How Tom Petty Mourned Vinyl’s Demise on ‘Full Moon Fever”s Hidden Track
By 1989, Tom Petty had already forged an impressive musical career. Work with the Heartbreakers and Traveling Wilburys had earned the singer worldwide fame and platinum sales. Still, the rock legend searched for more -- he wanted to have fun. That desire led to his debut solo release, and the surprising hidden track found within it.
By all measures, Petty’s first solo effort, Full Moon Fever, was an unequivocal success. Many of its songs would become among the singer’s best-known hits, including “Free Fallin’,” “I Won’t Back Down” and “Runnin’ Down a Dream.” The latter was track five on the LP. After it, listeners received an unexpected address directly from Petty.
“Hello, CD listeners. We’ve come to the point in this album where those listening on cassette or records will have to stand up or sit down and turn over the record or tape. In fairness to those listeners, we’ll now take a few seconds before we begin side two. Thank you. Here’s side two.”
The tongue-in-cheek monologue was a rare moment of humor on disc from Petty. His comments reflected the musical landscape of 1989. Launched earlier in the decade and hailed as the next great innovation, CD sales were already surpassing those of traditional records. Pundits believed that the vinyl format would soon become obsolete.
In the book Conversations with Tom Petty, the rocker reflected on the transition from vinyl to CDs. “(Vinyl) was different because you had a beginning, and a middle, and a second act. I miss that,” the singer explained while comparing the two formats. “You could only get about 20 minutes on a side. So you planned it out where you had two 20-minute sides, usually. Now we don’t think that way. Time is unlimited. And I think once we had the luxury of all the time we wanted that records got really long, maybe too long.”
Album length wasn’t the only reason Petty preferred vinyl. “I miss the covers [of LPs]. Because it was such a huge part of the experience. It was something you held in your hands as you listened. And it was an artform in itself. Which really is pretty much gone now.”
And so, Petty dedicated 24 seconds of Full Moon Fever to poke fun at the CD revolution. The album would go on to sell more than 5 million copies. The irony, of course, is that most of those sales came via CD.
Two years later, Petty added a similar message to the cassette version of his 1991 album with the Heartbreakers, Into the Great Wide Open. This time he helpfully instructed listeners to fast-forward past the empty space at the end of side one before flipping the tape over to play side two.
Still, it appears that Petty may have been on to something. Vinyl has seen a resurgence in recent years, accounting for 9.7 million U.S. album sales in 2018. Clearly, many music fans still place a high value on the tangible listening experience.