The Best Times L.A. Was Featured In A Tom Petty Music Video
Tom Petty will be remembered for a great number of things. There are the sharply-written hooks, as well as the live performances that show how tried-and-true musicianship can trump theatrics on any given day.
What’s also etched into Petty’s legacy is the catalog of captivating music videos. The whole thing is counter-intuitive; Petty wasn’t big on flash and fireworks, and in interviews he always seemed a little shy, his words measured and his voice reedy. So it seems unlikely that he and the Heartbreakers would dive into the visual excess that is the music video (or maybe this makes perfect sense, as the videos add glam and melodrama to a band that’s otherwise pretty straight-forward). Their experimentations would coincide with the nascent (and some argue the halcyon) age of music videos—spanning from the technical hijinks of the 1980s (as in "Runnin' Down A Dream") to the break from form in the 1990's (as in "You Don't Know How It Feels").
Petty somehow found himself in some of the most memorable music videos ever filmed. And since he'd made the Southland his home for decades, L.A. came to be featured in a number of those videos. Here, we present some of our favorite times that Petty and Los Angeles teamed up to grace your television set (and now YouTube).
Certainly, we'd have to start with the most L.A.-centric video of all: "Free Fallin'." The song, about lost innocence in a sleepy suburban neighborhood (Reseda, to be specific), was equal parts wistful and foreboding—the video embodied this with its slow-moving shots of the freeways and backlit palm trees.
In the video, Petty plays a kind of omnipresent bard, hovering over the people as they act out their dramas. He spends a lot of time strumming his guitar and riding an escalator, driving home the motif of him ascending/descending as an otherworldly narrator. The location of these escalator shots—the Westside Pavilion in West L.A.—has a glass canopy that lets in a deluge of sunlight, which also furthers the effect.
Coming back down to the earthly realm, Petty follows the characters out to a very pink hot dog stand that is, weirdly, not Pink's, but a place called Future Dogs in Sherman Oaks. That space later became another fast-food spot called The Infield, but it looks like the stand has (sadly) been demolished. The last we checked, all that's left is an empty lot. What is still there is the Casa de Cadillac that's right across from the former Future Dogs site; the Cadillac dealership can be seen in the background of the video. The Casa de Cadillac, built in 1946, is noted for its Googie stylings.
MARY JANE'S LAST DANCE
Petty's most shocking video (albeit in a Tim Burton quasi-gothic vein), "Mary Jane's Last Dance" cast him as a
love-sick deranged morgue assistant who absconds with a woman's corpse. Back home, he lives out an imaginary dinner date with her, going as far as dressing her up in a wedding gown and applying makeup on her.
Post date, Petty carries the corpse out to the shore, where he lets it drift out to sea. The scene where Petty carries the body through a rocky enclave was filmed at Malibu's Leo Carrillo State Park, which, according to the National Park Service, was named after Leo Carrillo, a performer who's perhaps best known for playing the comic sidekick in the The Cisco Kid.
Also, going back to the corpse, the dead body was played by none other than Kim Basinger, who later recounted to The Daily Beast that, unlike the character he played, Petty was a totally agreeable guy during the shoot. "He was a doll, and he was so sweet and asked me to do [the video], and both of us are extremely shy so we just said three words to each other the whole time," said Basinger.
YOU GOT LUCKY
The song and video were a break from the expected, as it saw Petty and the Heartbreakers donning a new persona (if briefly). The track was backed by a synthy pulse, and the video's premise centered on a Mad Max-like dystopian world where a band of travelers (driving some kind of lumbering egg) comes across a hidden storage of instruments and television sets that are playing....Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers?
As Petty stated in I Want My MTV: The Uncensored Story of the Music Video Revolution, the video was the band's idea. They wrote the whole premise, and took inspiration from, yes, Mad Max. "Michael Jackson called us, saying what an incredible idea that was," said Petty, adding, "That was when we really saw MTV change our daily lives. Not only were teenagers spotting me in the street, older people would spot me too."
The video, which also shows that Petty was ahead of the curve in the Steampunk game, was filmed out at Vasquez Rocks in Santa Clarita. The location has been used in a wide variety of shoots, from the Twilight Zone to Blazing Saddles.
YER SO BAD
Petty may have played alongside the likes of George Harrison and Bob Dylan in the Traveling Wilburys. But the real supergroup happened during his brief encounter with Marty and Elayne of The Dresden.
In the 1990 video for "Yer So Bad," Petty drops in on the famed Los Feliz bar to check out an act that includes Marty, Elayne, and a Marilyn Monroe impersonator. Marty's tapping away excitedly at the drums, and Elayne pounds away at the keys. All the while Petty does his omnipresent-shtick, standing at the back of the room and narrating the scene in lyrics.
As Elayne told KCET in 2016, the video ushered in a bigger (and younger) crowd to the Dresden. "When we did the Tom Petty video the trendies came in and it got mobbed in here. It was difficult to hear what we were doing and we were shocked for a while," said Elayne. She added that, thanks to the video, "all the kids started coming in with jeans, with holes in the knees and they said, 'that is the style.'" This didn't sit too well with management, but they relented.
INTO THE GREAT WIDE OPEN
The video premise for 1991's Into the Great Wide Open is fairly uninspired. It follows the rags-to-riches (and rags again) arc of a young rock star named Eddie. Eddie literally takes a bus from a dusty Middle-Of-Nowhere and ends up playing to a packed house at the Roxy or some other famed Hollywood club.
The cliches are abundant, from the mansion with the pool, to Eddie's breakdown at a video shoot. Even the casting of Johnny Depp as Eddie feels predictable (if in retrospect). But the video has a couple things going for it, one being that it's buoyed by a notable cast that includes Depp, Chynna Phillips, Matt LeBlanc (in a brief cameo), and Faye Dunaway (!) as Eddie's conniving manager (she gets struck by lightning in what is perhaps the video's weirdest/best moment).
The other great thing about the video is that you can spot a number of Hollywood landmarks. There's the former Tower Records store, the looming Capitol Records building, and the old Vine Theatre, which, according to the marquee in the video, was screening Backdraft and Thelma and Louise.
There's also a shot of Petty and Depp riding a motorcycle, which alone is worth all the effort.