Ever since the expanded edition Wildflowers (and the Rick Rubin interviews with Petty’s daughter about making the album), I’m extra fascinated by Tom Petty’s demos and solo takes. Something else shines through. It’s easier to hear the nuance around the simplicity somehow.
Maybe it’s just me.
My history with Petty goes back to an obsession with the Full Moon Fever and Into The Great Wide Open tapes. They were a cornerstone of my swingset+walkman listening habits in the late 80s/early 90s. Hours of sweet, quiet, private time, fueled by AA batteries and only ended by calls for “dinner!”
Wide Open was a clear/black cassette with white lettering, and Full Moon Fever was an all-white one with black lettering. The former featured the Heartbreakers and the latter was a solo project. I wondered about the relations between him and the band, if the color choices were on purpose, and all sorts of other details as I flipped sides and tapes all those years ago.
I stumbled across this BBC performance of “Yer So Bad” (off of Full Moon Fever) the other day. This version features Petty solo on an acoustic guitar. He introduces the song by saying it usually has a band with it, but the band missed the bus.
If you haven’t already skipped to the video at the end of this post yet, let me point this out for you first: it’s a heartbroken song off a non-Heartbreakers album, played on a 12-string guitar (that’s double the normal amount of strings), which also features an intricately decorated, separated 4-leaf clover design on the headstock and a heart-shaped soundhole (Ok, I know I’m in too deep, but given the 4-piece Heartbreakers who are absent, and the repeated inlay around the heart-shaped soundhole which ties the 5-piece band together, it can’t just be me, can it?!)
You can pick your forehead up off the desk now. Or at least help me lift mine. I was hooked before the first note on all those non-musical details alone.
Petty’s study of relationships will forever blow my mind. I think I intuitively sensed it as a kid on the swing set. I got he was playing with these ideas, and I daydreamed about what a person goes through to make songs like this. Seeing it as an adult still rocks me.
All the problems and contradictions of the world are so apparent in everyone else’s lives.
But our lives are different.
Extra heartbreaker. In as much the Petty sense, as the Mary Oliver. “ I tell you this to break your heart, by which I mean only/ that it break open and never close again to the rest of the world” sense.
Make sure you watch until the end for the drum solo, or solo drumming, or – oh, you’ll see. Then ponder the original recording and video too.
Ps. Jeff Lynne is, of course, the master producer and common thread between re-engaging Petty’s career as a solo artist first, and then with the return of The Heartbreakers.