As many have noted over the last 24 hours, Tom Petty was no stranger to movie audiences. The singer/songwriter, who passed away yesterday, had his songs featured in a number of movies and TV shows over the years, not surprising how talented he was at writing not only catchy music but narratively-rich lyrics filled with memorable characters.
In no movie was his presence felt more deeply than writer/director/star Edward Burns’ 1996 sophomore effort She’s The One. Having achieved notoriety with The Brothers McMullen a couple years prior, this time Burns was operating with a star-studded cast and the support of a major distributor, Fox Searchlight. The story was similar – the drama around the romantic troubles of a couple of Irish brothers – but now he had Cameron Diaz, John Mahoney and Jennifer Aniston as his conduits, bringing the film a much higher profile than his independently-financed debut.
While McMullen had featured a great single from Sarah McLachlan, the soundtrack for She’s The One featured just as much of an escalation in firepower as the cast list. This time around, the entire score and soundtrack was written and recorded by Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers.
The collaboration reportedly came out of a circumstance where Burns found himself at Petty’s house, where the singer shared a few songs he wanted the filmmaker to consider for his new movie. Seizing the opportunity, Burns agreed and Petty went on to create the entire soundtrack, filling in a few gaps with songs that hadn’t made the cut for his Wildflowers solo album two years earlier.
The album holds up as, I believe, one of the finest Heartbreakers records in their entire catalog. It’s filled with some of Petty’s catchiest songwriting and most fun and poignant lyrics. Nowhere is that more evident than in “Walls,” a tune that appears in two different versions on the record.
A full consideration of the songs making up the soundtrack is something I may tackle another day, but for now, attention will turn to the prominence Petty’s involvement played in the marketing of the movie.
It’s important to set the stage for why Petty was deemed to be important enough to feature as singularly as he did in the movie’s marketing. 1996 marked seven years since the release of Full Moon Fever, which kicked off a new era in the career of Petty as a solo artist and his output with The Heartbreakers. Fever was followed by Into the Great Wide Open, which was followed by Wildflowers, each one generating hit singles that kept Petty on the radio and in the public eye. He was a massively successful artist operating at the height of his powers, especially with his band.
That’s why the movie’s campaign makes sure to note his involvement to the extent it does.
That starts with the poster. The photo at the top sells a standard-looking mid-90s relationship drama, each of the five main characters arranged around each other in a way that communicates their relationship while the New York City background makes it clear where the story takes place. Below that, though, a good amount of real estate is utilized with the value proposition that the film features an original score and new songs from Tom Petty, including “Walls,” which around this time began to get some airplay of its own on radio as well as a video entering steady rotation on music video channels. His name is shown bigger than even Burns’, clearly showing how popular Petty’s music was at the time. Interestingly, aside from a cameo by Burns at the beginning as a cab driver, that video doesn’t feature much of anything in the way of ties to the movie. There’s no footage from the film or anything else, it’s just another trippy, slightly-surreal Heartbreakers music video.
That music plays throughout the trailer, which tries to explain the romantic pentagon that drives the story. Clearly heard throughout the 2:30 runtime are “Walls” and some of the other music from Petty, who’s also name-dropped toward the end of that trailer.
Not only does She’s The One’s marketing show just how much of a draw Petty was at the time to the mainstream audience, one Fox Searchlight hoped would help the box-office draw of the movie, but it’s a singular instance of the single-artist soundtrack, a topic I’m going to continue to explore over time.
Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.