the country-rock band he and two future Heartbreakers (guitarist Mike Campbell and keyboardist Benmont Tench) played in Florida in the early Seventies before they hit L.A

Yet there are few, if any, attempts to reenact Petty’s vintage hits. This is the Heartbreakers four decades and a million shows later, deepening their attack with sturdy reliability. On "Faultlines," Petty and Campbell exchange snarling guitar phrases against a swamp-boogie swing from drummer Steve Ferrone and bassist Ron Blair. On "Red River," the band’s trademark Byrdsy shimmer comes with extra crunch and desert horizon beauty. Sometimes the intensity doesn’t even need to be loud, as with the subdued "Full Grown Boy," where Tench plays jazz-shaded piano and Petty pushes his voice into a relaxed croon for the wee small hours.

Petty populates these urgent songs with a cast of desperate dreamers, zealots, doomed lovers, loose cannons and alienated zombies like the woman in "Red River" stockpiling powerless religious talismans, the doomsaying town crier in the highway rocker "All You Can Carry," or Petty himself in the forebodingly caustic "Shadow People," wondering what role he can play "in my time of need, in my time of grief."

The most sympathetic of these characters is the defiant freefaller in "American Dream Plan B," clinging to hope against all evidence. "My success is anybody’s guess/But like a fool I’m betting on happiness," Petty sings over acrid blasts of distortion. You can imagine the guy hearing this song on his car radio and using it to steel himself for life’s next knee in the grapes. When the God touched chorus kicks in, full of Petty’s ringing chords and Campbell’s psychedelic fuzz, it’s like a backslap of brotherly reassurance. If a Katy Perry song had come on the radio, he might’ve swerved into oncoming traffic. But not today. Tom Petty has saved drive time once again, just like he’s been doing since he was a cranky young man himself.


1. American Dream Plan B
2. Fault Lines
3. Red River
4. Full Grown Boy
5. All You Can Carry
6. Power Drunk
7. Forgotten Man
8. Sins Of My Youth
9. U Get Me High
10. Burnt Out Town
11. Shadow People
12. Playing Dumb

* Click song for audio, lyrics and GUITAR CHORDS!


Log in or Sign up