The Coulda-Shoulda-Woulda Files: Tom Petty Takes A Trip To The Zoo

Mar 26th, 2007 // 9 Comments

zombiezoo.jpgOnce again, we raid our cassingle casselection. looking for an overlooked song:

Artist: Tom Petty
Song: “Zombie Zoo,” 1989
What happened: Even though Petty wrung a remarkable seven* singles out of Full Moon Fever, the album-closing “Zombie Zoo” wasn’t one of them. Maybe the label figured that the market was already too Feverish, or that the tongue-in-cheek song was too lightweight to make it on radio. Or maybe, as Petty himself has often vented in interviews, the powers-that-be feared blowback from the then-powerful zombie lobbies.
Why it should have been a hit: “Zoo” condenses everything great about Petty’s late-’80s output–the power-pop choruses, the just-shy-of-slick production, and the jaundiced story-telling–in just under three minutes:

* UPDATE: Well, maybe not quite. See comments below.
Tom Petty – Zombie Zoo [MP3, link expired]


  1. Chris Molanphy

    Seven? Really? Lessee…I count “I Won’t Back Down,” “Runnin’ Down a Dream,” “Free Fallin’,” “A Face in the Crowd,” “Yer So Bad”…that’s five. What am I forgetting? Did they release the Byrds cover as a single? What about “Alright for Now”?

    It’s a really remarkable pop-rock album – especially considering the previous Heartbreakers album, just two years earlier, was their biggest near-dud, with the best radio single featuring Petty insulting Eddie Murphy.

  2. brasstax

    Well, it was less a solo album than it was the second Wilburys album, so that might explain some if its remarkability.

  3. Brian Raftery

    @dennisobell: You know this stuff way better than me, but the Wiki entry lists “Feel A Whole Lot Better” and “A Face In The Crowd” with chart positions. Let me know if that’s wrong and I’ll fix it…

  4. JudgeFudge

    Jeff Lyne for President ’08

  5. Chris Molanphy

    @Brian Raftery: Ah! That makes sense. And yes, I see Wikipedia does list seven songs getting radio play. So in spirit, you’re right.

    (I honestly was questioning my memory rather than questioning you, because seven songs off a straight rock album getting radio play in the late ’80s is so remarkable – even in that time, the era of the hit-milked album, generally those sorts of feats were accomplished by Madonna or George Michael or Paula Abdul.)

    The tricky thing is, in the late ’80s, Billboard rules meant you couldn’t get an album cut onto the Hot 100 – only actual single singles. By that reckoning, there were technically only four singles off Full Moon Fever - the first four I listed above (“Back Down,” “Runnin’,” “Fallin’,” “Face”). I remember the label making a video with Petty late in the pomotion cycle for that album for “Yer So Bad,” but I dunno if they released it as a 45 or a cassingle, and it definitely didn’t chart Hot 100. So the other three “hits” – “Yer So Bad,” “Feel a Whole Lot Better,” and one I didn’t mention, “Love Is a Long Road” – only charted on the rock list. Even as late as 1989-90, AOR stations were still playing non-label-sanctioned album cuts, especially on a big hit rock album. So that’s where those last three chart listings came from.

    Still, your larger point is legitimate: that’s a shitload of radio play. It’s like FMF was. briefly, the Thriller of rock radio.

  6. Paul D

    I’ve always thought “Zombie Zoo” was the best song on that record. With “Yer So Bad” a close second.

  7. AcidReign

    @judgefudge: If they let Lynne run, they’d have to let Ah-node run, too! Of course, we’d have to think Lynne would shine a light on things at the White House…

  8. Maulleigh

    Ah. Sophmore year and walking to Winnetka to work at my first job in a bakery. I was eventually fired for singing.

  9. Artie Fufkin

    At Bonnaroo, we named our camp Zombie Zoo. We held the sign for Tom, but he wasn’t taking requests that night.

    Awesome song BTW.

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