I had forgotten this song existed for decades. When I heard it, it was instantly recognizable, but I had to look up who sang it. An American Dream was released by the Dirt Band in 1979 and reached #13 on the Billboard Hot 100 in early 1980. The singer dreams about getting out of Augusta, Georgia on a Jamaican vacation, but is willing to settle for a trip to Coconut Grove in Florida. That’s Linda Ronstadt helping out on the vocals.
The Dirt Band was previously and subsequently known as the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. Back in 1972, they had released the triple album – yes, three whole LPs – Will the Circle Be Unbroken, in which they sang traditional songs with several old-timey country and bluegrass musicians, including Earl Scruggs, Doc Watson, and Mother Maybelle Carter.
Back to An American Dream: This song was written by Rodney Crowell and released on his 1978 album with its original title, Voila, an American Dream. That album, which was not particularly successful, also contained his song Leaving Louisiana in the Broad Daylight which was later covered by Emmylou Harris and, more recently, Shovels & Rope.
The Diamonds sing about the positive effect of monster movies. The Canadian quartet recorded Batman, Wolfman, Frankenstein or Dracula in 1959. The song was written by Roy Alfred, who also wrote the lyrics for The Hucklebuck, as well as several songs that tried to hop on the rock and roll craze for singers like Kay Starr (The Rock and Roll Waltz), Tennessee Ernie Ford (Rock, Roll, Boogie), and Nat “King” Cole (When Rock and Roll Come to Trinidad).
The Great 78 Project protects and preserves both physical and digital copies of early 78 rpm music recordings. Thousands of songs from the early days of recording can be listened to online, like Bob Crosby’s Bob Cats, Frankie Yankovic and his Yanks, Chick Bullock and Levee Loungers, and Dick “Two Ton” Baker and His Music Makers.
Many of Tom Petty’s music videos in the 1980s were imaginative, visually rich movies that were inspired by earlier literary works.
Things get started in 1982 with You Got Lucky, in which the Heartbreakers motor through a presumably postapocalyptic desert and rediscover the boom box and electric guitar. The Mad Max aesthetic is more derivative than inspired, but the band demonstrates that they can wear hats well, and Battlestar Galactica and an animated Chuck Berry make fleeting appearances.
His creative, ultimately disturbing, 1985 video with the Heartbreakers for Don’t Come Around Here No More has a very ’80s Alice trapped in Wonderland, with Petty as the Mad Hatter (top hats were a thing for him). The song was written with Dave Stewart (Petty’s next door neighbor when an arsonist set fire to Petty’s house), who claimed it was inspired by a Carrollesque night he spent at a party at Stevie Nicks’ house.
Runnin’ Down a Dream, from his 1989 solo album, is a black and white animated video inspired by the early twentieth century comic strip Little Nemo in Slumberland. Petty is led through a dream landscape by a small, cigar-chewing figure wearing a crown, a clear homage to Slumberland‘s Flip the clown. On his adventure, there are allusions to Wonderland, Georges Méliès’ A Trip to the Moon, and King Kong.
One morning in 1987, someone set fire to Tom Petty’s house while Petty, his wife, child, and housekeeper were inside it. Everyone survived, but the entire house, except for his basement recording studio, was quickly consumed by the flames. The arsonist was never captured.
After the fire, Tom Petty did two things: he rebuilt the house, and wrote I Won’t Back Down. “There’s not a hint of metaphor in this thing,” he said of the song, which was released on his 1989 solo album.