Tom Petty Countdown #49: “Runaway Trains”

It was the 80’s after all, and even Tom Petty could fall victim to the overproduction techniques that marred so much of the music of that decade. Actually, Petty should be commended, because he so rarely fell into that trap that the few occasions when he did are more conspicuous.

Petty allowed Mike Campbell the leeway to create the music on this song after he famously turned down a similar instrumental track from Campbell that the guitarist would give to Don Henley, who turned it into the mega-hit “The Boys Of Summer.” “Runaway Trains” couldn’t capture quite the same magic though.

Yet the amazing thing about “Runaway Trains” is that, once it kicks into that glorious chorus, it overrides all objections. It becomes The Heartbreakers again, galloping through the proceedings with elegance and power.

I can only speculate how high this one would have been ranked if not for the production fussiness.  But any song that ranks in the Top 50 of a Tom Petty countdown has to be a standout, one in which the positives far outweigh any missteps.

(For the full e-book of this list, Breakdown: Tom Petty’s 100 Best Songs, check out the Amazon links below.)

US: http://www.amazon.com/Breakdown-Pettys-Best-Songs-ebook/dp/B00C281ZB6/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1364475476&sr=8-3&keywords=jim+beviglia

UK: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Breakdown-Pettys-Best-Songs-ebook/dp/B00C281ZB6/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1364469871&sr=1-1

(E-mail the author at countdownkid@hotmail.com.)


Tom Petty Countdown #58: “Even The Losers”

Here we are again in the Heartbreakers’ late70’s, early 80’s comfort zone when their Midas touch was nearly unparalleled in the rock world. “Even The Losers” is a piece of bittersweet reflection, one man looking back at a youthful romance that still exerts a powerful hold on him after all these years. With details that only somebody who has lived through it could possibly know, it’s a particularly poignant work.

Musically it’s not anything revolutionary, but it’s buffed up nicely by producer Jimmy Iovine until it’s rock-radio ready. The rhythm section of Ron Blair and Stan Lynch are in fine form, but overall it’s just a workmanlike band performance.

That’s fine though, because the music stays out of the way of Petty’s reminiscing. Every time he looks back, he sees two kids hopelessly in love, so the eventual outcome of the romance still bewilders him. The self-deprecating refrain is a resignation to the truth: That this girl was probably leaving him from the moment they met. “Even The Losers” is a stirring testament to those times when our perception and our reality form the widest chasm available, times that usually occur when we’re in love.

(For the full e-book of this list, Breakdown: Tom Petty’s 100 Best Songs, check out the Amazon links below.)

US: http://www.amazon.com/Breakdown-Pettys-Best-Songs-ebook/dp/B00C281ZB6/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1364475476&sr=8-3&keywords=jim+beviglia

UK: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Breakdown-Pettys-Best-Songs-ebook/dp/B00C281ZB6/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1364469871&sr=1-1

(E-mail the author at countdownkid@hotmail.com.)


Happy Thanksgiving!

Have a wonderful holiday, weekend readers. I’m currently digesting before joining the Better Half for a wild TV chase at the stores tonight and tomorrow. The Tom Petty Countdown will resume on Monday. Talk to you all then.


Tom Petty Countdown #64: “Into The Great Wide Open”

I forced myself to really try to re-listen to this song once again, as if hearing it anew, because, quite frankly, I felt a little burnt-out on the song. It’s one of those Petty tunes that classic rock radio really beats to death, and there are a lot of his songs that deserve a wider audience that will never get a fraction of the airplay of this one.

Let’s face it; that memorable video starring Johnny Depp as a rock burnout certainly did this song a great favor, propelling it to hit status. It’s got a tepid pace, with that descending chord pattern churning away, and the moral of the story, that you’re only as good as your last hit, is as old as the music business itself.

A fresh examination, however, reveals some nuances that reminded me why I liked the song in the first place. Those little guitar breaks in between sections provide great hooks throughout. The refrain is undeniable catchy, with Jeff Lynne’s ELO-flavored backing vocals providing a bit of wonder tinged with melancholy. And, though it may be an old story, Petty tells it damn well, with knowing winks of humor and an unresolved ending (at least if you ignore the video) which lets us guess what became of Eddie once the hits ran dry.

So maybe it’s not radio’s fault for turning me against “Into The Great Wide Open.” Maybe it’s my own fault for taking its cleverness and craft for granted.

(For the full e-book of this list, Breakdown: Tom Petty’s 100 Best Songs, check out the Amazon links below.)

US: http://www.amazon.com/Breakdown-Pettys-Best-Songs-ebook/dp/B00C281ZB6/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1364475476&sr=8-3&keywords=jim+beviglia

UK: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Breakdown-Pettys-Best-Songs-ebook/dp/B00C281ZB6/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1364469871&sr=1-1

(E-mail the author at countdownkid@hotmail.com.)


Tom Petty Countdown #72: “The Trip’s To Pirate Cove”

Filled with mischievous preachers and loose women, “The Trip To Pirate’s Cove” is a quasi-mystical road trip to Santa Cruz that enlivens Mojo. It’s an odd combination of Springsteen’s “Spirit In The Night” and The Doors’ “Riders On The Storm,” but it works in spite of those seemingly clashing elements.

The relentless groove has a somewhat sinister edge to it, echoing the dead ends that Petty and his buddy seem to encounter in the song. Meanwhile, the spooky keyboard parts of Benmont Tench give the song its distinctively eerie edge.

Striking out in a Defender, Petty and his pal run across all sorts of unsavory characters and bizarre situations, and you can tell that the songwriter has his tongue partly in his cheek throughout. He drops a few killer lines throughout (“She was a part of my heart/Now she’s just a line in my face,”) and somehow, in spite of the unusual events, seems almost nostalgic for this trip to nowhere. I guess I can see why; if it was half as fun to experience as it is to listen to, “The Trip To Pirate’s Cove” must have been a blast.

(E-mail the author at countdownkid@hotmail.com.)


Tom Petty Countdown #74: “Hometown Blues”

You’ve got another example here of Petty throwing changes of pace at his audience even before they knew what his pace was. Found on his first album, “Hometwon Blues” was recorded in piecemeal fashion, with the legendary Duck Dunn on bass and Mudcrutch drummer Randall Marsh handling the skins. The Heartbreakers polished things up for the album.

The chunky rhythm isn’t what you would associate with a Petty song, but, considering it was his first album, there weren’t any real expectations to confound. It was just the songwriter’s muse taking him into new territory.

What is consistent with Petty’s later work is the nuance in the lyrics. “Hometown Blues” is a striking dissection of small-town life and its inherent ennui. Even romance doesn’t quite shake up the doldrums:  “Said it’s so good, said it’s so real/Might not last but it’s no big deal.” If nothing else, though, it serves its purpose: “Honey I really need you/To help me kill a little bit of time.”

Petty’s outlook was already realistic and world-weary beyond his years, but the bouncy music keeps things from getting too depressing. Just like a small town, some bits of fun eventually surface to keep the monotony at bay.

(For the full e-book of this list, Breakdown: Tom Petty’s 100 Best Songs, check out the Amazon links below.)

US: http://www.amazon.com/Breakdown-Pettys-Best-Songs-ebook/dp/B00C281ZB6/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1364475476&sr=8-3&keywords=jim+beviglia

UK: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Breakdown-Pettys-Best-Songs-ebook/dp/B00C281ZB6/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1364469871&sr=1-1

(E-mail the author at countdownkid@hotmail.com.)


Tom Petty Countdown #87: “Mary Jane’s Last Dance”

This single, which was the lone new Petty original found on his 1993 Greatest Hits compilation, is notable in Heartbreaker history for being the last track to feature drummer Stan Lynch. Lynch responded with an excellent performance on the skins, beating his way about as if trying to he had some serious pent-up tension to release.

“Mary Jane’s Last Dance” is also relatively unique for being a song that Petty completed in parts. He had the bare bones of the song all together years earlier. When pressed for a new song for the Greatest Hits album, he was unwilling to give up any of the new material he was working up, material which would eventually comprise his solo album Wildflowers. So he dug up the old song, added a sparkling new chorus, threw together a truly macabre video starring Kim Basinger, and, voila, you’ve got another smash hit.

I feel like some of that disjointedness is evident in the song, and the lyrics betray their improvisational nature a bit too readily, although Petty gets credit for pulling them together to form a pretty incisive portrait of this small-town femme fatale. Of course, none of that matters much when the Heartbreakers lock into that powerful groove, hitting on all cylinders even as one of the main cylinders was about to depart.

(For the full e-book of this list, Breakdown: Tom Petty’s 100 Best Songs, check out the Amazon links below.)

US: http://www.amazon.com/Breakdown-Pettys-Best-Songs-ebook/dp/B00C281ZB6/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1364475476&sr=8-3&keywords=jim+beviglia

UK: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Breakdown-Pettys-Best-Songs-ebook/dp/B00C281ZB6/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1364469871&sr=1-1

(E-mail the author at countdownkid@hotmail.com.)


Tom Petty Countdown #91: “It’s Good To Be King”

Petty indulges his sly sense of humor here, with lyrics that put him in the shoes of some Everyman dreaming of grandeur. I would argue that a lot of rock stars would have trouble pulling that stance off, but Petty’s humility throughout his career allows him to get away with it.

As such you can believe this ultra-successful rock and roller when he sings “Yeah I’ll be king when dogs get wings.” The protagonist then reveals his ulterior motive for his regal obsession:  “A sweet little queen that won’t run away.” It’s a nice little twist that gives the song a touch of emotional heft.

The music is a bit all over the place, some stinging guitar mashing up against orchestral flourishes which come courtesy of the go-to guy for rock-classical alchemy, Michael Kamen. Then again, I guess if you want to be a king, you have to have a little fanfare.

(For the full e-book of this list, Breakdown: Tom Petty’s 100 Best Songs, check out the Amazon links below.)

US: http://www.amazon.com/Breakdown-Pettys-Best-Songs-ebook/dp/B00C281ZB6/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1364475476&sr=8-3&keywords=jim+beviglia

UK: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Breakdown-Pettys-Best-Songs-ebook/dp/B00C281ZB6/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1364469871&sr=1-1

(E-mail the author at countdownkid@hotmail.com.)


On Tom Petty

Today we are about to embark upon our next epic list, in this case the Top 100 songs of Tom Petty. This list originally appeared for a website named CultureMap.com. I have done an edit of the material but the list is essentially the same as it appeared then since Tom hasn’t released any new material since, so if you happened across it back then, it will be awful familiar for you.
As it didn’t get a lot of publicity, however, I’m guessing it will be new to most of you. Tom Petty has been so steadily brilliant over the years that I feel like a lot of people almost take him for granted. They shouldn’t. In my book, he is one of the all-time greats, both in terms of his songwriting and his outstanding studio recordings of those songs, both with and without the Heartbreakers.
As always, this list is a celebration of the artist more than anything else. I welcome any comments, even if you think I’m way off base with my rankings. I plan on counting down five songs each weekday, so those of you planning to tune in along the way will know what to expect.
So enjoy the list, and, if you can, read while the music is playing. My humble words cannot do justice to this amazing catalog of songs, but I’ll do the best I can.

(E-mail the author at countdownkid@hotmail.com.)


Coming Soon

Hello, long-lost readers. I know it’s been a while since our last list wrapped up, and I want to thank those of you who keep populating the site. I have been busy with other writing gigs which have been a lot of fun to do; as always, check out my alter-ego, Jim Beviglia, at American Songwriter’s web site for some of what I’ve been up to.

I know that none of my other writing, which soon might include a book for you all to hopefully buy, would be possible without this blog, so it’s time for another list. I’m planning to start adding my Tom Petty top 100 list on Monday, so you’ll all have something else to ponder. I did the list a few years back for another site and, as a result, can bring it to you without having to do much other than minor editing. I am planning some brand new lists when I get the chance, and I should have a little more time to do so soon. For now, TP & The Heartbreakers can tide you over.

Talk to you all soon. Have a good one.