Joan Jett sings Roadrunner on the David Letterman show in 1987, switching out The Modern Lovers’ Massachusetts imagery for some New York-inspired lyrics.
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.
“I’d buy myself some stylish clothes but I sure hate to pay.” Hard to beat a yellow t-shirt and button shirt. Pennywise positive thinking from the back of the car by John Mellencamp.
Self-abnegation with cowbell: Delbert McClinton, Live from Austin, 1989
Here’s the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum’s list of 20 “essential” rock and roll holiday songs. The somewhat random list includes Brenda Lee (no, not that song), Elvis (of course), Ray Stevens (what?), Louis Armstrong (a rock and roller?) and more. Listen to all of them here.