May 1981: Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers Deliver on HARD PROMISES

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

By 1981, Tom Petty was a freshly minted rock star. The rocker's third studio album with band the Heartbreakers, 1979 LP Damn the Torpedoes, proved to be the breakthrough, armed with instant classics "Don't Do Me Like That" and "Even the Losers," climbing all the way to #2 on the Billboard 200 in February 1980 (the record that kept the Heartbreakers from #1: Pink Floyd's monolithic The Wall).

The very new burden of being a certified hit-maker made Petty potentially an even bigger cash cow for his label going forward. As such, his follow-up, Hard Promises, was singled out alongside Steely Dan's Gaucho and Olivia Newton-John and ELO's Xanadu as albums that would debut a new list price for a single-record album: $9.99.

Petty used the moment to flex his new rock star clout in favor of his fans, standing firm against the price hike. Eventually, the label relented, and Hard Promises hit record stores across America on May 5, 1981. The full-length had been preceded by lead single, "The Waiting," which rock radio immediately seized upon and sent into heavy rotation throughout the country. The track topped Billboard's then-new Rock Tracks chart, sneaking into the mainstream top 20 to hit #19 on the Hot 100 in June 1981.

It was late June 1981 when the second Hard Promises single, "A Woman in Love (It's Not Me)," hit the summer airwaves. The haunting melody and Petty's impassioned vocal delivery made the song another hit on the Rock Tracks chart, where it hit #5. The deep cut made an appearance on the Hot 100, peaking at #79. It was around the same time that Petty had returned the favor, writing, producing and performing on Nicks' lead Bella Donna single, "Stop Draggin' My Heart Around."

Hard Promises was also the record that showcased Petty's budding friendship and working relationship with Stevie Nicks, who was so enamored the Florida rocker that she famously said she'd immediately leave Fleetwood Mac to join the Heartbreakers if he ever asked her. Nicks was featured on album track, "Insider," with the two singer's well-matched voices intertwining with Benmont Tench's moody organ notes.

Hard Promises was indeed another big hit for the Heartbreakers, reaching #5 on the Billboard 200 for the week of July 25, 1981. The #1 album in America that week: the Moody Blues' Long Distance Voyager.

While not exactly the high-energy hit factory that was Damn the Torpedoes, Hard Promises found Tom Petty and company settling in for the long haul. The group had effectively graduated from new sensations and taken another pivotal step in their long walk to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.