Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers – Don’t Come Around Here No More
Have you ever wondered why other people get to be pop stars and you don’t? I have. In fact I’ve given it a lot of thought over the years.
My answer to that particular question – setting a lack of talent aside – lies in how pop stars react to the things that happen in their everyday lives. Take, for instance, the one night stand – whereas you and I might spend a couple of days with a hangover and a mild sense of accomplishment or regret, depending on how it went, your actual pop star will just go and write an amazing song about it. This is exactly what David A. Stewart did in Los Angeles in 1984 after a Eurythmics concert. Granted, his was with Stevie Nicks, which isn’t the sort of thing likely to happen to you or I. But gratifyingly, it went precisely how you might imagine a one night stand with her would go: industrial quantities of cocaine and her trying on various Victorian costumes in the dead of night, presumably with a full moon lighting the room, a balcony door open and a stiff breeze blowing the lace curtains. At some point in the proceedings, Joe Walsh – whom Nicks had just broken up with the day before – showed up, and Stewart overheard her saying “don’t come around here no more” – and thus a truly great pop song was born. Thank heavens she didn’t say “I’ve binned your pants and toothbrush”, eh?
Even if only half of the legend around Don’t Come Around Here No More is true, it’s still a humdinger of a tale – and how it ended up in the hands of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers is just as fascinating. Stewart shared the demo with producer Jimmy Iovine (also an ex of Stevie’s) who, along with Petty, was producing her Bella Donna album. The four were working on it in the studio one night, until at 5am Nicks decided to go home for some sleep, leaving Tom to record a guide vocal. When she got back the next day and they played it to her, Stevie flipped, as she explained to Warren Zanes in his recent Tom Petty biography: “Tom had done a great vocal, a great vocal. I just looked at them and said, ‘I’m going to top that? Really?’ I got up, thanked Dave, thanked Tom, fired Jimmy and left.” Talk about workplace tension.
Interestingly, Don’t Come Around Here No More is one of two songs released in the spring of 1985 with a heavy sitar presence, the other being Paul Young’s Every Time You Go Away. I knew absolutely nothing about Tom Petty at the time, so I didn’t know that the sitar and the really quite Mick Karn-y bass at the start represented something of a departure from his usual sound. For me, the record – there was just something so widescreen about it – felt incredibly American and because all I wanted to be for much of the 80s was an American, I utterly loved it.
This is a song built for purposeful striding (the “hey!” at the beginning ensures that) and it proceeds at a leisurely pace, with Tom as a sort of Pied Piper of pop at the front, sitar, bass and drum machine right behind him, gradually joined by Marilyn Martin (of Separate Lives fame), Karen Celani and Stephanie Sprull on backing vocals, then a cello and a glorious synthesiser line. The effect is quite hypnotic – in fact I’d be quite happy for it to continue like this for a good ten minutes – but then, at around the four minute mark the guitar revs up and the whole thing just speeds off into the distance with a cry of “running free”, leaving you all dusty in its wake, wondering what the hell just happened. I imagine the sensation is similar to the one you might feel when Stevie Nicks slams a door in your face.
Accompanied by a hugely popular Alice in Wonderland themed video (inspired partly by David A. Stewart’s adventures in La-La land) Don’t Come Around Here No More was a no.13 hit in the US, but flopped here, only reaching no.50 – perhaps because MTV Europe was still a couple of years away from launching, perhaps because the record company didn’t seem interested in making him a singles act (his biggest hit, I Won’t Back Down, only reached no.28). Or maybe there was only room for one sitar-based song in the charts at a time *shakes fist at Paul Young*.
Entered chart: 06/04/1985
Chart peak: 50
Weeks on chart: 5
Who could sing this today and have a hit? Do you know who’s already had a go at it? Diana Vickers, that’s who. And it was really good.
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