Tom Petty was a lifelong fan of The Beatles and even collaborated with some of the band’s former members. He explained that seeing them for the first time on The Ed Sullivan Show altered the course of his life. Despite this, when asked to choose between Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds, he said he preferred the latter. He explained that he didn’t know if Sgt. Pepper held up in the decades after its release.
Tom Petty said seeing The Beatles was life-changing
The first time Petty watched The Beatles on TV, he could hardly believe what he was seeing.
“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 explained that the performance made him realize he wanted to be a musician.
“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.”
He once explained why he preferred listening to ‘Pet Sounds’ Over ‘Sgt. Pepper’
The Beatles meant a lot to Petty, but he was able to look at their work critically. In a 1982 interview with Playboy, the interviewer asked if Petty would prefer to listen to the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds or the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
“Interesting question. Well, I like both,” Petty said. “But these days, I’d probably play Pet Sounds. I can hear Sgt. Pepper without playing it, but, frankly, I don’t think it wears that well into the Eighties. Pet Sounds still sounds great to me.”
Pet Sounds came out the year before Sgt. Pepper and Petty mentioned that Paul McCartney drew inspiration from it.
“Hell, I once heard a radio interview with Paul McCartney in which he said that after hearing Pet Sounds, he had to do something like Sgt. Pepper. And he was right,” he said. “Brian Wilson is the greatest. The root of his personal problems was that he did genius work and never got recognition for it from the man in the street. He took a real artistic risk. It’s a brilliant album.”
Tom Petty thought The Beatles had a profound impact on music
Petty noted that The Beatles’ first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show permanently impacted the landscape of American music.
“Culturally, it changed everything in America, and probably the world,” he said. “The influence on every part of our lives was huge, from social issues to fashion issues to music issues. From that point on, the Beatles were the North Star for me and my generation. And we’re very blessed to have had them.”