July 2, 1991. Two years after going solo, Tom Petty returned to the Heartbreakers to soundtrack the summer of ’91. Let’s take a trip back.
Lead single "Learning to Fly" preceded the album by two weeks with a June 17, 1991 release. The song was everywhere, not just on the radio but on MTV, with a nostalgic black & white video that we'd classify today as "Boomer Fuel." I loved it, especially the part where the pool boy gets smooched by the glamorous sunbathing lady.
The title track and second single boasted an equally-iconic music video, with Johnny Depp starring as "Eddie," alongside big names like Gabrielle Anwar, Faye Dunaway, Matt LeBlanc, Terence Trent D'Arby, and Chynna Phillips. Sweet cassingle cover too, right?
Speaking of cassingles and such, if you owned 'Into the Great Wide Open' on cassette tape, you got a brief, spoken word interlude from Petty at the end of side 1 ("Attention, cassette listeners...) instructing you to flip the tape. This was a throwback to his "Attention, CD listeners..." gag on 1989's 'Full Moon Fever.'
'Into the Great Wide Open' and 'Full Moon Fever' are forever linked, not just because they were released 2 years apart, but because both were co-written and produced with Jeff Lynne. Listen to them back-to-back. The sonic similarities are there.
When the album dropped in the summer of '91, I had just finished middle school and was headed to high school. If you grew up lucky like me, you know that's a pretty special summer. Lots of trips to Maine and New Hampshire with my family that summer. "Kings Highway" always puts me on Rt. 1 in Maine, driving through Ogunquit, headed to Wells Beach.
"Makin' Some Noise" was actually the B-side to the title track. But the song is so damn good radio stations started playing it as the album's sixth single in 1992.
Seven singles total! That's more than half the album, which has 12 tracks, released as singles. Apparently, they ran out of ideas for cover art and recycled the art for "King's Highway."