S2E4 Magnolia

Too Much Ain't Enough


Length: 11:07 - Release Date: December15, 2021 -

Hey folks! Today's episode focuses on the fourth track from the Heartbreaker's You're Gonna Get It! album; Magnolia.

If you want to listen to the song before you listen to the episode, you can find it here: https://youtu.be/F6htoFxagOE

I didn't talk about it in the episode as I only found it after I'd finished recording, but you check out this excellent acoustic version by an artists I only learned of tonight, named Margot Cotten; https://youtu.be/o4tyGMUTT1Y

I did talk about my upcoming chat with Jake Thistle and in prep for that, you should really check out his YouTube channel, where he plays a whole lot of Tom! Here's his excellent cover of Room at the Top: https://youtu.be/uhc9mDLtY00


(* 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. Today we’re continuing with episode two of  season two of the Tom Petty Project Podcast. I am your host, Kevin Brown!

Today we’re talking about track four from You’re Gonna Get It, the haunted love song Magnolia. Before we dig into it, I wanted to mention something I learned in the last week, thanks to Jon Scott and the Tom Petty fan community. The original artwork for the album featured line-art stars as part of the black background. The only copies that were released with this design were the promo copies, which you can still find copies, but Jon notes that Tom wasn’t happy with the way those stars looked and had them removed from the final production-copies of the album sleeve. I had no idea that cover existed and it’s fairly high on my list of collectibles, if not only because there won’t be a million copies of that one kicking around! I thought I’d share that little tidbit and say thanks to Jon for pointing it out and also to the wonderful Gwen Jones, who’s Facebook group Tom Petty Fans Forever, you should definitely check. Gwen posted a couple of photos of her copy of the album, featuring the stars so that we could all see what they look like!

But, I digress! As always, there’s a link to today’s song in the episode notes, so go listen to it and come back to hear my thoughts on Magnolia.

Curiously, Magnolia was never meant to be a Heartbreakers song at all. After Roger McGuinn had recorded American Girl, he was interested in having Tom write him a song. The song was written in the apartment of the Heartbreakers manager, Tony Dimitriades. In Conversations with Tom Petty, Tom tells Paul Zollo, “Tony said ‘You need to write a song for Roger mcGuinn. I’ll be back in a few hours.’ And I just made myself write a song. I wrote it with Roger in mind.” Amazingly, McGuinn passed on Magnolia and Tom decided to put it onto the album. Tom goes on to explain that “when someone asks you for a song, they don’t want one that sounds like them. They can make the ones that sound like them.”

Considering the incredible array of talent that Tom went on to write or co-write for later in his career, this early lesson in writing for other people obviously stood him in good stead. It also meant that Magnolia became a Heartbreakers song included on the second album. 

Magnolia has a fairly odd intro, similar to the half-measure intros that cropped up on the debut album fairly frequently. Stan comes in on the toms and then the whole band joins and we head straight into the first verse. After only 8 bars. So not much window dressing on this one, just getting down to business early. 

I find the mix on Stan’s drums really flat on this one and not in a deliberate way that would add an interesting sonic element to it, they just feel a little lifeless. If you listen to how resonant his toms are on the first three tracks of the albums and compare them to this song, they just lack any sort of punch. The cymbals are also mixed super low. It’s a solid drum part, but fairly safe and easy. Laid over top of that is Ron’s, again, fairly straightforward bass pattern. This isn’t a rhythm-heavy song and stands in stark contrast to the preceding tracks. Ron does play some nice slides in the short intro and in the chorus but other than that is really just keeping the bottom end as a background note to the vocal and the piano, which are the leads in this one.

Tom, I assume, is playing a really straight, simple chord progression in the left channel, leaving the right channel for Mike’s simple fills and Benmonts mirrored accompanying organ, playing fairly low bass notes. I do like the flanged/phased tone of Mike’s guitar in that right channel and the simply interplay between those two guitar parts.

Once we get into the chorus, Benmont is throwing in some very simple broken piano chords which match the chord progression of the song, but fill in the aural palate as Tom drops down into that lower register. Listening to that change from F# minor down to E in that first part of the chorus really reminds me of Rebels. It has that same type of feel tonally and in terms of the intent of that change, the way it lets go of the sadness and matches the wistfulness of the following line. Coming out of the second chorus, we hit a six bar bridge which is again, really simple and doesn’t give us any hard left or right hand turns, just guides us harmlessly into the outro, which just repeats the refrain from the first two lines of the chorus.  

This song is so simplistic and stripped down that I have to think the intent was for Tom’s vocal delivery to really carry the song and he does his typically excellent job of selling the story of this song. It’s an unambiguous story of a young boy dreaming of the one who got away and wishing she hadn’t. The chorus is really evocative and Magnolia is a great name to hang a love song on. In Warren Zanes biography, he notes that the land that Tom’s grandparents bought at the turn of the century was back in the woods and shady oaks and magnolias were a part of that landscape. That sense of nostalgia that you get throughout the song is partly tapping into that memory Tom might have of that house. In Paul Zollo’s book, he says that the title for the song probably came first and mentions remembering the wonderful odour that the trees give off at night, which is a prominent feature of the southern landscape. 

It’s that time of the show where you get to flex your brain muscles and dredge up minutiae details from Tom’s career! That’s right, it’s time for some Petty Trivia!

Last week, my question was this. On March 18, 2002, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers were inducted into the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame. Which famous New York hotel was the venue for the induction ceremony? The answer, the Waldorf Astoria, New York City’s legendary Park Avenue hotel. The Heartbreakers were inducted that year alongside some pretty heavyweight names, with new wave pioneers, Talking Heads, punk legends the Ramones, and then greats from other genres such as Chet Atkins, Isaac Hayes, Brenda Lee, and Gene Pitney all inducted as performers. During his induction speech, Jakob Dylan said it best: “Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers made it clear, that while rock n roll will have its trends, and it will go through fads, it’s really about the opposite. It’s about being timeless.”

Your question for this week is this. Which 1996 album, which featured the entire Heartbreakers lineup at the time, contained songs written by Tom Petty, Beck, Chris Cornell, and Johnny Cash?

Back to the song. I realize that Magnolia holds a special place in the heart of many Tom Petty fans so I’m going to be very careful about my next comments. While I think the lyrics in the chorus are, as I said, evocative and really nostalgic, in the same vein of The Wild One from the debut album, the rest of the lyrics fall a little short for me in terms of the type of images Tom could conjure. They’re fairly broad and don’t have the same definite impact of some of his other quote unquote story songs. Until we get into the chorus, they just don’t hit me the same way a lot of his lyrics do.

This was a slightly harder episode to write in terms of really digging into the song musically as it’s played so straight, there isn’t a ton to talk about. I find that overall, Magnolia is a song that, while I enjoy it, always leaves me wanting something more. As a drummer, Stan’s drum sound definitely doesn’t help me out here as I can’t get past disliking the way they were recorded and mixed. I realize it’s such a stupid technical thing to be put off by I know, but we can’t switch off those parts of our brains too easily. I also find that the song doesn’t really build to anything musically. Lyrically, we get the resolution of the story, but musically, the song just sort of plods along without hitting any sonic heights. Given how utterly brilliant Tom was at doing that exact thing, it’s curious that this one was left with this arrangement. Magnolia was never intended to be a Heartbreakers song, and you could definitely imagine it being a Roger McGuinn staple as it does sound very much like the songs he was writing around that time. I think because of that, the band maybe tried to shoe-horn it into their sound and my opinion is that they don’t quite pull it off. So while I completely understand how it connects with some people, it just falls a bit too flat for me and is the least compelling song on the album, certainly musically. However, because I do really like the chorus and Tom’s effortlessly cool vocal performance, I’m going to give Magnolia a solid 5 out of 10. Again, compared to Tom’s entire catalogue, I don’t think it’s ever more than a sentimental favourite for fans who have been listening to his music since the beginning and connect with it in some way. 

The fact that the song was never played live, at least as far as I can find from my research, would suggest that it wasn’t a favourite of the band’s either, so I’ll use that as my excuse and beg your forgiveness if you think I’ve lowballed a favourite song! 

OK friends, that’s a wrap for this one. On the same day this episode is being released, I’m going to be recording a special guest episode that I’m looking forward to immensely. I’ll be chatting to the immensely talented Jake Thistle, who as well as being a very vocal fan of Tom’s work, also played with a couple of the Heartbreakers Ron Blair, and Steve Ferrone, at 2019’s Tom Petty All-Star Concert. I’ll be chatting to him about his connection to Tom’s music and the other influences that have led to him taking the musical path that he has, as well as his debut album and his plans for the future. That episode will air on December 29th and will also be available in video format now that I figured out why the video from my chat with Dallas Heliker didn’t record as I expected it to!!! Also, on December 25th, I’m releasing a special bonus Christmas episode talking about Somewhere You Feel Free, the fantastic behind-the-scenes documentary about the Wildflowers album that was released on Tom’s birthday this year.


Petty Trivia

QUESTION: Which 1996 album, which featured the entire Heartbreakers lineup at the time, contained songs written by Tom Petty, Beck, Chris Cornell, and Johnny Cash?

ANSWER: The answer, as a few of you correctly identified Johnny Cash’s 1996 album, Unchained as the record in question. The second album in his American series chronology, the man in black covered the Heartbreakers sublime ballad Southern Accents, Beck’s Rowboat, Soundgarden’s Rusty Cage (penned by Chris Cornell) and featured three original Cash compositions. I’ll be completely honest and say that I’ve never quite found the hook on the American Series chronology, though I love Johnny Cash. Maybe I need to go back and revisit them.


From a table across the room
She was signaling me with her eyes
I walked over to be introduced
I said, "Hello", she just smiled
And said, "I know a place
Not too far from here
We could get away for a while"
Yeah, that's when she kissed me
And told me her name
I never did tell her mine

I remember the smell
Of the wind through the suite
And I know that she's out there
Somewhere in the world
She's forgotten me but I remember her

Well her lips were as warm
As that wet southern night
Her eyes were as black as the sky
And I wondered aloud
Just what I'd done right
As I lay there, with her by my side
Then she took hold of my hand
As she looked up at me
And said, "Now I must tell you goodbye"
And there in the moonlight
As I watched her leave
I felt a chill down inside

I remember the smell
Of the wind through the suite
And I know that she's out there
Somewhere in the world
She's forgotten me but I remember her