skip to Main Content

Tom Petty’s Bowie reference in “Same Old You” (1982)

Add Tom Petty to the list of artists who name-drop Bowie in a song. I’m a fan of Tom Petty’s, but I didn’t know “Same Old You” and don’t own the album its on, Long After Dark. Not surprisingly, I was tipped off to the song and its Bowie reference by an article in Far Out (click the bolded word to link to the article).

The song is basically about someone who has undergone some sort of surface change but, “deep down it’s the same old you.” Sounds like a good enough reason to invoke Bowie, and sure enough Petty does so in the song’s opening lines, “Hey, I remember you back in ’72; With your David Bowie hair and your platform shoes.” If you think about it, this is actually a pretty clever lyric— Bowie had a distinctive look in 1972, a decade before the song was released and a year before Bowie redefined himself with Let’s Dance (so the image is a Ziggy hairstyle). Bowie himself was known for changing his appearance, so Petty is establishing a theme here. Later he mentions a ‘62 Cadillac. It seems pretty deliberate that he’s going back in time in then-year intervals.

Bowie was not exactly inactive in 1982, but it had been two years since his last album (Scary Monsters). Despite being on the verge of the most successful phase in his career, he had already reached the point that Tom Petty could conjure up a sense of nostalgia with his name. That said, I doubt the lyric would have worked a year later. I don’t think that’s reason enough that this isn’t one of Tom Petty’s best-known songs, but it’s interesting to note that its probably just about the only point in time the lyric would have worked.

This also makes me think of Bowie’s 2002 song, “Slip Away,” which contains the line, “down in space it’s always 1982.” The line has stuck with me as Bowie referencing the last year before Bowie became a pop icon. His last incarnation was edgy, even dangerous. Then he went mainstream. It was kind of a musical end of innocence (or really, the opposite). Like, “Same Old You,” the song employs nostalgia, and more specifically an earlier state of Bowie’s identity to achieve that effect.

Back To Top