It just felt like there was too much going on for 2001’s Driving Rain to have much of a chance of making its mark. It was Paul McCartney’s first complete album of originals since the death of his wife Linda, and, in the interim, he had taken up with Heather Mills, so that aspect of it seemed to overshadow the actual music. On top of that came 9/11, which led McCartney to promote the album with “Freedom,” a jingoistic one-off that had little to do with the rest of the lovey-dovey material. All that aside, however, the album suffers anyhow from being unnecessarily long at 16 songs, not one of which quite muscles its way into classic territory. Here is a song-by-song review:
16. “Spinning On An Axis”- McCartney’s first of two songwriting collaborations with son James on the album is sunk by lyrics that aren’t nearly as deep as they want to be and music that struggles to define what it wants to be and ends up not being much at all.
15. “Freedom”- The intent was impeccable, and there’s no question the song did it’s job at the Concert for 9/11. But going back and listening to it as anything more than a curiosity is not something I can see many McCartney fans doing.
14. “Heather”- Some decent chord changes, but this mostly instrumental felt indulgent then. And, of course, knowing the outcome of the marriage, it feels downright awkward now.
13. “Back In The Sunshine Again”- The second McCartney/McCartney track on the album is a little better than the first, but not much.
12. “About You”- The rock racket it tries to raise sounds labored, and, by this point in the album, the praising love songs are struggling to say something new from the ones that preceded them. It does find its groove in the run-out, but by then you might have lost interest.
11. “Tiny Bubble”- Not to be confused with Don Ho, the best part of this bluesy midtempo track is McCartney’s willingness to let the melody drift to unlikely places. Nothing too memorable, but sounds pretty good while it’s on the speakers.
10. “Rinse The Raindrops”- The main section with the lyrics is forceful enough. How much tolerance you have for endless instrumental noodling probably dictates how you feel about the rest. As someone who thinks “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking?” should have ended before the bongos enter the picture, you can guess how I feel about it.
9. “Your Loving Flame”-Suffers from a lot of the same issues as “From A Lover To A Friend.” There’s a nice melody in there, but the lyrics are cliched and the production pushes a little too hard to try to get it to lighter-waving mode. That said, it fits into a kind of pleasing balladic template that makes you like it in spite of your best intentions.
8. “Driving Rain”- More jazzy than we’re used to from Paul, this one. And he wears it pretty well for the most part, although the improvisatory lyrics run out of steam as the song progresses. I do like the line, “Something’s open it’s my heart” though.
7. “Riding Into Jaipur”- Just a few weeks after the release of this album, George Harrison passed away. This feels like a preemptive tribute by Paul, and a pretty able one at that.
6. “Your Way”- Locating the heart of the country has never been an issue for Paul, and he does so effortlessly with this little, foot-tapping love song that’s charming if a bit slight.
5. “From A Lover To A Friend”- I feel like this echoes classic McCartney efforts without quite getting there on its own. The music is unmistakably lovely, stirring piano balladry with Abe Laboriel Jr. doing an excellent job on the Ringo-style fills. But the lyrics are all over the place to me, pronouns kind of thrown about willy-nilly to confuse the perspective and no real unifying aspect to really make the emotional connection. The music wins out in the end, but it feels like it could have been so much greater.
4. “Magic”- The serendipity of love is explored on this dreamy song. Macca’s bass work is inventive, and some leftover Jeff Lynne mojo must have been hanging around the studio from the Flaming Pie sessions, because this one could easily have slid onto an ELO album circa ’78 or so, which is a good thing.
3. “Lonely Road”- Those electric guitars really have some edge to them, and McCartney’s lyrics speak with a kind of fierce honesty to the disorientation that one feels after someone they loves moves on. Bluesy and tough, this song conjures up some raw emotions. Alas, it sets a personal tone that the rest of the songs just don’t quite sustain.
2. “I Do”- Producer David Kahne doesn’t shy away from ladling some Beatlesque bombast to the production here, and it suits the delicate melody and McCartney’s sweet sentiments. Just enough melancholy is located on the periphery to make the loving center that much more affecting. And Paul is everywhere, both singing high and lovely and rolling underneath it all on the bass, a wonderful performance at both extremes.
1. “She’s Given Up Talking”- Slow, heavy and compelling, with lots of vocal and instrumental effects that make matters all the more interesting. Kahne does a nice job laying things on and then pulling them away, while the relentless thrum of Paul’s bass and the smack of Laboriel’s drums provide steady ground. Add on the quirky little character sketch that McCartney delivers in the lyrics and you’ve got an unheralded track that would make for a great live cut if he ever decided to showcase some of his late-period solo stuff.
(E-mail me at email@example.com or follow me on Twitter @JimBeviglia. Check out the link below to my new book Counting Down The Beatles: Their 100 Finest Songs, available now.)
In many ways, 1997’s Flaming Pie set the template for what a late-period Paul McCartney album would sound like. With the singles charts no longer an option, McCartney could play directly to his fans and give them what they wanted: Some fun, feisty rockers, a handful of ballads, maybe a special guest or two, plenty of self-reflexive nods to the old days, and nothing that strayed too far from the brand (that’s what his side projects as The Fireman were for.) And Flaming Pie certainly rates on the higher end of these types of “In case of desire for Paul McCartney album, break glass” kind of projects, especially in terms of the love songs. Here is a song-by-song review:
14. “Really Love You”- Some people may love hearing old bandmates McCartney and Ringo Starr jamming away. To me, improvisation is best when you can’t tell it’s improvisation. I think anyone listening to this could tell it was made up on the spot.
13. “If You Wanna”- One of three collaborations with Steve Miller on the album, this sounds pretty good but, ironically considering it’s a driving song, doesn’t really go anywhere.
12. “Heaven On Sunday”- Jeff Lynne, who produces many of the tracks here, gives this one a lovely glow, but the best part is when Paul trades blues licks on guitar with his son James. That instrumental passage seems beamed in from a different song, creating a little disconnect from the adult contemporary feel of the main section.
11. “Souvenir”- Another one that’s a bit schizophrenic, half Wilson Pickett, half “I Want You (She’s So Heavy).” Lynne can’t quite meld it all together without the seams showing, but the individual parts of the disjointed whole command your attention.
10. “Young Boy”- Just an effortless pop track with a bit of a melancholy tinge. Miller shows his chops on lead guitar, while McCartney proves an able one-man rhythm section. A full album collaboration between these two should be on any Macca fan’s wish list.
9. “Beautiful Night”- The verses are gorgeous, reminiscent of the stellar Tug Of War ballad “Wanderlust,” all with Ringo lending those off-kilter, just-right fills any Beatle fan adores. The refrains are just OK, stirring musically but lyrically needing a bit more care. The coda is a fun ruckus, Starr getting in on the vocal act for old time’s sake.
8. “Great Day”- Paul wrote this album-closer in the early 70’s, and it’s eerie how well he recaptures his sound from that era, right down to Linda’s backing vocals. On an album that looks back as much as ahead, it makes for the right kind of send-off.
7. “The World Tonight”- Lynne gives McCartney’s drums a little Wilbury twist to add some rockabilly heft to the slightly psychedelic tone of this one. And Macca gets in a great couplet: “I go back so far, I’m in front of me.” The lyrical dots don’t always connect, but Paul sings it as if his life depends on it.
6. “The Song We Were Singing”- I could have gone one star higher on this affecting opening track if it had just a little more deviation from the acoustic verse to soaring chorus (with the harmonium, reminiscent of “We Can Work It Out”) formula, which gets repeated a bunch here. Still, it sets the nostalgic tone of the album quite well.
5. “Somedays”- Buoyed by typically sensitive George Martin orchestration, this introspective ballad manages to be both a devoted love song and a subtly pensive meditation on aging. Throw in some genuine empathy for those “who fear the worst” and you’ve got a number that covers a lot of bases without showing any sign of strain.
4. “Flaming Pie”- Among other things, this album is a great showcase for Paul’s instrumental dexterity. A largely do-it-yourself affair, it gives him showcases throughout on bass (of course), drums and acoustic guitar. Here he takes charge with some steamy piano licks, which back up wonderfully nonsensical lyrics inspired by John Lennon’s equally nonsensical tale about the origin of the name Beatles.
3. “Used To Be Bad”- A good little blues song immeasurably elevated by the easy camaraderie and instrumental excellence of McCartney and Miller. If you remember their late 60’s collaboration “My Dark Hour,” consider this duet a sizzling sequel that proves the pair hadn’t lost a stitch in the three-decade interim. People tend to think of Miller as a hitmaker, which he is, but his solos here remind that he can really rip on lead guitar.
2. “Calico Skies”- Well, this has always been what it’s all about with Paul, right? Sitting with an acoustic guitar, enchanting his audiences with the kind of tune that seems brand new and handed down through the ages all at once. And those who get at him about his lyrics should check out this set, which trips from the lips with nimble ease and both warms your heart and breaks it all at once. The kind of song that’s too good to be background music, because it will stop you in your tracks and whatever you’re doing will become secondary to the need to listen. Very powerful stuff in a humble package.
1. “Little Willow”- “Thanks, Mo,” Paul can be heard saying at the end of “Get Back.” This achingly beautiful lullaby was his way of expressing that gratitude to Maureen Starkey after her passing, as a way of trying to ease the pain her children felt. Lynne’s expert massaging of ballads comes in handy here, and his backing vocals provide supportive counterpoint to McCartney’s anguished, wordless cries. “Nobody warns you” is the hard part, the fact that even when you think you’re prepared to lose a loved one, you’re really not. But though you may bend in that cold, hard wind, the goodness of the loved ones still around allows you to locate the strength to hold on tight. All of that conveyed in three musical minutes that can pry cathartic tears from you on any occasion.
(E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow me on Twitter @JimBeviglia. My new book, Counting Down The Beatles: Their 100 Finest Songs, arrives this month. Pre-order it in the link below.)
So the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame just delivered their list of nominees for 2017, and I was pleasantly surprised. I’ve been telling anybody who would listen for many years that it was a travesty that ELO hadn’t yet been included or even nominated. I’m not kidding myself to think that they’ll get in; let’s face it, Tupac and Pearl Jam are sure things, leaving only three spots for 13 other nominees, so the math isn’t really in Jeff Lynne and company’s favor. (For the record, my choices: ELO, The Cars, Tupac, The Zombies, and Depeche Mode. Personal tastes play a lot into these things, obviously, and, as a songwriting guy, these five artists, to me, left behind the largest portion of memorable songs of this field.)
ELO’s last album in their heyday was 1986’s Balance Of Power; they would disband for fifteen years before their next studio album, Zoom, appeared in 2001. I’ve always had an affinity for this album, perhaps more than any of their other albums in the 80’s. It didn’t have any big hits but the songwriting was consistently sharp, the melodies pristine, and the production, with the exception of a synthy misstep or two, typically sumptuous; what else would you expect from Lynne?
ELO’s list of tear-jerking ballads will always be topped by “Telephone Line” with “Can’t Get It Out My Head” sitting at 1A; you just don’t get much better than those two. But Lynne delivered a late-period showstopper on Balance Of Power with “Getting To The Point.” Only the diehards (and I’m proudly one of them) know it, which is why I’m hoping that those reading this who are only casually aware of the band will check it out, and maybe check out the rest of the album in the process.
In the meantime, I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed that ELO somehow sneaks into the final five for the Rock Hall, even as I know it likely won’t happen. And, while we’re on the subject, maybe next year at this time I’ll be doing a Weeper of the Week on Harry Nilsson, Warren Zevon, or Squeeze in honor of one or all of their nominations. One can dream.
(E-mail me at email@example.com or follow me on Twitter @JimBeviglia. For a full list of my Counting Down books and E-books, check out the link to my Amazon page below.)
It’s probably too simplistic to say that Magic, released in 2007, was Bruce Springsteen’s best album since Tunnel Of Love, simply because the many stylistic turns he took in the 20 years interim make it a little like comparing rocking apples to folky oranges. What can be said is that it’s the most overt throwback to the classic E Street Band sound, toughened by lyrics that shunned nostalgia for a clear-eyed look at sleight of hand, perpetrated either on a nationwide scale or just between two people, and its insidious effects. Here is a song-by-song review.
12. “I’ll Work For Your Love”- The bad: Tortured metaphors and similes in the verses and a too-blunt arrangement. The good: Excellent refrain and a classic Roy Bittan piano intro. The good wins out by a few lengths, and the fact that this is the weakest thing here should tell you how strong Magic is as a whole.
11. “Gypsy Biker”- There are obvious similarities here to songs like “Born In The U.S.A.” and “Shut Out The Light”, but the difference here is that the focus is on the devastation on all those left behind when a loved one or town citizen doesn’t make it back home, either literally or mentally, from a war. Some lonesome harmonica is the most memorable part of the otherwise routine instrumental backing.
10. “You’ll Be Comin’ Down”- It’s rare to see Springsteen get as snippy as he does here to the person he’s addressing in a song, which is why you could conceivably read the “pretty face” in this song to be some larger target (maybe a politician) than just a girl living on borrowed time in the limelight. It comes off like a nastier “When You’re Alone.” Steven Van Zandt delivers some skyscraping harmonies which lend to the 60’s feel.
9. “Last To Die”- Springsteen often talks about how he likes to mix the personal and political in his material, but he goes down that road to a fault here. Instead of deepening the meaning, he muddles what could have been a more focused meditation on a fading romance with current events references. Nonetheless, the minor-key power of the music is undeniable, allowing you to forgive the lyrical confusion.
8. “Long Way Home”- I would have preferred this one to stay as stark as it is in the beginning, the open spaces in the music conjuring the distance between ideals and reality, a distance that haunts the lonely narrator. I also liken this one to “Land Of Hope And Dreams” in that they both feel too consciously anthemic, like you can hear the work put in to get them there. I always prefer my Springsteen, and music in general, to sound like it was effortless. You can’t argue with the song’s sentiment though, that the thousand tiny betrayals that we endure on micro and macro levels can really put us asunder, far from any place of comfort or reason.
7. “Magic”- You can pick whoever your own personal boogeyman might be and imagine the narrator in that way. Springsteen probably is frying some big fish with his metaphor, artfully sustained, that equates large-scale lying with the fakery of a small-time magician. “I’ll cut you in half,” Springsteen sings, “While you’re smiling ear to ear.” By the end, there are bodies in the trees and fire rampaging close by. It’s a downright chilling story, not exactly a pick-me-up, but certainly worthy of being told.
6. “Devil’s Arcade”- If I had a nit to pick with this song, it’s how Springsteen is maybe a bit too fussy in holding back the meat and potatoes of the story. The tale of a soldier whose body, and possibly his mind, is broken and the woman who prays for some semblance of normality for him should probably just be told, not hinted at. The song is still quite stirring though, from the somber cello at the start to the passionate refrain of “The beat of your heart,” the woman repeating it over and over as if she’s willing it to continue.
5. “Livin’ In The Future”- The music is such a throwback to classic days that, had another band perpetrated it, they could have been accused of plagiarism. Springsteen knows the strutting rhythm and Clarence Clemons air-splitting sax would have that effect, all the better to then undercut everyone with a tale that deftly mixes personal defeat with overarching chaos. The chorus suggests a kind of mind trick to try to get through it all; might as well put your mind on E Street while everything else goes all to hell. Enjoyable subversion from the Boss.
4. “Terry’s Song”- What comes through the most in this workmanlike tribute is the genuine affection Springsteen clearly had for his late friend Terry Magovern. He doesn’t try to canonize him. He just reveals his humanity, flaws and all, and how that humanity made him unique from the rest of humanity, if that makes any sense. I’ll take this over a windy old eulogy any day.
3. “Radio Nowhere”- This is one example where Brendan O’Brien’s occasional tendency to make his productions a bit too thick and airless actually pays off, because it plays into the narrator’s desperate pleas for human contact amidst the density and noise. Springsteen’s exhortations work as a complaint about the lack of human connection in the modern world, or they work as a guy belly-aching about the lousy music (or lack of music) on his local radio station. Speaking of radio, maybe Tommy Tutone snuck into Bruce’s subconscious somewhere along the line in the 80’s, because he regurgitates that one-hot wonder’s riff, albeit with a whole lot more spit and vinegar. This is as fierce as he and the band has ever sounded.
2. “Girls In Their Summer Clothes”- What if one of Springsteen’s charming young heroes from the early streetlife serenades never left the boulevard? Would he still be charming? Or maybe a little pathetic? Those are the questions that loom over this gorgeous slice of 60’s-inspired pop, all yearning violins and familiar yet poignant chord changes. By the way, I think pathetic might be too harsh, because there is something endearing in his willingness to dust himself off after what is probably his umpteenth broken heart. “Love’s a fool’s dance,” Bruce sings. “I ain’t got much sense/But I still got my feet.” Those lines form a universal sentiment, so if he’s a loser, then we’re all losers right along with him.
1. “Your Own Worst Enemy”- Since we’re following throughlines in Springsteen’s career, here is the same dude from “Darkness On The Edge Of Town,” remarried with children, tamping down his self-destructive urges as you would an overstuffed garbage can, until it gets to be too much and all that filth oozes out. And we present his tale in a chiming, baroque pop arrangement that sounds like Jeff Lynne producing The Left Banke. It shouldn’t work, but the incisive characterization in such short potent strokes, combines with the irresistible music, makes this one of the most underrated tracks in the man’s career.
(E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow me on Twitter @JimBeviglia. My new book, Counting Down Bruce Springsteen: His 100 Finest Songs, arrives in June, but you can pre-order it now at all major online booksellers.)
Just two years after the smashing success of their debut, The Traveling Wilburys returned in 1990 for a second round of roots-rock supergrouping that they titled, with typical tongue-in-cheek, Volume 3. Alas, they were missing a family member after the death of Roy Orbison, but Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne, and George Harrison soldiered on to far less media attention and sales. Here is a track-by-track review.
11. “New Blue Moon”- Lynne was essential to the group for his expert production and his ubiquitous vocal harmonies, but none of the songs on which he took lead in the group’s brief existence ever took off. This breezy number is just well-played filler.
10. “Seven Deadly Sins”- While the idea of Dylan singing lead in a doo-wop group has a certain subversive flair, it’s not enough to carry this one very far past pleasant inconsequentiality.
9. “Poor House”- Petty’s offbeat humor comes to the fore on this hootenanny, aided by Lynne’s yelping backing vocals and Harrison’s ever-fetching slide guitar. One of the most fun tracks on the album, even if it’s easily forgettable once it’s over.
8. “The Devil’s Been Busy”- The second Wilburys album was generally a shade darker than the first, perhaps reflecting the loss they had suffered when Orbison passed away. This track, which gets a nice boost from Harrison’s sitar, is bitingly cynical, a trait that would have sounded out of place on Volume 1. Dylan gets off the best line here, directed to the victims of corrupt power: “Sometimes you’re better off now knowing how much you’ve been had.”
7. “You Took My Breath Away”- Jeff Lynne produced two Tom Petty albums to continue their professional relationship, including Highway Companion in 2006. There’s a lovely ballad on that album called “Damaged By Love,” and you can hear the seeds of that song on “You Took My Breath Away.” The lyrics aren’t as polished on the Wilburys number, but the overall pace and production makes the songs pretty much first cousins.
6. “Where Were You Last Night?”- Both Wilburys album are consistently strong, but the second one lacks any true classics along the line of “Not Enough Anymore” or “Tweeter And The Monkey Man.” Songs like “Where Were You Last Night?,” an amiable ode to romantic suspicion coughed out by Dylan with Harrison helping out, rule the day. It gets by just fine on charm and professionalism but lacks the songwriting spark that propelled Volume 1.
5. “Cool Dry Place”- We all have storage problems, but musicians probably have to deal with that more than most. I learned that from this bluesy, saxophone-embellished affair that features Petty portraying a cramped instrument collector. So what if not everyone can relate to such an uptown problem? Al least the song has a distinctive point of view, which makes it stand out here.
4. “Wilbury Twist”- As stated above, Volume 3 was a relatively dour affair compared to Volume 1. That all goes out the window on the closing track, when the Wilburys create their own dance which includes, among other distinctive moves, this command from Harrison: “Put your other foot up/Fall on your ass/Get back up/Put your teeth in a glass.” At the time, everyone hoped that the Wilburys would regale us with more music down the road, but, as a closing statement by this casual assemblage of superstars, “Wilbury Twist” is as fitting as could be.
3. “Inside Out”- Environmental concerns seem to be at the heart of this song, although the lyrics work better as a series of one-liners rather than as a coherent whole. What carries the day is the group interplay, as Dylan takes the verses, Petty the refrains, and Harrison the bridge, while Lynne adds harmony to them all in an MVP performance. This one has the effortless bounce and swing of the first album, with walled acoustic guitars and Jim Keltner’s rock steady beat doing much of the heavy lifting.
2. “She’s My Baby”- As great as the first album was, there was nothing on there that really rocked. “She’s My Baby” takes care of that right from the bludgeoning opening riff. Keltner, as usual, is crucial, and Gary Moore comes aboard to play a fierce lead guitar and a sprinting solo. The lyrics are reminiscent of Vol. 1’s “Dirty World” in their reliance on double entendres and wink-wink, nudge-nudge sexual references, that is until Dylan (who else?) gets right to the heart of it: “She like to stick her tongue right down my throat.”
1. “If You Belonged to Me”- The band’s willingness to trade jobs and share the limelight on the second album is commendable, but the finest song, ironically enough, is the one where a single band member takes center stage. In this case, it’s Dylan, pulling one of his acidic love songs out of the holster and singing it with just the right mix of wounded pride and thinly-veiled disgust. His harmonica solo is typically stellar, and the acoustic guitar mix behind him is pristine. As a matter of fact, Harrison liked the arrangement so much that he essentially re-wrote the lyrics and presented it as “Any Road,” the lead track on his final solo album Brainwashed.
(E-mail me at email@example.com or follow me on Twitter @JimBeviglia. Books and e-books of material that originated on this site can be purchased from the link below.)
What started out as a George Harrison session featuring a few buddies turned into the Traveling Wlburys, and never has the term “supergroup” been more accurately applied. On Traveling Wilburys Vol.1, Harrison, Bob Dylan, Jeff Lynne, Tom Petty, and Roy Orbison come together for an album that rivaled the biggest hits the men ever had as individuals. Here is a track-by-track review.
10. “Margarita”- This is the one song on the album where the laid-back atmosphere crosses the fine line into silliness, and it’s also the one time when Lynne’s production gets a tad overbearing.
9. “Rattled”- Lynne has always been adept at mimicking mint-condition rockabilly, and here he hets his Jerry Lee Lewis on with the help of Jim Keltner’s muscular beat. Bonus points for getting Orbison to recreate his “Pretty Woman” “R” roll.
8. “Congratulations”- Dylan sounds so woeful here that you fear he might collapse rather than finish this tongue-in-cheek tale of misery. The Wilburys chime in with staggering backing vocals that make them sound like the world’s most harmonious chain gang.
7. “Heading For The Light”- This one sounds like it could have fit in on Harrison’s Cloud Nine album, which was essentially the impetus for the Wilburys anyway. Bouncy horns accentuate the upbeat tune, and you can hear the fun that the Quiet Beatle is having with his friends.
6. “Dirty World”- This is Dylan at his most off-the-cuff and mischievous, tossing off brazen double-entendres in an attempt to win over a girl from her new man. The random call-and-response session from the other Wilburys at song’s end is inspired as well. This song would seem slight in lesser hands, but here it’s a rollicking blast.
5. “Last Night”- Petty gets his showcase in this tale of a one-night stand gone horribly awry. There is something subversive and hilarious in the way that his deadpan vocals are interspersed with the golden tones of Orbison. It’s never clear just what fate befalls the narrator, but when he surmises at songs’ end that “All I got is this song,” it’s a pretty good consolation.
4. “Handle With Care”- Harrison’s dry humor gets a workout in this song that started the whole Wilburys phenomenon off. His protagonist is just looking for a little bit of tenderness after getting knocked around a bit by life, and some of the complaints sound like they hit pretty close to home (especially when he claims that he’s been “overexposed, commercialized.”) George’s slide guitar and Dylan’s harmonica turn out to be an inspired combination.
3. “End Of The Line”- This is another song where the juxtaposition of the disparate voices produces fantastic results. Harrison, Lynne, and Orbison trade off on the verses, reassuring listeners with the “It’s all right” refrain even as all mattersof hypothetical disasters loom in the distance. Petty serves as the wry counterpoint, making small talk about his car and Jimi Hendrix. This is the song where Lynne’s back-porch production is at its finest.
2. “Tweeter And The Monkey Man”- We can’t say for sure if the Wilburys ever considered including Bruce Springsteen in their little party, but he’s here in spirit thanks to Dylan’s hilarious parody. Thanks to some slinky horns and the catchy “And the walls came down” refrain, you don’t need to know any Boss references to enjoy the song. Yet if you do, you’ll find yourself chuckling along even as you admire Dylan’s ingenious tale of a bizarre love quadrangle featuring bullets, car chases, and gender confusion.
1. “Not Alone Anymore”- Jeff Lynne is most likely the author of this song (his publishing company holds the copyright), so he deserves credit for crafting a weeper that can hold its own with colossal Roy Orbison classics like “Crying,” “Running Scared,” and “It’s Over.” The rest is all Orbison, using perhaps the most iconic voice in rock music history to take the whole thing to stratospheric levels of heartache. There won’t be a dry eye in the house by the time this one is through.
(E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow me on Twitter @JimBeviglia. Books and e-books of material that originated on this site can be purchased in the link below.)
It was essentially his first ever solo album, although Tom Petty wasn’t alone by any means on 1989’s Full Moon Fever. Heartbreaker sidekick Mike Campbell was along for the ride, along with several Wilburys. The result is an album that stands as perhaps the finest of his career in terms of top-to-bottom quality. Here is a track-by-track review.
(The quotes following the songs were taken from Breakdown: Tom Petty’s 100 Best Songs, my recently published e-book which can be purchased in the link below.)
12. “A Mind With A Heart Of Its Own”- This boogeying number didn’t make my list of Top 100 Petty songs, the only one on Full Moon Fever that missed. That’s more a testament to the quality of the album than it is a knock on “A Mind With A Heart Of Its Own,” which boasts some humorous lyrics.
11. “Love Is A Long Road”- “Petty’s nasally singing is a bit affected here, but it’s ultimately secondary to Mike Campbell’s thunderous guitars. They’re the main selling point of a track that really tears it up when played live and would stand out on any normal album. On Full Moon Fever, “Love Is A Long Road” suffers for being a really good song among great ones.”
10. “Depending On You”- “Notice how those refrains play off the verses, as Petty plays it coy with his talk-singing in those parts before powering into the choruses, like a conversation that starts simply before the intensity ratchets up. It’s just a little touch that makes this otherwise humble little number sound downright powerful.”
9. “The Apartment Song”- “Best of all is the brief, Buddy Holly-inspired, guitar-and-drum breakdown. At any moment during that portion of the song, you half-expect Petty to break into a few bars of “Peggy Sue”. It’s that kind of anything-goes approach that made the album so special and transformed “The Apartment Song” from a leftover to a winner.”
8. “Alright For Now”- “To the long list of rock lullabies, feel free to add this unabashedly pretty offering from Full Moon Fever. Tom Petty and Mike Campbell do some intricate finger-picking on acoustic guitar without ever raising the volume level too high. Wouldn’t want to wake up any dozing youngsters now, would they?”
7. “A Face In The Crowd”- “Elegant in its understatement and suggesting a lot without really saying much of anything at all, “A Face In The Crowd” proves Petty’s ability to create waves of emotion without spelling everything out. That it feels like a minimum of effort was exerted on this Full Moon Fever track is even more of a testament to TP’s talent as a songwriter.”
6. “I’ll Feel A Whole Lot Better”- This song was not included in my Petty Top 100 because he didn’t write it (Gene Clark did), but the letter-perfect rendition on Full Moon Fever not only honors Petty’s debt to The Byrds but also injects a jolt of sunny adrenaline to anybody who listens to it.
5. “Zombie Zoo”- “I suppose if you dig deep enough, you might be able to find a commentary on the conformity of youth culture or something like that, but why bother? With that horror-movie organ at the start of the song and lines like “You like Boris Karloff and you don’t even care,” it’s best just to enjoy the aural delights of “Zombie Zoo.” Consider it the victory lap on a triumphant album.”
4. “Yer So Bad”- “Petty’s sense of humor is all over this one, veering from mischievous (pondering the relative unworthiness of yuppies and singers in the first verse,) to gallows (the jilted lover contemplating suicide in the second.) You can imagine the band getting a good laugh as Petty brought those lyrics into the studio. Jeff Lynne gets a co-writing credit here, with his apparent contribution being the structuring of the chords to help Petty get from one section of the song to the next.”
3. “Runnin’ Down A Dream”- “According to Paul Zollo’s career-spanning interview book Conversations With Tom Petty, Petty claims that he and Jeff Lynne watched in stunned amazement as Mike Campbell blistered through the memorable solo at the end of “Runnin’ Down A Dream” in one stunning take, slack-jawed at the brilliance they were seeing and hearing. When it came time to edit the song for release on Full Moon Fever, Petty couldn’t bring himself to cut out any of the magic his guitarist had given him.”
2. “I Won’t Back Down”- “Then the song veers quickly back to the mantra of the refrain, with TP’s good buddy George Harrison seconding that emotion on backing vocals. “I Won’t Back Down” isn’t so much about taking some righteous stand as it is adhering to a certain, unwavering code. It’s about integrity really, and few artists have ever exuded quite as much of that elusive quality as Tom Petty.”
1. “Free Fallin'”- “I suppose that some people find some uplift in these lyrics; as for me, I feel like they speak to middle-age aimlessness. That’s what makes the set-up of the refrain so clever: He says he’s “free,” only to pull the rug out from you with the punch line: “Free fallin.’” Maybe he’s looking for a new world because his misdeeds, committed more through a matter of human frailty than any meanness, have left him without a home on this one.”
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