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The band Tom Petty called "most significant since The Beatles"

Oct 31, 2023Oct 31, 2023

Throughout his career, Tom Petty lived through many changes in rock history. When he saw Elvis Presley with a guitar across his chest, Petty was always interested in being the leader of a rock and roll band, playing the kind of music that turned him on when he was a little kid. Although Petty could easily fall back on his favourite albums, he was also aware of the music world shifting beneath his feet.

During most of his glory years in the late 1970s, Petty was always compared to the punk bands that were coming up, as evidenced by his choice to wear a bullet belt and leather jacket on the front cover of his debut album. Although Petty was never that much of a fan of acts like the Sex Pistols, he saw something change towards the end of the ’80s. Having been a fixture of the rock scene, Petty began paying attention to artists on the verge of blowing up, taking college-rock favourite The Replacements out on tour more than once.

Despite his love for underground music, Petty was also ascending in record sales and legend status, notching up hits like ‘Free Fallin’ during his solo career and becoming friends with George Harrison and Jeff Lynne as part of the Traveling Wilburys. Once the ’90s turned a corner, a new revolution was underway with the arrival of Nirvana.

As Kurt Cobain's songs about irony and disaffected youth took over the airwaves, rock music changed overnight, with artists from the ’80s rendered virtually obsolete to pave the way for the new influx of grunge bands from Seattle. Though Cobain single-handedly wiped out most other rock music, Petty remained a huge fan of the group.

When talking about the success of their colossal album Nevermind after the fact, Petty put Nirvana up there with some of the greatest acts in rock history, telling Vh1: "Nirvana to me were the most significant group to come since The Beatles. Very powerful vision and a very honest man behind it. I loved him. He was amazing."

Where most old rockers were being passed over, Petty was on an even playing field with most of the grunge rock favourites. Regardless of his status as an older rock star, Petty became one of the progenitors of the grunge movement, gifting guitars to some of the members of Pearl Jam and even having a career renaissance working with Rick Rubin on the album Wildflowers around the same time.

Even when Nirvana broke up following Cobain's passing, Petty remained close with some members, including a stint where Dave Grohl was rumoured to be playing drums in The Heartbreakers permanently. Although Petty's vision was to have one of the godfathers of grunge behind the kit, Grohl was already miles ahead of the game, working on his first demos for Foo Fighters at home and politely turning Petty down.

Instead of being pissed, Petty graciously accepted Grohl's decision, instead opting for Steve Ferrone to play for him. While Petty would still make the same music that he loved as a kid, he never forgot the legacy that the generations after him had to uphold. Petty would always have a special place in his heart for the music that raised him, but he could always recognise authenticity when he saw it, and there wasn't a shallow bone in Cobain's body.