Southern Accents

Southern Accents

What does it mean to come from a place that some people treat as a joke? Despite Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ Floridian heritage, the group had never traded on its Southern roots—at least not in the way that, say, Lynyrd Skynyrd and The Allman Brothers had done early in their careers. If anything, Petty’s ability to distill the universality of rock ’n’ roll—that yearning, that rebellion—is part of what made him and the Heartbreakers so successful in the first place. Not just as a band, but as ambassadors of an idealized America—one unbroken by North and South, rich and poor, and so on. But by the mid-1980s, after a break from nearly a decade’s worth of touring and recording, Petty had some time to reflect on the life he’d left behind in Florida. Parts of Southern Accents are explicit: the billboard-sized “born in Dixie” chants of “Rebels,” the homily of “Southern Accents”—you don’t have to stretch too hard to figure out what’s on Petty’s mind. But the South, in Petty’s terms, is also a metaphor for pride, stubbornness, and self-reliance—traits that had played a big role in Petty’s early-1980s scraps with the record industry. That Southern determination can be menacing, too, as evidenced by the dark “Don’t Come Around Here No More”—an anachronistically synthy track written and produced with Dave Stewart of the Eurythmics (it became one of Petty’s biggest 1980s hits, thanks in part to its devilishly clever video). Never mind that David Farragut, the Naval officer who first used the phrase “Damn the torpedoes,” fought for the Union, not the Confederacy: The “Southern” on Southern Accents represents the parts of us that persist even when we’re pretty sure we might lose. Still, maybe Petty should have known better. The album used the Confederate flag in marketing materials, a door he later regretted opening (and one that, in 2020, prompted local discussion of whether Gainesville’s Tom Petty Park should be renamed in memory of Juneteenth). Petty was right to note that all rock is, on some genetic level, Southern rock. But the history is too bloody to be left at that. Still, the album’s contrasts—between warmth and defiance, between being welcoming and provincial—makes Southern Accents one of the more striking and unexpected albums Petty and the Heartbreakers band ever made.

Select a country or region

Africa, Middle East, and India

Asia Pacific


Latin America and the Caribbean

The United States and Canada