Tom Petty Said Music in the 1980s Was ‘Really, Pathetically Bad’


  • Tom Petty held a deep love for music.
  • Music in the 1980s did not appeal to Tom Petty.
  • The artist did think that Prince was producing inventive music.
Tom Petty holds an electric guitar and stands in front of a microphone.
Tom Petty | Michael Montfort/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Tom Petty began to rise to prominence in the 1970s, and by the ’80s, he was a bona fide rock star. He put out multiple albums in the 1980s, both with the Heartbreakers, the Traveling Wilburys, and as a solo artist. While he likely believed in his own music, he didn’t feel as strongly about the other music from the decade. Petty was largely critical of music in the 1980s, describing it as “pathetically bad.”

Tom Petty believed music was a form of magic

Petty worked as a musician for the majority of his life, and he believed in the healing power of a song.

“Music is a real magic: It affects human beings, it can heal, it can do wonderful things,” he told NPR in 2014. “I’ve had two people contact me in my life about coming out of comas to their family playing a song to them of mine, that they had liked before they were injured. They credited the song having something to do with that. I find that fascinating. A lot of people have told me, ‘This music got me through a really hard time,’ and I can relate to that.”

He did not believe people were producing good music in the 1980s

While he generally talked glowingly about music, he didn’t have many positive things to say about the industry in the 1980s. In particular, he took issue with music in the mid-1980s.

“Music’s really bad now, really pathetically bad,” he told the Chicago Sun-Times in 1986. “There’s a lot of bad bands. And no one seems to say anything about it. They say everything’s fine, but it’s not. It’s really awful. I think there’s a lot of s*** on the radio, really bad stuff. What do you hear that’s good?”

One of his biggest problems was that artists weren’t taking creative risks. New songs felt generic and lacking in inventiveness.

“I don’t hear anybody taking chances,” he said.

In an interview with Rolling Stone in 2013, Petty explained that rock music in the mid-1980s “became incredibly generic and relied on videos.” While he didn’t think that this applied to every artist, he generally felt pessimistic about the state of the music industry.

Tom Petty admired Prince’s music

One of the artists who escaped Petty’s ire was Prince.

“I think Prince is much better than Bruce [Springsteen],” he said. 

He said that Prince’s inventiveness inspired him in his own work. Petty’s song “Don’t Come Around Here No More” was a result of this inspiration.

“I saw Prince doing what looked like an attempt at psychedelia,” he said in the book Petty: The Biography by Warren Zanes. “And I loved it. It inspired me.”

He would eventually have the chance to perform with Prince at George Harrison’s Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Induction.

RELATED: Tom Petty ‘Never Listened’ to His Collaboration With Lindsey Buckingham: ‘I Hated That Record’