Straight Into Darkness by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

There are a substantial number of songs by the late Tom Petty that I love and that I could have chosen to feature this week. I could have chosen a ubiquitous hit like ‘Refugee’, ‘Free Fallin”, ‘Mary Jane’s Last Dance’, or ‘Refugee’. I could have chosen any of his collaborations with Fleetwood Mac alumni – either of his two 1981 duets with Stevie Nicks (‘Insider’, ‘Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around’) or 1996’s ‘Walls’ with Lindsey Buckingham. I could have chosen the neo-psychedelia of ‘Don’t Come Around Here No More’, a few selections from 1994’s Wildflowers, or the collaboration with The Bangles on ‘Waiting For Tonight’. But one of my favourite Tom Petty songs is a minor single from his 1982 album Long After Dark.

With Benmont Tench’s stately piano, Stan Lynch’s splashy drums, and Mike Campbell’s perfectly formed guitar leads, ‘Straight Into Darkness’ showcases The Heartbreakers as one of rock’s best backing bands. Even if the story in the lyrics is a little incoherent, the lyrics are evocative (“Out the window of the 747/Man there was nothin’, only black sky”), and there’s a superb middle eight. It’s one of Petty’s overlooked gems, and in my opinion, towers above the lead single from Long After Dark, the ponderous, synth heavy ‘You Got Lucky’.


  1. That’s a good tune that I wasn’t all that familiar with. Although that said, I do like ‘You Got Lucky.’ Interesting that you did one song. I did ten and everybody says there could be twenty or thirty.

    • I cover one song each week. It’s been turning into a obituary thread recently though – Grant Hart, Holger Czukay, and Petty were all musicians I very much appreciated. Hopefully I don’t have to do another obituary for a while.

      • I had thought of starting another blog just for one-off items that came up that I hadn’t planned on writing about. I abandoned the idea when I realized most of those were obituaries.

        • It’s Friday already, and not looking like an obituary this week. I find song of the week much more fun to write than anything else on the blog, it’s pretty liberating. Just have to make an effort that it’s not all old white guys all the time.

    • I need to hear the album sometime – I’ve only heard a handful of Petty’s mid-period albums, and I’m generally reliant on the 2-disc Anthology. ‘Change of Heart’ is also on it, and is also really good.

    • Thank you! I do need to go back and get better acquainted with his catalogue sometime. That two disc anthology is so good that it generally sates my Petty appetite, but I’m sure he’s got some more gems tucked away that I need to hear.

  2. I understand why you prefer this to You Got Lucky, because it’s more Tom Pettyish. You Got Lucky was probably an attempt on his part to move with the times.
    One thing I like about his music is there is plenty of space in it – it’s not rushed or cluttered – and Straight Into Darkness is like that. Another favourite of mine is Shadow of a Doubt. Nice chordy riff, loads of room. The Heartbreakers are a great band in that respect and Mike Campbell was Petty’s secret weapon, the musical director who influenced the style.

    • Mike Campbell is amazing – I feel like he just never wastes a note anywhere.

      I don’t like the synthy-heavy sound on ‘You Got Lucky’ – but I do love ‘Don’t Come Around Here No More’ from the next album, which also has a distinct 1980s flavour. It’s also the lyrical content I dislike – it’s all about the protagonist bragging about how he’s such a good catch, it’s very one way. Usually Petty came across as a likeable every-man in his songs, and it was part of his appeal, but not that one.

      • Both really tight groups. Earned their chops by playing gig after gig. The E-Street guys have been doing it for years. I love their original sound. Heartbreakers are not to far behind in being together for so long. You mentioned Mike Campbell. Good nod. I remember when I started listening to Petty and thinking this band is good. Their ‘Live at the Plantation’ captured that. Another band I would throw into that mix would be, The Band. No dead weight in any of those groups.

  3. Love this song and I agree with you on You Got Lucky. You have picked some great songs to go over in this feature.

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