When Tom Petty Presaged the #MeToo Movement

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In the 1990s, Tom Petty continued to add to his canon as one of the great American rock songwriters of his generation. As the decade came to a close, a new Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers album arrived in April 1999. Echo was the first studio album from the band since 1991’s Into the Great Wide Open. (Yeah, we know… 1996’s She’s the One album is a band effort, but it’s a soundtrack to the Ed Burns film.)

Echo features some terrific Petty compositions including the underrated lead track, “Room at the Top,” and the melancholy, “Swingin’,” the latter of which makes clever references to such “swingers” as Glenn Miller and Sonny Liston.

And then there is “Free Girl Now.”

The song starts innocently enough, with those jangly guitars and a shout from Petty: “Hey!”

The narrator gets right to the point: I remember when you were his dog, I remember you under his thumb.

In the next verse: I remember when he was your boss, I remember him touching your butt. Yeah honey, you had to keep your mouth shut.

Whoa! Echoes of the #MeToo movement! But, wait… that wouldn’t take hold until October 2017, nearly two decades later (and ironically the very month of Petty’s untimely death). #MeToo had a groundswell that autumn with the accusations against Hollywood studio chief Harvey Weinstein and it’s continued ever since as more victims of sexual harassment and assault have come forward against their predators, all over the world.

Petty, in the official live video for “Free Girl Now”

Back to “Free Girl Now.” After the bridge, the tempo slows. Petty’s vocal stands out over the spare instrumentation as he sings: No longer will you be a slave, no longer will you have to craaaawl. No longer will you suffer.

And then it begins to build again, with the super tight band rocking out. When you walk from the table, no longer will you bow down.

Hey baby, you’re a free girl now, he sings over and over.

Listen to the studio version

It appears that “Free Girl Now” wasn’t included in Heartbreakers’ setlists for decades. The band’s 40th anniversary tour, which ended September 25, 2017, exactly one week before Petty died, presaged the #MeToo movement. We’ll obviously never know if he would’ve added it to future setlists.

Watch the official live clip of the song from way back when

Thanks, Tom.

Echo was Petty’s tenth studio album with the Heartbreakers, and the last with bassist Howie Epstein who died in 2003.

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Greg Brodsky

Best Classic Bands Founder/CEO Greg Brodsky earned his first professional bylines as a reporter for the music trade weekly Record World. He still has all his vinyl albums and enjoys going to flea markets and garage sales to grow his collection.
Greg Brodsky
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  1. Steve G.
    #1 Steve G. 27 August, 2019, 15:10

    After the Echo Tour of ’99, he never again played any songs from this album. Not because he didn’t like the album, but because it was made during the darkest period of his life, including the end of his first marriage and the drug and alcohol problems that came with that. Still, this is one of my favorite albums.

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