Certain Songs #1011: Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers – “A Thing About You”

Album: Hard Promises
Year: 1981

September 6, 1981 was the first time I saw Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers. If my memory serves, Tim & I drove up to Sacramento in his light blue Chevy Luv pick-em-up truck, blasting a Pretenders bootleg I’d somehow snared on cassette.

It was the climax of the California Exposition and State Fair, and being September in California, it was hot as fuck. So hot I remember that they had to pull people over the barricades who were suffering from heat exhaustion. But as hot as it was, it wasn’t any kind of match for Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers, who played a hit-heavy set that included Stevie Nicks on the songs where you would expect Stevie Nicks but also focused on Hard Promises, including my second favorite song from it, “A Thing About You.”

On one level, “A Thing About You” is a trifle, a throwaway, hardly important at all beyond being an excuse for The Heartbreakers to rock out unabashedly. But, of course, that’s the point: nobody got more joy from rocking out unabashedly than Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers.

So with Mike Campbell tossing out modified Chuck Berry licks from the start, Stan Lynch knocking down every single drum roll he sets up, and Benmont Tench commenting on every line in each verse, whenever Petty launches into the joyous chorus, it’s all I can do not to raise my fists and shout it to the skies with them.

But ooooooooooohhhhhhhhh
Baby let me tell you, I got a thing about you
Baby let me tell you, I got a thing about you
It don’t matter what you say
It don’t matter what you do
I, I, I, got a thing about you

Petty’s “ooooooohhhhh” gliding into the chorus is a thing of beauty, as his “aye aye aye” at the end, as is his scream leading out of the stop-time bridge and into Campbell’s rampaging guitar solo.

In the end, they actually slow it down a bit just so that Tom can make sure she understand he’s got a thing about her, as if he was worried that the zillion times he’d already said wasn’t quite going to take. I also think that Tom Petty loved this song, as it showed up on both the Playback box set and The Live Anthology over some of the more writerly songs from Hard Promises like “Nightwatchman,” “Something Big” or even the other uptempo jam “Kings Road.”

“A Thing About You”

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