ON THIS DATE (31 YEARS AGO)
May 5, 1981 – Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers: Hard Promises is released.
# ALL THINGS MUSIC PLUS+ 4.5/5
# allmusic 4.5/5
Hard Promises is the fourth album by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers released on this date in May, 1981. Its original working title was Benmont’s Revenge. The album features guest vocals from Stevie Nicks of Fleetwood Mac on the duet “Insider.” The Heartbreakers also recorded the hit “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around” for Nicks’ album Bella Donna around the time Hard Promises was recorded.
This was the second Tom Petty album on the Backstreet Records label. The album’s release was delayed while Petty and his distributor MCA Records argued about the list price. The album was slated to be the next MCA release with the new list price of $9.98, following Steely Dan’s Gaucho and the Olivia Newton-John/Electric Light Orchestra Xanadu soundtrack. This so-called “superstar pricing” was $1.00 more than the usual list price of $8.98. Petty voiced his objections to the price hike in the press and the issue became a popular cause among music fans. Non-delivery of the album or naming it Eight Ninety-Eight were considered, but eventually MCA decided against the price increase.
During the recording of the album John Lennon was scheduled to be in the same studio at the same time. Tom Petty was looking forward to meeting him when he came in. The meeting never occurred; unfortunately, John Lennon was murdered before he could ever make it into the studio. In order to pay tribute to one of their influences the band decided to etch “WE LOVE YOU JL” on the master copy of the album. To this day “WE LOVE YOU JL” is seen on every Hard Promises vinyl copy pressed. The album’s title comes from a line in the chorus of “Insider.”
by Stephen Thomas Erlewine, allmusic
Damn the Torpedoes wasn’t simply a culmination of Tom Petty’s art; it happened to be a huge success, enabling him to call the shots on its successor, Hard Promises. Infamously, he used his first album as a star to challenge the record industry’s practice of charging more for A-list artists, demanding that Hard Promises should be listed for less than most records by an artist of his stature, but if that was the only thing notable about the album, it would have disappeared like Long After Dark. Instead, it offered a reaffirmation that Damn the Torpedoes wasn’t a fluke. There’s not much new on the surface, since it continues the sound of its predecessor, but it’s filled with great songwriting, something that’s as difficult to achieve as a distinctive sound. The opener, “The Waiting,” became the best-known song on the record, but there’s no discounting “A Woman in Love (It’s Not Me),” “Nightwatchman,” “Kings Road,” “Insider,” and “The Criminal Kind,” album tracks that would become fan favorites. If Hard Promises doesn’t have the sweep of Damn the Torpedoes, that’s because its predecessor was blessed with good timing and an unusually strong set of songs. Hard Promises isn’t quite so epochal, yet it has a tremendous set of songs and a unified sound that makes it one of Petty’s finest records.
All songs were written by Tom Petty, except where noted.
“The Waiting” – 3:58
“A Woman in Love (It’s Not Me)” (Petty, Mike Campbell) – 4:22
“Nightwatchman” (Petty, Campbell) – 3:59
“Something Big” – 4:44
“Kings Road” – 3:27
“Letting You Go” – 3:24
“A Thing About You” – 3:33
“Insider” – 4:23
“The Criminal Kind” – 4:00
“You Can Still Change Your Mind” (Petty, Campbell) – 4:15