Album: Full Moon Fever
Given that the perception of the previous Heartbreakers album was that it was weak — despite the chart success of “Jammin’ Me” — and given that the Traveling Wilburys were deemed a huge success and given that Full Moon Fever was originally rejected by his idiot record company, there was a lot riding on “I Won’t Back Down, the first single from Tom Petty’s first solo album, Full Moon Fever.
And it delivered in spades, featuring a new wave rhythm guitar and drumbeat, dynamite slide guitar from Mike Campbell and perhaps the most unaffected vocal Tom Petty ever produced.
He’s also way up in the mix, as if he didn’t want anybody to miss what he was saying, which was, of course, this:
Well, I won’t back down
No, I won’t back down
You can stand me up at the gates of hell
But I won’t back down
The thing about “I Won’t Back Down” is that if you knew anything about Tom Petty — the guy who declared bankruptcy to get out of a shitty record deal and then went to war with his record company to not raise the prices on his records — you knew that he wouldn’t back down. And if you didn’t know anything about Tom Petty, you could pretend that it was you who wouldn’t back down.
So “I Won’t Back Down” was both personal and universal. And with Jeff Lynne, George Harrison & Howie Epstein providing providing vocal support on the choruses, it was also eminently tuneful, making it all the way to #12 on the Billboard charts, and setting up Full Moon Fever as Petty’s best-selling since Damn The Torpedoes an entire decade previously.
At the time, of course, we all thought that Full Moon Fever was a continuation of the Traveling Wilburys, but it turns it was actually a precursor; much of the record was recorded in Mike Campbell’s garage in about a week a few months before the Wilburys spontaneously formed, but it was rejected by MCA cos the A&R guy said he didn’t hear a single.
So, a year a so later — after the improbable yet inevitable success of Traveling Wilburys — they convinced MCA to put it out, kicking off Tom Petty’s even more improbable second wind.
Sure, he’d been able to hit the top 20 with the lead singles from every record he’d put out since Damn The Torpedoes, but his album sales weren’t all that great — so Full Moon Fever was the first of his second series of albums that were critically and/or commercially acclaimed, and cemented him as the guy that so many of us from multiple generations are still mourning.
“I Won’t Back Down” Official Music Video
“I Won’t Back Down” live at the Bridge School Benefit, 1994
“I Won’t Back Down” Live in NYC, 2001
“I Won’t Back Down” performed live in 2006
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