Album: An American Treasure
Another thing I love about the massive An American Treasure box set that came out a couple of years ago is that it gives me a chance to write about Tom Petty’s acting career, which, of course culminated with nearly 30 appearances on the great show King of The Hill, which has absolutely nothing to do with this song in any way, shape or form.
The first place I saw Tom Petty act was on It’s Garry Shandling’s Show, where he — of course — played Garry Shandling’s neighbor, the famous rock star Tom Petty, and would occasionally show up for some bit of metatextual silliness, as was the wont of that show.
He was only on one episode of his friend Shandling’s masterwork The Larry Sanders show — which remains on my shortlist of the greatest TV shows ever, full stop — and it was the last episode ever to boot, but his backstage scene was utterly hilarious, especially his brutal insult of Greg Kinnear, which never fails to make me laugh out loud.
In fact, before you read further, I urge you to watch the clip I linked to above. I’ll wait. It’s so great, it’s even worth wading through 30 seconds of Jim Carrey, which has historically been 30 seconds too much for me.
Anyways, none of this prepared me for his turn on King of the Hill, where he played Lucky, a boyfriend of the Hank and Peggy’s niece, Luanne. And while Lucky didn’t show up until the eighth season, he was practically a regular in King of the Hill’s last couple of seasons, and I for one never got tired of his character, which, for a longer time than I should have, I thought was named after his Traveling Wilburys name. Because I knew that there was a Lucky Wilbury, and assumed it was Tom.
While we’ll talk about the Wilburys more when we get there later this year — my final final excuse to write about TP — it turns out that Lucky Wilbury was Bob Dylan, and Tom Petty was “Charlie T. Wilbury, Jr,” a joke about his relative youth when compared to the rest of the Wilburys, who were, of course, all much younger than many people reading this now — you know, like that meme you see on social media.
ANYWAYS, “King of The Hill” came about when McGuinn joined the Dylan-Petty caravan in Europe — and while I saw Bob Dylan and the Heartbreakers at the Oakland Coliseum, adding Roger McGuinn would definitely have added to the swooniesque nature of the bill — and they collaborated on this song, which starts off with McGuinn singing the first verse on his own.
L.A.’s asleep, you roll up your window
The night air is cold, the freeway is clear
In a green Gucci bag are you prized possessions
The jewels of your mind to hold back the fear
But of course, why would Roger McGuinn — who famously joked (or actually thought) that the first time he heard “American Girl,” he wondered when he wrote it — work on a song with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers if they weren’t gonna sing together, so Petty joins on the chorus, most of the rest of the song is the two of them singing together, and it’s everything you want it to be.
And when Monday comes ’round, there’s a high, lonesome sound
And she follows you down for the kill
And a white, blinding light makes it all seem so right
And you feel like the king of the hill
And of course, the music sounds like you’d want it to be: pure Byrds as played by the Heartbreakers, with McGuinn’s 12-string Rickenbacker leading the charge. It was little faster and rawer than the version that eventually ended up on McGuinn’s 1991 solo album, Back From Rio, the recording of which spurs one of the best scenes in Peter Bogdanovich’s 2007’s documentary, Runnin’ Down a Dream.
In that scene, Tom Petty has what we call a Larry David moment, unleashing on a couple of what he perceived as record company toadies because he felt that McGuinn was getting bad advice on which songs to record: clearly Petty taking full advantage of his current status in order to help out a hero. Also taking full advantage of Petty’s status: the actual final version of “King of The Hill,” which ended up as a #2 on the Mainstream Rock Chart, the highest any McGuinn co-write ever charted on any chart, given that their #1’s were covers and the radio bans on the immortal “Eight Miles High” caused it to crap out at #14 on the Hot 100.
Anyways, a few years later, Tom Petty joined the King of Hill cast, which might be the only time a musician joined a TV show that shared a name of one of their songs but had absolutely nothing to do with the content or the naming of said show.
“King of the Hill (Early Take)”
“King of the Hill” live in 1987
“King of the Hill” Roger McGuinn & Tom Petty Official Music Video
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