Tom Petty Being a ‘Beatles Freak’ Irritated His Producer

Tom Petty loved The Beatles ever since he was a teenager in Florida. The band made him realize that he wanted to be a musician for a living. When he accomplished this, he attempted to channel some of their influence into his own work. This sparked some disgruntlement with his producer. He didn’t appreciate the Beatles-inspired elements Petty and his guitarist Mike Campbell pushed for on their album.

Tom Petty wears a green shirt and a vest and holds a guitar.
Tom Petty | Rick Diamond/Getty Images

Tom Petty knew he wanted to pursue music after hearing The Beatles

Petty first heard The Beatles when they appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show.

“I watched it with my little brother,” he said, per the Grammys. “My mom and dad were there, but they weren’t interested in it. They laughed at it and left the room. But my brother and me, both of us, we just flipped out. We thought it was the greatest thing ever.”

He said that the moment changed the trajectory of his life.

“This was the great moment in my life, really, that changed everything,” he said. “I had been a fan up to that point. But this was the thing that made me want to play music. You saw that it could be done. There could be a self-contained unit that wrote, recorded and sang songs. And it looked like they were having an awful lot of fun doing it.”

His obsession with The Beatles frustrated his producers

Seeing The Beatles on television carried Petty closer to a career in music. Once he made it, he wanted their influence to be apparent in his work. For example, he wanted to include accidental moments in the recording process onto the final record.

“I had a TEAC four-track recorder, and it was right around the corner from the washing machine in our little rental house,” Heartbreakers guitarist Mike Campbell said in the book Petty: The Biography by Warren Zanes, adding, “I was trying to record something, and the washing machine was broken, making this loud noise. I yelled at [his wife] Marcie, ‘You have to turn that off!’ And she goes, ‘It’s just the normal noises in here!’ Like, ‘Shut the f*** up! I’m living my life!’ Next thing you know, we’d be in the car, and there was Marcie on the radio.”

Petty pushed his producer Jimmy Iovine to include these audio snippets, but Iovine wasn’t thrilled about them. According to Zanes, Iovine “didn’t want any of it.”

“Tom and Mike were Beatles freaks,” Iovine said. “They wanted that stuff on there, not me. But, really, these guys were already brilliant record producers. The record’s perfect. It was number two to The Wall for nine weeks. We never went to number one. Talk about The Wall.”

Tom Petty would later work with a former member of The Beatles

Years later, Petty achieved an adolescent dream when he worked with former Beatle George Harrison in The Traveling Wilburys. Outside of this collaboration, the pair were also close friends.

“Almost as soon as we met them, we spent more time with Tom and Jane Petty than with anyone but the Keltners,” Harrison’s wife Olivia said. “They were family.”

Petty said that they clicked immediately.

“I think I needed a friend really badly,” he explained. “My friendship with the band was a different kind of friendship. And it was frayed. I’d become very lonely. George came along, and we got so close; it was like we had known each other in some other life or something. We were pals within minutes of meeting each other.”

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