Rebel songs formed an important part of Tom Petty's career output as an artist. Album titles such as You're Gonna Get It and Damn the Torpedoes reveal that Petty had no qualms about bucking the system, even very early on. And if anything, he grew more outspoken as the years rolled on. Here's a look back at his most fiercely independent characters, as UCR counts down the Top 10 Tom Petty Rebel Songs.
'Change the Locks'From: 'Songs and Music From 'She's The One'' (1996)
"Change the Locks" was written by Lucinda Williams but Petty made the song his own, adding extra punch to the line "and you can't hear me laugh – honey I'm laughing all the time" by punctuating the end of it with a hearty "oh!" All of a sudden, he'd transformed these lines into one of the greatest relationship kiss-offs ever.
'Restless'From: 'You're Gonna Get It!' (1978)
The lyric "I don't belong to no one" sounds much more defiant here than it is in the actual context on "Restless," but it would become one of Petty's main mantras in the years that followed. A delightfully surly guitar line from Mike Campbell helps propel Petty's character as he walks against the wind of the commonly accepted way of life, while trying to fit in with a society that he's already bored with.
'Mary Jane's Last Dance'From: 'Greatest Hits' (1993)
Whether you believe that this song is about a girl or (perhaps more likely) about a certain illegal green leafy substance, it doesn't get much more rebel-like than the video below, in which Petty plays a morgue employee who decides to cart a corpse (that's Kim Basinger) home for a dinner date. In one of the charmingly creepiest date nights ever, it all ends with Petty dropping her off – not at home, but instead, at sea.
'The Wild One, Forever'From: 'Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers' (1976)
"The Wild One, Forever" is a good reminder that rebels can also take the form of a girl who guys have all been warned about. After a chance encounter that sticks in his memory, however, one such girl is all that Petty can think about. In the end, it doesn't appear that he was able to tame this particular Wild One, but it sounds like he had a lot fun trying.
'Jammin' Me'From 'Let Me Up (I've Had Enough)' (1987)
Railing against the media overload of endless sensationalism and headlines, "Jammin' Me" was a collaboration that Petty and Campbell wrote with Petty's future Traveling Wilburys bandmate Bob Dylan. Set against a cocky backbeat, the single was rebelliously good ear candy that name checked Eddie Murphy and Joe Piscopo among others, telling them to shove it far beyond where the sun doesn't shine. Has anybody seen Piscopo recently?
'Spike'From 'Southern Accents' (1985)
One of Tom Petty's most loved characters, Spike is a unique misfit with a dog collar that naturally places him outside of "proper" society. As a modern day James Dean, nobody's really sure what happened to Spike after he wandered out of the bar toward Interstate 75. Chances are good that he's causing trouble somewhere at this very moment.
'You Don't Know How It Feels'From 'Wildflowers' (1994)
It wasn't a well-kept secret that Petty enjoyed the mind-altering effects of marijuana, but it was a whole different thing for him to sing about it so directly in a song meant for radio airplay. "You Don't Know How It Feels" earned tons of spins and a whole lot more, including a Grammy Award in 1995 for Best Male Vocal Rock Performance. (In yet another rebel move, Petty thumbed his nose at the industry and didn't show up to accept the award.) Perhaps most importantly, "You Don't Know How It Feels" introduced his music to an entirely new generation of fans.
'The Last DJ'From 'The Last DJ' (2002)
Both the album and title track from Petty's 2002 LP appeared to be attacking the music industry with a new vengeance. He seemed to be leading the way as the growing backlash against soulless corporate radio programming was percolating at a particularly high level. Following some backlash, however, Petty told Mojo magazine that the song had been misunderstood. Instead, he insisted "The Last DJ" was really about "losing our moral compass" as a society.
'I Won't Back Down'From 'Full Moon Fever' (1989)
Featuring guest guitar from George Harrison, another Wilbury buddy, "I Won't Back Down" stands tall as a lifelong mission statement for Tom Petty. It also acts as a handy and very successful "fuck you" to Petty's record company. They'd initially rejected Full Moon Fever, saying they didn't hear any potential hit singles. (Petty returned to their comment on the title track for his next album, and that song probably could have been on this list, too.)
'Rebels'From 'Southern Accents' (1985)
It's appropriate that Tom Petty's best rebel song was born in an figuratively acidic pool of his own angry piss and vinegar. He became so frustrated with his inability to properly frame the arrangement while recording "Rebels" that he punched a wall at the studio, breaking his hand in the process. Producer Jimmy Iovine eventually came in to help Petty fully realize his creative vision, but the story became one of the more famous tales of Petty's hard-headedness.