Today's track is number 8 from the debut TPATH record, Mystery Man. This one is a real favourite with people who are physically attracted to Tom Petty! If you're not familiar with the song, check out at the following link on the official Tom Petty YouTube channel: https://youtu.be/wPRSc6IBPtY
In the episode, I talk about two live versions of the song that are well worth checking out:
A performance at the 1978 New Year's Eve bash in Santa Monica: https://youtu.be/JefjmSB27fw
And a great version from the Fillmore Residency in 1997: https://youtu.be/SccsfBuFfJ08
(* 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 morning, good afternoon, good evening, delete as applicable. Welcome the eighth episode of the Tom Petty Project podcast. I am your host, Kevin Brown! Before we dig into today’s track, I wanted to shout out to the Tom Petty Nation, Tom Petty Forever, and the Tom Petty Fans Forever Facebook groups for being a cool place to virtually hang out this past weekend as we commemorated Tom’s passing, on October 2nd. There were lots of expressions of regret, sadness, anger, loss, and grief, but equally, lots of love, memories, tributes, and sharing of stories and songs.
OK, Today we’re talking about track eight on the debut album, Mystery Man which, I would say, stands out as the unique song on the album. As always, if you haven’t listened to the song yet, head to the episode notes and you can refresh your memory if you don’t know this one too well. Once you’ve done that, I’ll be here waiting for ya. OK, all set? Let’s dig into it.
Mystery Man is the shortest song on Side 2 of the album, clocking in at 3:03 and is one of the four songs to feature Jeff Jourard on electric guitar. The song was the B-Side of the South African Release of Anything That’s Rock n Roll, released on Feburary 27th, 1978. The song was recorded live off the floor, and then overdubbed, in one night at the A&M music studio, located in the old Charlie Chaplin studio just south of the junction of La Brea Drive and Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood. The building is now the Jim Henson Company Lot but at the time was the headquarters of A&M records. In Conversations with Tom Petty, Tom tells Paul Zollo, “It was kind of an interesting place. You could stroll around - there were a lot of studios in that complex, and you could stick your head in the door and just hear all kinds of artists. I remember seeing Johnny Mathis do a track there. He was there, wearing a sweater, looking just like an album cover.” I think we all know exactly what kind of album cover he’s referring to, as our grandparents all had stacks of those records!
I’m going to start off the episode by talking about the lyrics and Tom’s vocal delivery before we get into the instrumental arrangement. The song features a really lazy drawled delivery that works so well on this type of song. There aren’t any sharp edges here, with Tom purring his way through the lyrics rather than really attacking them. In that sense, it’s a very reserved vocal track compared to most of the rest of the album and is only one of two tracks on the album with no harmonies at all (Fooled again the other track). Having that lone vocal track, with no embellishment makes it feel really personal and you could imagine that he’s singing it directly to you. In the online groups I’m part of, it’s brought up as a favourite from the debut album by quite a few ladies! With that really sultry, seductive delivery and it’s no surprise that this song resonates really well with female Petty fans. Tom never really belts a high note preferring to keep the delivery right down the line. It’s a really mature performance from a 26 year old rock n roller, again in the context of how he swaggers his way through the rest of the album.
The lyrics are simplistic and direct, imploring a girl not to ignore him. “Don’t hide from me baby” and “Incognito baby, you’re so crude” during the first set up that element of pursuit. The second verse implies that the objective of his desire isn’t an upmarket type, with her dime store jewelry and cheap perfume, but that’s OK. “I don’t mind take my hand, Baby I wanna be your mystery man”. Not much reading between the lines needed in this one and the chorus is a really simple refrain that repeats as a firm confirmation of intent. There are a couple of old songwriting tricks in here. Changing the word Baby to Honey in the last line of the first and second verses and then repeating the first verse as the last. Again though, with a song like this, the lyrics don’t have to be dense, or clever, or complex, because it’s more about the picture they paint when they’re drawled over top of the music in the way they are. Again, that word seductive is the one that springs instantly to mind. The archetypal protagonist is alluring and sexy because of the mystery surrounding him.
I absolutely love the guitars on this track and think they’re probably the best on the album. Again, there’s a great maturity in the way this one is played. Pulling back to keep the sultry, laconic vibe going, but adding in colour and depth where needed. We have quite a few guitar tracks on this one too, with Mike, Tom, and Jeff Jourard, again guesting, filling out the sound. We have two rhythm tracks going, with an acoustic track, I presume tom, panned hard right and an electric rhythm track panned hard left. The lead is panned right again and features a nicely tremolo-heavy, clean tone. Once Mike slides into the choruses, you really get an almost-Hawaiian feel to the whole thing before he backs that off again until the solo. Another killer solo too as it’s actually a double-solo, playing off itself. You have a fairly muddy, muted slide in the left channel, playing lower register, then a bright, shining treble-y lead in the right channel shimmering above the rhythm.
Benmont’s organ is mixed really, really low on this one with a cool, swelling organ pattern matching the electric rhythm guitar pretty closely. I would actually have liked to hear this part more clearly and this would be one of my own slight criticisms of the production on the song. In the live versions, it fills out the sound more and I think leaving it so low in the mix, to the point that you can barely hear it at times, was maybe the wrong thing to do. But who am I to second guess professional producers?
The rhythm section on this track is also one of my favourites on the album. Even though it’s played with a delicate touch by Stan, the drums sound quite beefy. I don’t know if that’s just the reverb in the room being very good, or whether they were mixed slightly differently, but they sound fantastic. There’s some really good, understated work on this from Stan and e adds some nice subtle syncopation in a couple of spots and some beautifully played, very simple fills. Coming back out of the solo into the last verse/chorus, we get some additional percussion too, to give it a little more swing. Stan is hitting the drums a little harder too in that lead out and playing more on the cymbals, to build the energy into the ending. One of the coolest drum tracks on the record for me.
Complimenting that drum track, we have another rock solid bassline from Ron Blair. Like Benmont’s organ, the bass is mixed quite low on this one which could have resulted from not having a clean take as it was recorded live and having to live with what they had perhaps? It’s a really nice, lazy, mellow bassline that moves around over that kick pattern and accentuates what the guitars are doing very nicely. Too much or too little from Ron in this one could have seen the guitars and the drums not mesh as well as they do, with the bass gluing things together as it does
OK folks, it’s time for some Petty Trivia!
Last week which TWO Tom Petty songs have the following two lines in common: I remember feeling this way
You can lose it without knowing
The first, which most of you would have got right away, was the brilliantly atmospheric Don’t Fade On Me, from the Wildflowers album. The second was U Get Me High, from The Heartbreaker’s first US #1 album; 2014s excellent Hypnotic Eye. The second two lines of that verse are very slightly different between the two songs, to accommodate the different rhythm. Tom isn’t the first artist, of course, to repeat lines in different songs. Sting uses “it’s a big enough umbrella but it’s always me that ends up getting wet” in at least two and I think possible three songs. A quick shout out to the boys in the Honest and Unmerciful podcast for inadvertently giving me the idea for this song after they discussed repeated lines in their review of The Police’s classic album Ghost in the Machine!
Your question for today is this. What Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers album achieved the highest position on the UK album charts?
I noticed something unique about this song too at the end and had to go back and check that I was right, by listening to the other nine tracks on the album. This track is the only song on the album with an actual ending rather than a fade out. My guess is that some of this is down to Denny Cordell editing some of the songs for time, rather than any conscious decision to have the fade out be the standard way to end the track.
Overall, Mystery Man has a very laid-back southern, swampy vibe to it. Though Tom is a southern boy, he rarely leaned very heavily on his Southern roots in the band’s early days. Possibly in an attempt to avoid being pigeon-holed as a southern artist. This one though feels like a CCR or an Allman Brothers jam with some Hawaiian-tinged influences in that slide guitar. Its a very simple chord progression in E with a nice little lead arpeggio. Root and 5th in the verse, with the 4th added into the chorus. I can’t remember who said it but I was listening to an interview with some famous musician who reckoned that Tom Petty was the greatest three-chord songwriter of all time. I think this song makes a strong argument in favour of this assertion!
Another song from the first album that was very rarely played live. There’s a cool version from the 1978 New Years Eve concert online that has a more country-like feel to it with Stan playing it slightly straighter. The song was revived for the 1997 Fillmore run in San Francisco for “probably the first time in about 15 years” as Tom says in the intro, but dropped again after those shows, never to be played live again! This one sounds great and is played pretty close to the original with just a little more crunch from Mike’s guitar. Twenty years on from recording though, Tom’s voice sounds fantastic in this version. I’ll leave links to both videos in the episode notes as usual.
This one was a grower, not a shower, for me but has become one of my favourite early deep cuts off the first album. Because of the fantastic guitar, the really cool drum track, and Tom’s delivery, I’m going to give Mystery Man a really solid 8 out of 10. It’s one of my favourite Petty deep cuts at the moment and a song that I would have loved to see live.
OK folks, that’s all for Mystery Man! I have a couple of announcements before I get into my usual end-of-episode stuff. Firstly, I have a very cool guest tentatively confirmed for the album wrap episode and I’m hoping to get final confirmation on a recording date this week! And secondly, I was thinking that maybe a special episode I could do each season is to talk to a listener about their experience with Tom’s music in general, not specific to an individual album. So if you’re interested in chatting to me some time, let me know and we can figure out a date and time! Lastly, I had a question from a listener! Paul Roberts asked me if I’m going to be reviewing Dog on the Run, which is taken from the Live Leg EP, which was released between the debut album and You’re Gonna Get It. My original intention was to cover all the non-studio album songs once I’ve been through the albums, but since Paul was keen for me to cover that episode, I’m going to throw it in as a special episode after the album wrap! So look out for that one and thanks for asking Paul!
QUESTION: What Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers album achieved the highest position on the UK album charts?
ANSWER: The answer is Into the Great Wide Open, which spent a total of 18 weeks in the top 40 of the UK music charts, peaking at #3 on July 20th, 1991. Number two on that chart was The Jam’s Greatest Hits, while Cher sat atop the chart with Love Hurts. Other records in that top ten included REM’s monster album Out of time, and Seal’s eponymous debut.
Don't you hide from me baby, shame on you
Incognito, baby you're so cruel
I don't mind, take my hand
Baby I wanna be your mystery man
Yeah you got ruby lipstick, petal mouth rouge
Dime store jewelry, cheap perfume
I don't mind, take my hand
Honey I wanna be your mystery man
You know I do, you know I do
Oh you know I do, you know I do
Yeah you know I do, you know I do
Baby you know I do, you know I do
Don't you hide from me baby, shame on you
Dime store jewelry, honey you're so cruel
I don't mind it, take my hand
Baby I wanna be your mystery man
You know I do, you know I do
Baby, you know I do, you know I do
Yeah you know I do, oh you know I do
Baby you know I do, yeah you know I do