Thinking of the musicians who became superstars thanks to MTV, names like Michael Jackson, George Michael, Madonna and Prince come to mind. But perhaps the most underrated major videomaker of the era was a young man from Gainesville, Florida who perfected an indelible mix of Byrds-ian melody and Stones-like punch on albums like Damn the Torpedoes and Full Moon Fever.
Tom Petty, who died October 2nd at the age of 66, was not your typical MTV figurehead. He didn’t dance, he didn’t have movie-star looks and, most importantly, he couldn’t stand music videos. “I didn’t much like making videos – the hours were insane,” he admitted in I Want My MTV: The Uncensored Story of the Music Video Revolution. “But I liked the outcome. My band hated making videos. They didn’t want to go anywhere near them. I didn’t blame them. But I didn’t have a choice. I had to be in them.”
No matter their misgivings, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers were one of the best video bands of the Eighties and Nineties – the singer would end up winning three Moonmen while delivering innovative, funny clips for radio-ready rock songs. And credit him this: He resisted the popular trend to just feature hot babes in his videos. “I knew it would cheapen our long-term play,” Petty said. “I wasn’t happy the way videos started to exploit women. I thought, we’re all better than this.”
Here’s a look back at 10 of his most memorable videos. Along the way, you’ll see how an initially resistant Petty learned how to shape an onscreen persona – that of a friendly, impish prankster – which would become his MTV avatar. He may not have liked making music videos, but he left us with some classics.