The Byrds were great. Tom Petty was and is great. Put those singers on the same record, and it’s bound to be a hit, right? Not so fast.
This is one of the reasons the pop charts fascinate me. (Well, one of the reasons is my belief that they are contrived, but that makes for a book-length post.) This song had every reason to be a hit, and yet failed to make the Billboard Hot 100 chart at all. The song did get airplay – we played it at WLLI/Joliet. Then again, we played a lot of records that sounded decent but didn’t fare well on the charts (more fodder for future “Greatest Misses” posts as I raid those airchecks). McGuinn did a lot of promotion for the record, playing it on the Tonight Show as Johnny held up the Back From Rio LP cover. Yet, no success on the singles charts, despite making number 2 on the “Album Tracks” chart.
The problem with this one may have been that McGuinn and Petty just sounded too much alike. The comparisons were early: Petty and the Heartbreakers’ “The Waiting” sounded like a Byrds record, and Petty’s live LP Pack Up The Plantation featured a cover of “So You Want To Be a Rock and Roll Star.”
What I liked about the song, though, was the video. The original video was a throwback to early MTV videos where a story was acted out around the lyrics to a song. In this teleplay we see a wealthy, Wall Street type in Los Angeles, surrounded by the trappings of his wealth (right down to the tiny iMac on his desk) and stealing from the office. By the end of the video he is broke, destitute, and in trouble because, after all, crime does not pay. The “greed is good” era of the 80s was ending, and a figure of the 60s was going to be the one to point it out.