Tom Petty Countdown #5: “Insider”

The story behind this song is that Petty wrote it with the intention of giving it to Stevie Nicks, then thought it too good to let go. Nicks understood and agreed to sing back-up on “Insider,” Petty eventually gave her “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around,” which the two rode all the way to the bank, and all was fine with the world, right?

Well, not quite, because, while there’s no doubting that “Stop Draggin’” is a great song, “Insider” is not just better, but is one of the best songs that Petty has ever written. And yet it remains largely unheard, tucked away quietly on Side 2 of Hard Promises. I’m begging you, casual TP fans, look this song up, and you’ll be as floored as I was when I discovered it upon purchasing the CD many years ago.

First of all, it is a tender band performance, featuring what may be Benmont Tench’s finest moments with the Heartbreakers. His organ propels the music in the verse, riding over the acoustic guitar and hitting all of the right emotional notes without ever overdoing it. His pounding piano in the wordless bridge is more elemental, as he bashes way in conjunction with the frustration of the narrator.

Then there’s the stunningly great duet that Petty and Nicks perform here. On “Stop Draggin,” it was more of a he said/ she said vibe, but here, they’re on the same team. As Petty woefully tells his tale yet keeps his emotions on a low boil, Nicks acts as his id, letting loose with all of the pain he’s too proud to show.

Above all, it’s a wonderful song, with music that sighs and then surges as each new wound rises to the surface, and lyrics that nail the plight of someone whose vision of a perfect love is ultimately betrayed. When Petty draws the curtain to revel the third party who has ultimately interfered with this scenario, it’s with a mixture of disgust and concern: “I’ll bet you’re his masterpiece/I’ll be you’re his self-control/Yeah you’ll become his legacy/His quiet world of white and gold.”

In the final moments, as he tried to define his own role in this farce, he comes to the shuddering realization that he simply wasn’t what she wanted: “And I’m the one who oughta know/I’m the one you left to rust/Not one of your twisted friends/I’m the one you couldn’t love.”

On this last line, Petty’s voice practically quakes, the façade finally coming down. It is an overpowering moment in this amazing song. This guy may say he’s an “Insider,” but few songs have ever so expertly detailed the helplessness of what it’s like to be on the outside of a relationship looking in.

(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.)

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Tom Petty Countdown #28: “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around”

You would think from the video of this duet with Stevie Nicks that turned into a big hit (#3 on Billboard) that the song was a proper collaboration between the band and the Fleetwood Mac chanteuse striking out on her own. But in fact, Petty and Mike Campbell wrote the song for the Heartbreakers to record, which they did. Producer Jimmy Iovine then convinced Petty to give this song to Nicks for her own album, Bella Donna.

So what you end up getting is Nicks’ singing overdubbed onto the Heartbreakers recording, with Petty’s original vocal mostly edited out except for a single verse and during the refrains, when Nicks harmonizes over the top of him. The result was so seamless that it stands as one of rock’s great duets.

It works wonderfully as such because of the lyrical content. If Petty had sung it by himself, it might have come off as a one-sided and condescending request to a young girl (“You need someone looking after you”) to let the man take charge of her life. With Nicks on board, it becomes a running argument that hits surprisingly profound levels, aided and abetted by The Heartbreakers soulfully restrained performance.

From such an unlikely beginning, a hit song was born. With artists of this caliber, it turns out they don’t even have to be in the same room together to create magic.

(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.)