Long After Dark

Long After Dark

Six years, five albums, a seemingly constant cycle of tours: By the time Long After Dark arrived in 1982, the Heartbreakers had been running like a machine for years. Still, change was inevitable, and Petty’s sixth album would find the group at several turning points: Bassist Ron Blair departed, with Howie Epstein sliding in as his replacement. MTV, meanwhile, was increasingly becoming the best way to reach listeners. For a band defined, on some existential level, by a resistance to the fickle winds of fashion in favor of tradition and nostalgia, the group’s hit video for “You Got Lucky”—a post-apocalyptic renegade scene inspired by Mad Max—was proof that Petty and his Heartbreakers were also open to new creative challenges. Then again, maybe the video era wasn’t as much of a shift as it seemed: As Petty later said, MTV wasn’t so much a scrappy new TV channel as it was a giant radio station. And while Long After Dark at times promised the group into shiny new territory, it mostly served to strengthen and reaffirm what had already become an instantly recognizable sound: “You Got Lucky” worked off the back-alley dramas of “Breakdown” and “Refugee”; “Change of Heart” was in line with “The Waiting” and “Don’t Do Me Like That,” and so on. And while a love song like “Straight Into Darkness” was understandably darker than some of the Heartbreakers’ earlier relationship tales—after all, they were now in their early thirties—Long After Dark is mostly an exercise in holding the reins. Despite the group’s newfound visibility—Petty said the video for “You Got Lucky” got him noticed on the street by teenagers and the elderly alike—Long After Dark was considered a disappointment at the time. Jimmy Iovine later blamed himself, saying that bands should shoot their producer after the third album, as a matter of course. Petty and his bandmates weren’t that extreme. But the group’s next album would take some creative detours—and, in doing so, give Petty and the Heartbreakers one of their biggest hits of the 1980s.

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