No. 53: ‘Don’t Come Around Here No More’

tom petty stars as the mad hatterThe year 1985 saw what passed for a comeback of psychedelic music, a genre dormant for a decade and a half.

The “Paisley Underground” bands made some brightly colored noise in Los Angeles, XTC morphed into the Dukes of Stratosphear and Prince made his improbable foray into psychedelia with “Around the World in a Day.”

Tom Petty, the straight-ahead rocker, also was looking for new directions. The native of Florida settled on a concept album about the South, an epic work that was to sprawl across four sides — something with literary heft along the lines of Randy Newman’s “Good Old Boys.”

And then Petty fell down a rabbit hole. There he found the Mad Hatter and “Don’t Come Around Here No More,” which became the first psychedelic rock hit since, oh, the late ’60s.

Thereby hangs a tale of romance and serendipity:

Stevie Nicks of Fleetwood Mac fame attended a Eurythmics concert in L.A. She invited Eurythmic mastermind Dave Stewart to a party at her place. By coincidence, Stewart had been collaborating with Nicks’ friend Petty.

Nicks had just broken up with Joe Walsh, but the Eagles guitarist persisted in trying to revive their romance. Stewart and Nicks spent the night, and the Brit overheard Nicks tell Walsh, “Don’t come around here no more.” Or something like that.

Tom Petty in music videoStewart then wrote a song for Nicks, banging out a demo with drum machine, sitar and the one line: “Don’t come around here no more.”

Nicks told VH1 years later: “We all went in the studio with me and David and Tom Petty, and the next day and came in and Tom had done the vocal on it and because I was extremely spoiled rotten I got very angry and fired everybody and stormed out. Told Tom to keep the song and thank you, David, and left. I lost the song; I gave the song up.”

Petty talked about the new “sitar song” in 1985: “Dave had done a little cassette and had the sitar sound and kind of the groove. He showed me that and we sat down on a bench — in about an hour the song was done. I only did one take of that vocal.” The music sent out a peace, love and drugs vibe, but the lyrics were pure Petty, a one-sided conversation with a discarded lover.

Stewart and Petty produced two other songs that ended up on the concept album about the South. The psychedelic “Don’t Come Around Here No More” made short work of that redneck agenda, though, appearing as track 3 of “Southern Accents.” “If you’re going to get sidetracked, this is the way to do it,” Rolling Stone’s reviewer wrote.

“Don’t Come Around Here No More” has plenty of the “Revolver”-era spirit of George Harrison, Petty and Stewart’s pal. Along with that killer sitar riff, there are disembodied backing vocals, stuttering scratch-and-nod drumwork, a jet-engine effect and, in a frenzied coda to what is otherwise a dirge, 10 seconds of period-perfect wah-wah guitar from Mike Campbell.

“Don’t Come Around Here No More” nearly cracked the top 10. Petty and the Heartbreakers still perform it as a concert encore. But the song’s lasting fame remains a product of its oddly brilliant music video.

Petty said that during playback of the sitar run, “Dave pictured himself on a giant mushroom.” They ran with the idea and dove into the “Alice in Wonderland” concept.

Stewart opens the music video playing his sitar atop the mushroom. Alice, a young blonde, takes a bite of the ‘shroom and falls down the rabbit hole. If that hallucinogenic hint wasn’t enough, Petty — as the Mad Hatter — lingers over a sugar cube. Reality continues to melt as far as the eye can see.

The video’s obvious touchstones include the Lewis Carroll fantasy classic, M.C. Escher, Salvador Dali and “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” Yet it remains a startlingly original piece of work, directed by Jeff Stein, who found plenty of energy in Stewart and Petty’s musical dirge.

This being young Tom Petty, there was controversy. Feminists seethed over the final scene in which Alice turns into a cake and is eaten alive by the video’s denizens. No doubt the ladies weren’t too high on the actress morphing into a pig in a crib, either. The video ended up on Tipper Gore’s shit list. One parents group said the music video “promoted cannibalism.”

The actress, Wish Foley, probably didn’t mind being served up. She did another video for the band and apparently dated the drummer for a good spell. And the Mad Hatter’s hat — it ended up in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Comments

  1. Astroman says:

    This was one of my favorite songs growing up in the 80’s. And considering that MTV was only about four years old in ’85, the video cranked out in that new medium was astonishing. Tom Petty is a true American treasure, and is still turning out great music. Nice choice.

  2. I never really thought of this one as “psychedelic” before, but then I’d never seen the video. Always loved Tom Petty, but Don’t Come Around was never one of my favorites. I will appreciate it much more having seen the video and read your post. Thanks for putting this up! Still, I think I’d have liked it much more if Stevie Nicks had joined in on the vocals and played Alice in the video. That would have been a trip!

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