How Tom Petty’s ‘Songs From the Garage’ Became ‘Full Moon Fever’
Tom Petty’s debut solo album, Full Moon Fever, arrived on April 24, 1989 – but not before he encountered some challenges on the way to its release.
Not only had the record started out with the title Songs From the Garage, it also faced the wrath of a record label that didn’t hear any singles – even though the songs “Free Fallin’,” “I Won’t Back Down” and “Runnin’ Down a Dream” were part of the track listing.
The LP was created during a period when Petty was spending time away from the Heartbreakers, though he always intended to return. Guitarist Mike Campbell, keyboardist Benmont Tench and bassist Howie Epstein all contributed to the new songs, which were mainly recorded in Campbell’s garage, though their doubts over Petty’s career plans caused some levels of tension.
“I didn’t see much of the Heartbreakers during that period,” Petty told author Paul Zollo in the 2012 book Conversations With Tom Petty. “Mike I kept in touch with, of course, because he was working on Full Moon Fever with me. I never thought of leaving. And I kept reassuring them that I wasn’t going to leave. But I think there was some doubt in their mind.”
Watch Tom Petty's 'Free Fallin’' Video
Petty noted that the album was going to be called Songs From the Garage. "We [even] shot the cover,which was a photo of me sitting in Mike’s garage, surrounded by all these instruments and things,” he said, pointing out that producer Denny Cordell, a man not known for being excessively complimentary, “loved” the LP, but not the proposed cover artwork or the title.
“He said, ‘Oh no, no, no, this is not right. This is far too good to be called Songs From the Garage. Give it a name, man. Give this thing a name,'" Petty recalled. "So I rethought it and came up with Full Moon Fever, which was probably good advice.”
Petty said the title “just came out of my noggin one day,” calling it “a little phrase for what’s happening tonight; it’s a full moon – ah yes! It’s full moon fever! … I always thought when the full moon comes, I get some kind of charge from it. But I think I chose it just because mostly it sounded good.’”
But Petty remembered he was “stunned” when his label, MCA Records, didn’t like the finished work. “They didn’t hear a single,” he said. “So this is what you’re up against in the music business. … They didn’t want to release it. They wanted me to go away and come up with a single. So I was pretty devastated. And I just kind of put it on the back burner. And I was really depressed.”
Watch Tom Petty's 'I Won’t Back Down' Video
Eventually, he added “Alright For Now” and a cover of Gene Clark’s “Feel a Whole Lot Better” to the set and, after a time, presented the LP to MCA once again – after a regime change had taken place.
“I brought exactly the same record in, and they loved it,” he recalled. “But this is how the record business is. A guy can leave, or come, and his viewpoint is completely different than the guy that was there. You’re just at the mercy of these guys to some degree.”
Full Moon Fever also featured contributions by George Harrison, Roy Orbison and Jeff Lynne, who, along with Bob Dylan, worked with Petty on the Traveling Wilburys' debut album. When Full Moon Fever was finally released, it reached No. 3 in the album chart and became the 19th best-selling LP of 1989, while “Free Fallin’” went to No. 7, “I Won’t Back Down” hit No. 12 and “Runnin’ Down a Dream” reached No. 23.
Due to the enforced delays, the Wilburys' LP arrived the year before Petty’s solo record. “Which used to crack me up, because I saw some reviews that said it had the Traveling Wilburys sound,” he said. “But the truth was that is was done before there was the Traveling Wilburys.”
Watch Tom Petty's 'Runnin’ Down a Dream' Video