S1E4 The Wild One, Forever

Hometown Blues
Anything That's Rock 'n' Roll


Length: 12:14 - Release Date: September 8, 2021

In today’s episode I’m talking about fan favourite; The Wild One, Forever. As always, if you haven’t done so already, go to the official Tom Petty youtube channel and go listen to the song: https://youtu.be/US-pEqevjvc

Here's a link to the brilliant live version from the Live Anthology boxset: https://youtu.be/jjZwabyLWSs and here you can find the slowed-down acoustic version from the Bridge School Benefit that I mentioned: https://youtu.be/Wc2JKk-h-hU

Where words fail, music speaks. Lucy Rudman: https://www.familyfriendpoems.com/poem/where-words-fail-music-speaks



(* Note - the transcript is as-written before recording. I usually change a few sentences or words here and there on the hoof as I'm speaking.)

Good day to you all. I hope that the sun shines favourably on you wherever you are and if not, that the rain, sleet, or snow, is drumming a pleasant rhythm on whatever roof you find yourself under. My name is Kevin Brown and I am your host on the Tom Petty Project Podcast. A podcast is dedicated to looking at every Tom Petty song on every Tom Petty album. Some would say that it’s an indulgent, unnecessary vanity project and they’d most likely be right. But the beauty of the world we live in is that I can share my ramblings with an uninterested world on the off-chance that two or three people enjoy them! Today we’re talking about track four from the debut Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers album; The Wild One, (comma) Forever. As always, pause now and go listen to the song, then come back and listen to the rest of the podcast!

The Wild One, Forever is a firm favourite among Tom Petty fans but was another song that they very rarely played after 1980. The song was included on the B-side of the US version of the original single release of Breakdown. In Conversations With Tom Petty, Tom says that although the song is one of his wife Dana’s favourites, he can’t always play everyone’s favourite song (not even his wife’s!), so that maybe gives it more of a cult status, because it’s certainly not one that a casual listener necessarily knows. Every hardcore fan has those deep cuts by bands that they love. For example, in my opinion, It’s Late from News of the World is the greatest Queen song that nobody knows and for a lot of Tom Petty fans, I think The Wild One occupies that same sort of space. 

The song starts out very simply, with a gently-strummed acoustic guitar part. And I find it really interesting, in a geeky way, that there’s an accidental guitar note (E) in the right channel in the opening bar. It feels somewhat uncharacteristic to leave it in, or perhaps even professionally sloppy, but kinda it adds to the raw, live-off-the-floor energy of the song. I’d be willing to bet that Jimmy Iovine, Jeff Lynne, or Rick Rubin wouldn’t have left that in, and you’d never really notice it if it wasn’t there, but it’s a little anomaly that I love. Kinda like Keith Moon coming in about 20 BPM too fast on The Who’s Baba O’Reilly.

The guitar is panned hard left, and the piano, when it comes in, is panned hard right and I really do love that very deliberate separation of sound. Honestly, listening to music under a good pair of headphones is just one of the great joys of life, as you hear so much more of the detail and you experience what the producer was doing in the mix as well as what the band was doing. 

Stan’s drums are recorded really flat in this one without a ton of reverb. They have a really small room feel to them while the guitars, piano, and vocals are all quite atmospheric. So the rhythm section is really clean, so it cuts through and guides the track like a set of train tracks steering a big piece of steel. Stan really sits on that bell in the verses and that chiming treble clarity matches Tom’s vocal delivery beautifully.

This song sees Mike Campbell really sitting deep in the pocket and not soloing or accenting too much. The guitar line is a basically a suspended arpeggio running over the 2nd and 4th notes. In sitting further back than on the first three tracks on the album, Mike and Benmont really just give balance to the drums, bass, and vocals, which are the parts that sustain the anxious energy of the song.The acoustic guitar uses a great up pick too, which adds to the really treble-heavy feel.  Stan definitely gets more rope to play with in this one and has some solid tom-led fills that are delicately-handled. Ron plays a really steady, unobtrusive bass line and is really just holding the bottom end together on pretty much every song on this album. Again, the treble is pretty high though everywhere else on this song, from the cymbal-heavy verses, Tom’s higher-pitch delivery and that guitar lick. So the bass actually stands out more because of that. Going back to Mike’s simplicity in the guitar part, we get some different guitar accents only late on during the outro and it’s a very subdued guitar part that lets the drums and the vocal carry the weight of the song. Benmont does the same thing with that really simply suspended D, C pattern and if you think about a lot of 80s hair metal ballads, they took this template and tortured it to death; a simple suspended chord verse releasing into a standard rock chorus.

All those intricacies of arrangement though are all designed to compliment what might just be the best vocal performance on the album. Because the song is all about Tom’s urgent, despairing vocal and lyrics. Again flipping convention on its head again, the chorus ends up being quite a lot more wordy than the verses, which are more ephemeral, with the payoff then becoming more passionate and personal. 

I absolutely love the lead back out of the chorus: it’s fairly formulaic, progressing slowly down through D, C, B minor, A and not an earth-shattering progression but when it’s applied this well, it fits perfectly. And Tom was the absolute master of simplicity so often. When you listen closely, buried in the mix a little is a muted, distorted guitar on the left channel, which gives the chorus a just a little change in personality and it pads out the sound, so it’s less spartan in how it feels. Added into this sonic build in the chorus is a Ron Blair Cello part, which Tom, again in Conversations with Tom Petty comments on; “He doesn’t play the cello, but he just fashioned out enough that he could play the chorus part.” If you remember, last week we were talking about Charlie Souza playing sax on Hometown Blues in a sort of “well, see if you can do it!” way, and so Ron picking up a Cello seems to be quite fitting. And like those sax stabs, that bit of bass texture the cello brings to the chorus really works. 

These subtle additions add to that transition between yearning and acceptance in the lyrics. The song never really just goes full rock n roll. You could easily build this into a frenetic, distorted, Mike-slaying-it-on-guitar jam, but it wouldn’t fit the tone of the lyrics at all, which have that unrequited love feel to them. It just reminds me of being 17 and dating someone your parents or friends just don’t get and not understanding why the world can’t see that actually, this is the greatest romance since Romeo and Juliet. In  eality, adolescent heartache never involved well-dressed young men holding up a boombox outside their girlfriend’s window…. The  drums drop out at key moments, then come back in, and are spare, then heavy. Benmont adds in some extra energy to the piano line, but again it’s very in-the-mix and not leading anything.  That reservation and release is again very familiar to anyone who’s been in love when they were young and frustrated that it wasn’t happening like it does in the movies. 

Paul Zollo told Tom that he thought that the song sounds as if it could have been Springsteen-inspired and that was definitely one of my first impressions of this one too, or maybe a visceral reaction to it. Along with Rebels from Southern Accents, it has that same, I don’t know quite how to describe it other than a Bruce vibe to it. But Tom said that back then he really wasn’t listening to Springsteen so we’re likely looking at case of convergent evolution that shows that the experience of young Americans was pretty much identical in both the south and in New Jersey. The song has that real shared experience of teenage frustration to it, with the protagonist bemoaning the fact that he’s in love with a rebel who doesn’t fit society’s norms. 

Time for some Petty Trivia.

Last week’s trivia question was a more niche one I think and today’s follows a similar vein of obscurity. I asked you, which song was the opening number for the Damn the Torpedoes tour in 1979/1980? The answer is, Shadow of a Doubt (A complex kid), which was a staple until 1981 and revived in 2002 for The Last DJ tour.

Today’s question is this. Which artist released the grammy-award winning album The Missing Years, in 1991, which saw Howie Epstein in his debut as a producer, and most of the heartbreakers play on?

Back to the song.

The Wild One feels a little like a John Hughes movie played out in three minutes. It’s a tale of teenage angst and throws me back to being about, I think I was 14 or 15 and in a high school production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s musical The Mikado. I had a small part in the chorus-line in the production. I also had the hugest crush on the girl who was playing the lead and one evening in the school, an older boy who was a mutual acquaintance and part of the production, arranged a rendezvous. As I stood hopelessly in the doorway of the dimly-lit music room, he told me, as he left, to go and stroke her hair while she was playing piano (it sounds a bit weird as I say it now, but go with it!). I distinctly remember that she let me touch her neck in a quite sensual way as she played Beethoven, quite well as I recall. I remember clearly thinking that I’d do anything, including die, to be with her. But, being a spotty, skinny, nervous youth and not having any sort of moves or confidence that could facilitate such a situation, needless to say, the moment passed fairly quickly and awkwardly. Any hint of romance died on its arse as my throat closed and I couldn’t say anything! There’s really only so long you can run your fingers through a girl’s hair without saying anything until it gets a bit weird and very awkward. I don’t think I ever talked to her again as I was just too embarrassed and terrified to look into the eyes of someone who I’d completely baffled. But, that sense of absolute heartsickness and longing and crying into your teenage pillow is what always hits me whenever I listen to this song. It captures that mood perfectly.

So, episode four is in the bag! Don’t forget to go back and listen to the song again and while you’re listening, try to summon an image of your high school crush and see if you get the same shivers I always get when I listen to this song.

The Wild One Forever would probably be the best song on the album, if it weren’t that pesky Breakdown, or American Girl. I have to rate this one really highly and I’m going to give it a score of 8 out of 10. It’s one of the best Tom Petty deep cuts and one that has been on my playlist forever. I can’t put it up there with the absolute top echelon of Petty songs, simply because his songwriting grew in such extraordinary ways as he got older, but that sense of nostalgia that it invokes makes it a really special song for me.

Thanks as always for hanging out with me and feel free to comment if you have anything to say about the episode. Next week we’ll be talking about 

You should check out the live version of the Wild One from the Live Anthology, which I’ll post in the episode notes, along with a killer acoustic version from 1988 at the Bridge School Benefit which is slowed down to almost half tempo.

Thanks to everyone who has and is listening. I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how many people out there are taking time out of their lives to share my passion for Tom’s music and I hope we can continue our relationship for the next five or so years! I will leave you with a poem about music, by Lucy Rudman, that I feel expresses well how Tom Petty connects with us so intimately.

Where words fail,
music speaks.
It speaks of the pain,of the sorrow, 
of the lost,
of the life we live.
It shares emotions.
It's a way to connect,
to understand
what others feel.
Where words fail,
music speaks.
It tells the truth
whether you want it to or not.
Music shares the souls
of those we're around,
of those in the world
that we're living.
I wish to share
my music with you
So you can understand
the pain I feel,
so I can share my soul with you,
so you can understand
what I'm going through.

Until we meet again next week, be lovely to each other and fire up some Tom Petty on your devices, in your cars, and on your turntables.


Petty Trivia

QUESTION: Which artist released the grammy-award winning album The Missing Years, in 1991, which saw Howie Epstein in his debut as a producer, and most of the heartbreakers play on?

ANSWER:  The answer is, the wonderful John Prine, another exceptional American songwriter. If you haven’t heard the album go check it out and listen for Tom’s harmonies in the chorus of the lead track Picture Show.


Well, the moon sank as the wind blew
And the street lights slowly died
Yeah they call you the wild one
Said stay away from her
Said she couldn't love no one if she tried

But then somethin' I saw in your eyes
Told me right away
That you were gonna have to be mine
The strangest feeling came over me down inside
No matter what it takes
I'll never get over how good it felt
When you finally held me
I will never regret baby
Those few hours linger on in my head forever

Well it's too bad but I want you
To know I understand
Yeah it's been a long time
But I don't mind, yeah it's all right
I understand

Because somethin' I saw in your eyes
Told me right away
That you were gonna have to be mine
The strangest feeling came over me down inside
I knew right away
I'd never get over how good it felt
When you finally kissed me
I will never regret baby
Baby, those few hours linger on in my head forever