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From their earliest days as a scrappy L.A. club band, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers opened every show with this impassioned battle cry and possibly the greatest song you’ve never heard—a plea for love set to ringing Rickenbackers, Petty’s desperate vocals, and the Everly-esque harmonies of drummer Stan Lynch. These were the hallmarks of the early Heartbreakers sound, along with Mike Campbell’s bell-chime guitar leads, Ron Blair’s propulsive bass, and Benmont Tench’s emotionally charged piano and organ runs.
From “Breakdown” to “American Girl,” through “Listen to Her Heart” and “Even the Losers,” the Floridian fivesome had an embarrassment of riches on their first records—but unless you got lucky and saw them live, you missed out on “Surrender.” Incredibly, the song that should have been a hit never made it onto a Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers studio album. It wasn’t for lack of trying—recorded in turn for the band’s self-titled debut, for You’re Gonna Get It!, and for Damn the Torpedoes, “Surrender” just always seemed to get passed over for something else.
For years, it was a lost treasure, the rare gem Petty fans whispered about in tones of awe and reverence. If you were at a show, you never forgot “Surrender.” It’s classic defiant Petty, all tension and release: On top of a deceptively buoyant melody, he tells an indecisive lover that if she won’t make up her mind, he “just can’t hang around feeling this way forever.” But it’s all a brave facade: “On your balcony, you said you loved me,” he pleads. “Don’t say you don’t remember.”
Live, Petty played the part brilliantly. He prowled like a caged animal, pale, gaunt and hungry, his yellow hair flying as he screamed at that jittery American Girl to take it easy, baby, and assured his frightened friend that she didn’t have to live like a refugee after all. The music was both raw and beautiful.
And right at the top was “Surrender,” an invitation to the dance that dared you, defied you, to do anything but capitulate to the siren song of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. To surrender.