Tom Petty’s ‘Full Moon Fever’ Was Originally Rejected by His Label
Taste is purely subjective, and opinions are like ... well, everybody's got one. Still, it comes as something of a shock to learn that if certain executives at Tom Petty's label had gotten their way, his classic solo debut Full Moon Fever might never have been released.
It's one of many personal revelations Petty shares in the 2015 Petty: The Biography. Written by Warren Zanes with Petty's blessing, the book delves into a number of painful chapters from his life — including his struggle with heroin addiction — while opening a window into one of rock's most incredible careers.
Full Moon Fever would go on to establish a multi-platinum new benchmark in the Petty discography, but as Billboard revealed in an exclusive excerpt from Petty: The Biography, execs at his longtime label MCA initially passed on it. "Petty had made what he felt was a great record, only to have the doubters at his record label be among the first to hear it and pass judgment on it. The rejection knocked him down," reads one passage. "It hadn't ever happened that way. That anyone at MCA felt they were in a position to respond as they did left Petty stunned."
At this point in his career, Petty was already one of rock's more consistent sellers, and he also had the distinction of having recently joined up with Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Jeff Lynne and Roy Orbison to form the Traveling Wilburys. Those connections came in handy when Harrison and Lynne invited Petty to dinner with Mo Ostin, their label boss at Warner Bros.
With Ostin and Warners president Lenny Waronker looking on, Harrison's said to have picked up a guitar and started playing the Full Moon Fever track "Free Fallin'." After being cajoled into joining in, Petty found himself explaining his frustrating situation to an incredulous Ostin and Waronker.
"Hearing that this was among a collection of songs that had just been rejected by MCA, Waronker said on the spot that he'd sign Petty to Warner Bros.," continues the excerpt. "However good the idea sounded to Petty, he still owed MCA several albums. Waronker told him they should do it anyway. And they did."
MCA made Petty a star, but after a tenure with the label that had been pockmarked with acrimony, he was all too willing to jump ship — and to sign a new deal without giving the execs who initially rejected Full Moon Fever a chance to match Warners' offer. Even though MCA eventually released Fever, the damage was already done; as the excerpt puts it, he and Warners had "a signed contract hidden away in a vault for almost two years. MCA knew nothing of the deal." His 1994 release Wildflowers would be the first of many Petty releases to bear the Warner Bros. logo.
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