Tom Petty’s Five Best Music Videos

On October 1st, 2017, heartland rock singer, Tom Petty, went into cardiac arrest, prompting a slew of media outlets to proclaim he’d flown to that great big stadium in the sky. While initial reports of his passing proved premature, Petty’s death was officially confirmed later that evening, igniting a groundswell of goodwill towards the legendary front man.

Petty and his band, The Heartbreakers, rose to prominence in the late ‘70s, thanks to their third LP, Damn the Torpedoes. The album contained rock staples, “Don’t Do Me Like That” and “Refugee,” sold over three million copies, and kickstarted an impressive run of hits that ran through the ’80s and into the early ’90s.

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Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers third album, Damn the Torpedoes, spent seven weeks at #2, stuck behind Pink Floyd’s The Wall.

In tandem with the band’s sustained success, Petty struck commercial gold when he went solo on 1989’s Full Moon Fever, and again with super-group, The Traveling Wilburys.

But for a certain generation of music fans, he’s best remembered for his music videos. Though not an obvious MTV superstar like Madonna or Michael Jackson, Petty was an early champion of the format, transitioning from rock star to video god with ease, and eventually winning the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard in 1994.

To celebrate his legacy, here’s a look back at five of Petty’s most iconic music videos.

Don’t Come Around Here No More: This Alice in Wonderland inspired video is frequently cited on all-time “best of” lists, and for good reason. Co-written by the Eurthymics’ Dave Stewart (who cameos in the video as the hookah-smoking Caterpillar), the song’s booming psychedelia perfectly matched Alice’s madcap adventure, with Petty expertly cast as the Mad Hatter. The minor (and ridiculous) controversy involving a scene where Petty and the band eat a cake version of Alice proved inconsequential, as the video scooped up Best Special Effects at the 1985 MTV Video Music Awards.

 

Running Down a Dream: Based on Little Nemo in Slumberland comics, this animated music video found Petty on the run, as he slid down staircases and dodged cliff-eating clowns in surreal, nightmarish scenes. The video’s frenetic pace complemented the song’s windows-down/radio-up vibe in a fun, irreverent, and perfectly Petty way.

 

Into the Great Wide Open: Although the song wasn’t a hit (it limped to #92 in the charts), the six-and-a-half-minute video was a treat. The song’s cautionary lyrics were brought to life thanks to Johnny Depp as Eddie Rebel and Faye Dunaway as his cougar-ish Svengali, plus cameos from Matt LeBlanc, Chynna Phillips, and err…Terence Trent D’Arby. But the real fun was spotting the various parts Petty played: narrator, tattoo artist, roadie, reporter. The video was nominated for Best Male Video in 1992 (losing to Eric Clapton’s “Tears in Heaven”) and for Best Video That Should’ve Won a Moonman in 2009 (losing to Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage”).

 

Mary Jane’s Last Dance: Recorded for Petty’s first Greatest Hits collection, this somber, faux-drug-promoting rock ballad was showcased by its lush, sapphire-tinged video, with Petty playing a morgue assistant enamored by a beautiful corpse (Kim Basinger). The video walks a fine line between creepy (dressing Basinger in a wedding gown and seating her at a dinner table) and cool (the candle-lit, Great Expectations-inspired slow dance), and won Petty Best Male Video at the 1994 VMAs.

 

You Don’t Know How It Feels: Petty’s last top forty single is best remembered for its distinct harmonica solo and a censored lyric about rolling joints. But it was the music video—shot in one continuous take—that shined brightest, with Petty in performance mode as he slowly revolved around a microphone. The deceptively-simple, medium close-up focus blurred the ensuing chaos (a bank robbery, circus performances, a wrecking ball smashing through a couple’s bedroom) behind him, creating instantly memorable imagery that scored Petty his second consecutive Best Male Video trophy.

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Boys! Boys! Boys!

Welcome to the dog days of summer, where oppressive heat and Despacito’s sustained success zap your will to live. Thankfully, British wild child, Charli XCX, is back like a blast of air-conditioned bliss. Though best known for adding bratty, party-pop hooks to Icona Pop’s I Love It and Iggy Azalea’s Fancy, her new single, Boys, is perfect minimalist electropop. With deliciously-vacuous lyrics—“I was busy thinkin’ ‘bout boys, boys, boys”—and an excellent Super-Mario-coin-snatching hook, it’s a glorious late-summer jam.

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Give us a kiss! Charli XCX’s new video brings all the boys to the yard

But Boys’ music video is its true highlight. Employing a multitude of her famous male friends, the Charli XCX-directed video is a veritable conveyor belt of stunning men hamming it up for the camera.

Though far from the first video to flip the script by objectifying men instead of women (check out Janet Jackson’s Love Will Never Do Without You

and Shania Twain’s Man! I Feel Like a Woman),

Boys shines because of its admirable diversity: we get tattooed indie boys (Frank Carter), sensitive singer-songwriter boys (Charlie Puth), hip-hop boys (Wiz Khalifa), pancake-eating boys (Joe Jonas), superstar-producer boys (Mark Ronson), Asian boys (Jay Park), ripped boys (Cameron Dallas), more-to-love boys (The Fat Jew), and beautiful British boys (Tom Daley), to name just a few. This rainbow of men means there’s something for everybody, and because spotting all the cameos is half the fun, the video is sure to warrant repeated viewing. It’s a calculated and clever way for Charli XCX to make her late bid for song (and video) of the summer.

Five Forgotten Video Classics

MTV turns 36 today, but because the channel is the television equivalent of Peter Pan—refusing to ever grow up or even acknowledge their past—today’s programming remains an endless sea of Teen Mom and Catfish detritus. It’s a shame MTV won’t air music videos today, because the channel’s role in transforming the medium from a cheap touring alternative into a legitimate art form cannot be overstated.

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MTV debuted on August 1, 1981

I absolutely love music videos, and if MTV refuses to celebrate its success by playing any videos today, I’ll take the reins by spotlighting some excellent clips. I’ve forgone popular classics by Madonna and Michael Jackson to present five underrated gems, instead. Watch these and remember why MTV was once such a potent force.

 

The Sun Always Shines on TV—A-Ha: Sure, they’re mostly known as “that ‘80s one hit wonder with the cool, hand drawn video to ‘Take on Me’,” but Norwegian band, A-Ha, had another ace up their sleeve with the equally stunning video to “The Sun Always Shines on TV.” The introductory image of lead singer, Morten Harket, and video vixen, Bunty Bailey, continuing their cartoon love affair acts as a red herring; the black and white performance video really starts when the drums and guitar kick in, with the band playing to an audience of mannequins. The result could’ve been colossally cheesy, but expert, award-winning editing created haunting, chilling scenes of motionless mannequins singing, raising their hands aloft, and even playing violin, enabling this video to stand as the quintessential forgotten classic.

 

Karmacoma—Massive Attack: British collective, Massive Attack, made their name in the ‘90s by marrying inventive, iconic imagery to their trip-hop masterpieces. The tower-block terror of “Safe From Harm,” the singing fetus in “Teardrop,” and the creepy chase in “Angel” are all outstanding, but the surreal hotel visitors—including a paranoid gunman, a typist missing a “K” on his typewriter, and two crimson-clothed call girls—in “Karmacoma” are impossible to ignore. Despite knowing nods to The ShiningPulp Fiction, and American Psycho, the video manages to thrill on its own accord, with disturbing, vaguely sinister undertones that perfectly match the song’s trippy vibe.

 

Giving Up the Gun—Vampire Weekend: Early DIY videos for “A-Punk” and “Oxford Comma” marked New York indie band, Vampire Weekend, as a creative tour de force, but they upped the fun factor on their second album with the playful video for “Giving Up the Gun.” The video stars a precocious young redhead burning her way through a tennis tournament until she’s faced with her doppelganger in the dramatic finale. But it’s the hilarious cameos from Jake Gyllenhaal, Joe Jonas, Daft Punk, RZA, and Lil ‘Jon that make the video such a treat. Tennis has never looked so silly and fun.

 

We Come 1—Faithless: Riding a wave of big British ‘90s beats, Faithless burst onto the scene in 1996 with seminal dance track, “Insomnia.” Though hailed as an instant classic, the song’s simple, black and white promo left much to be desired; it wasn’t until 2001’s “We Come 1” that Faithless created a visual treat to match the music. The video starts with lead singer, Maxi Jazz, sitting on a sofa in Gandhi-like gear. Then, against the catchiest beats of Faithless’ career, the video ignites in a strange explosion of protest and club-dancing imagery. Rocks are tossed while couples kiss, ambulances are tilted while revelers shake their ass, and a full clash with armed police ignites while the dance floor loses their mind. By expertly walking a line we never knew existed, Faithless created an unforgettable video that still resonates today.

 

If I Had a Gun…—Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds: Because Britpop icons, Oasis, were not renowned for their music video prowess, not much was expected from Noel Gallagher’s post-Oasis project, Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds. However, the video to third single, “If I Had a Gun…” delivered in spades. It centers around Peyton List (Mad Men, Frequency) as a bride whose wedding is interrupted by a horse-riding cowboy from her past. Sparks immediately rekindle between the pair, leaving Gallagher (in a hilarious cameo as the wedding officiant) to shrug in confusion. Devoid of dialogue, perfectly executed details—a bridesmaid’s telling laugh, the best man preparing for fisticuffs by removing his cuff links—make this video the authoritative guide to wordlessly ruining a wedding.