S2E11 Baby's a Rock 'n' Roller

Jake Thistle
(Part One)


Length: 13:29 - Release Date: January 26, 2022

Hello friends! Today's episode covers the second-last track from You're Gonna Get It!; Restless.

If you want to listen to the song before you listen to the episode, you can find it here: https://youtu.be/e5QKYC7yp3o

Don't forget that I will be chatting to Jake Thistle, live, on Facebook today (Jan 19, 2022) at 7PM EST (5PM if your on the US West Coast, or midnight in UK). We're going to talk about all things Tom Petty including the opportunity Jake had to play with a couple of the Heartbreakers, plus his connection to Tom's music and how it's influenced his own songwriting, which you also have to check out. Head over to this link to set yourself a reminder right now! https://www.facebook.com/JakeThistleMusic/posts/3067745243513078

I also gave a shout out to my very good friend Mr. Randy Woods, who kindly plays all the interstitial music for the podcast and wrote and recorded the outro tune for me too! Check out the track "Grow Your Love" from his latest album here https://youtu.be/fmyzddSY4Qc and if you like it, go subscribe to his YouTube channel and start following him on social media. You can find his channel here: https://www.youtube.com/c/RandyWoodsBand


(* 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, or good evening, my fine friends. Welcome to episode eleven of season two of the Tom Petty Project Podcast! I am your host, Kevin Brown. This is the podcast that digs into the entire Tom Petty catalogue song by song, album by album and includes conversations with musicians, fans, and people connected with Tom along the way. Today’s topic of conversation is the last track from You’re Gonna Get It, Baby’s a Rock ‘n’ Roller. As always, if you want to listen to the song before we start the episode, check out the link in the episode notes and I’ll see you when you get back. Which it seems you are! Alrighty then, let’s begin!

Baby’s a Rock n Roller is one of two songs on the second album co written by Tom and Mike. Mike’s songwriting contributions usually took the form of bringing the music, or the riffs and chord progression to Tom and Tom writing the lyrics for those tracks. You definitely get the sense that this song follows that form as the main refrain is built on that simple five note guitar progression. In Conversations with Tom Petty, Tom tells Paul Zollo that the song is basically the band following up on “Anything that’s Rock n Roll”. 

The song opens with a reverb-saturated pick slide that echoes off into the intro as the drums, bass, and piano come in immediately, with the lead guitar coming after four bars and picking up the main lick after a further four bars after another dramatic pick slide. From there, the song proceeds along fairly similar and familiar rock n roll lines. Vocally, we get the chorus first, then a verse, then another chorus, then the solo, then a verse, then the final chorus. So it’s a slightly alternative format to the more usual verse chorus verse chorus structure. I think that’s because the song really hangs on that high vocal line on “My Baby, is a rock n roller” and that’s where the heart of the song is, so it makes sense to start with it and make it the central hook of the song.

Stan Lynch probably doesn’t remember playing this track as he’s literally playing the exact same 1-2-3-and-4 pattern the entire way through the song. He adds in a few more snare hits during the outro on each count of the bar. But for the most part, this drum part could have basically been looped after 8 or 16 bars. The hat pattern is simple but effective and just alternates between a heavier on-beat strike with an incidental note on the off beats. The hat is slightly open to just give it that slight cha sound rather than a flatter tick tick that you’d get if it were closed. I thought at first that he was playing the on beat notes with his foot and then the off beats with the stick, but after listening a little more, that’s most likely wrong! There are also handclaps sprinkled throughout the track that add a little rhythmic colour but all in all, pretty much the least amount of work Stan does drum-wise on the entire album. Just keeping time and keeping the beat moving reliably along. 

Ron’s bass part starts off really high up the neck, probably on the bottom string, at the second highest position. He sits in that position for the first four bars before dropping back into the more usual bottom end, but throughout those opening 8 bars, he’s playing that same main five note lick with Mike will form the basis for the rest of the song. Similarly to Stan, Ron in this song is playing very little and staying completely in the background of the song. It’s a stark contrast to the preceding track on side two, Restless, which was very much rhythm section driven. This song absolutely isn’t. 

The guitar is, again, fairly simple and restrained, with that single five note refrain repeating throughout the entire song, other than the bridge and the end of the chorus, where we change from Bb to F for “that’s all, she ever wants to be”. It’s quite a trick to write a song that is basically one chord for the majority of the time. We do get those slides in the second four bars of the intro and a few little incidental licks from Mike after the verse heading back into the chorus. We also get a few guitar licks over the final chorus with some heavy tremolo. The guitar fills in the outro also come in on different channels, starting more in the right channel before switching to the left. Mike’s solo in this one is again channeling his inner Chuck Berry with the repeated bends, but also reefing on his whammy bar to produce a heavy tremolo that really reminds me of Ritchie Blackmore from Deep Purple, who had a very similar tone on their 1974 rocker Burn. 

Benmont’s keyboard part is either mixed brutally low in this track or dropped out altogether other than in a couple of places. As I said, you hear that piano during the intro and you can hear it fairly faintly during the first chorus and barely during the verse, just sticking on the Bb. You hear it a little more clearly in the bridge, but it’s a very rhythmic piano part rather than an overly melodic one. Something that Ben would have been able to play half drunk , half stoned, and half asleep. 

The other thing I would love to know about this song is what the background noise is. There’s definitely something, like wind noise, or engine noise, or something like that, that sits in the background of the entire song. I just can’t figure out if it’s a super distorted, sustained organ note or MIke’s pick slide being captured and looped, or what the heck it is but it really adds a nervously energetic noise to the entire song. I don’t know how much I dig it to be honest and wonder what the song might sound like without its continual presence. I think that the sonic space it’s sitting in is partially why you can’t hear Benmont’s piano very clearly perhaps, but it’s obviously a deliberate decision that was made. 

So with a really straightforward rhythm section and the guitars also keeping things pretty simple, where does the movement and energy of this song come from. The simple answer: Tom’s vocals. There’s just something about that chorus and those high double-tracked vocals that just sound so great. It’s also cool that Tom isn’t belting those notes or putting a significant rasp into his voice, but rather singing them really clean. So we have those “My baby‚Ķ is a rock and roller” double tracked (by which I mean sung the same way twice), but “and that’s all she ever wants to be” is single tracked. It just adds such a great dynamic.We then get Tom growling and purring his way through the verses in a very Elvis-esque way. We also then get “My baby” coming in over top of the verse and bringing us back to the central refrain.

It’s time, once again my friends, for some Petty Trivia! Where I ask you questions that range from lyrical, to musical, to historical, to the downright incidental!

Last week’s question was this: From the 16 Heartbreakers and solo records, how many song titles contain a Man’s name and can you name them? There are five songs which fit the bill and they are the well-loved Spike, from the Southern Accents album, Billy the Kid, from Echo, Joe from The Last DJ, Jack from Highway Companion, and Jefferson, the main character from Mojo’s leadoff track Jefferson Jericho Blues, which features a sensational harmonica part from Scott Thurston.

Your question for this week is as follows: What was the name of Tom Petty’s character on the animated series, King of the Hill?

OK, back to the song. 

The lyrics to this track are pretty much as simple as you can get. The first three lines of each verse can basically be sung in any order and just set up all the things that “my baby” isn’t interested in, because hey, she’s a rock n roller. And that’s all she ever wants to be. There’s also the repeated use of the word rhythm in the fourth line of each verse which ties them together a little. Talking to Paul Zollo about the song, Tom says “Bugs and I were talking about that song the other day. I always had in my head that I didn’t like that song that it was just this cheap throwaway. But it sounded so good when I heard it”. So you can absolutely see where he’s coming from. It’s not a sophisticated lyric or arrangement but man there’s just something about the key its in and the way that central line comes through that grabs you and makes you tap your foot. This is the type of song that you could play during a gig when you’re doing band intros. That main five note refrain could be kept going easily for five minutes while Tom introduces the rest of the fellas on stage. It’s another song that I could only find 1 instance of being played live and to finish Tom’s thoughts on the song, he says “It’s not a song I would sing now, but pretty indicative of how we were back then.” You definitely get that sense of youthful exuberance with no particularly deep message, but man, you can definitely rock out to it. In that way, it’s somewhat like it’s spiritual brother, Anything that’s Rock n Roll, without having the same lyrical quality to it.

One complaint I have about the song isn’t actually a criticism of the song itself but, like Magnolia, more to do with the production. Again, the drums are mixed really flat and fairly quiet, the kick drum doesn’t really kick and the snare doesn’t crack. Add in that continual background noise and I find that it washes out the song a little and doesn’t have quite the same punch that it could have. It would be interesting to see if there was an alternative take that never made it to any of the anthology releases that had a bit more punch. This one is just really treble-y and muddy to my ear.

OK, in the words of Bugs Bunny, that’s all folks. We’ve reached the end of another album already! I’m going to give Baby’s a Rock ‘n’ Roller an affectionate 5. Like Restless, it has the feel of a song that wasn’t necessarily given the full production treatment or maybe the time to tweak it or not as much as the stronger tracks from the album had, but that refrain is still really gripping and fun. Who doesn’t love singing that line “My baby. Is a rock n roller!” it’s just fun with a capital F! It’s especially fun to sing. But the song has a fairly generic 70s-rock feel to it and doesn’t stack up against the best the band could produce. 

On the day that this episode is released, I’ll be speaking to the wonderful Gwen Jones, Tom Petty fan and admin of the TOM PETTY FANS FOREVER Facebook group. I know there are lots of Tom Petty groups on social media, and everyone should be a member of Tom Petty nation, but Gwen’s group is such a warm, family-feel type community that I love being part of, so you should go join if you haven’t already. We’ll be talking about that group, about her love of Tom’s music and she’ll be answering my ten quickfire questions, among other things. That episode will drop on February 9th, so do tune in for that one.


Petty Trivia

QUESTION: What was the name of Tom Petty’s character on the animated series, King of the Hill?

ANSWER: The answer is....... Elroy "Lucky" Kleinschmidt, who got his nickname from an incident at a Costco store where he went in to buy a new winch, realized he had to use the restroom, and slipped in a pee pee. The resulting injury left Lucky in constant pain. Lucky sued the store and received a $53,000 cash settlement, which caused his friends to see him as lucky, hence the nickname.


My baby is a rock 'n' roller
My baby is a rock 'n' roller
Yeah, and that's all
She ever wants to be

So why you tryin' to come on with this sophistication
She don't wanna know about your education
Man she don't care about the United Nations
My baby gone on a rhythm sensation
That's all she ever wants to be

My baby is a rock 'n' roller
My baby is a rock 'n' roller

Well she can't take them stupid friends of yours
She ain't gonna go through all of that no more
She don't wanna be no dental assistant
Man she got the rhythm and she can't resist it
And that's all she ever wants to be

My baby is a rock 'n' roller
My baby is a rock 'n' roller