S3E1 Refugee

You're Gonna Get It
(with John Paulsen)
Here Comes My Girl


Length: 15:39 - Release Date: February 16, 2022 - US Chart #15

Season Three already? Seriously? I just started this thing as something to do! Why are you all still here??? Oh... you love Tom like I love Tom. K. All good. Let's keep going and sharing our appreciation!

If you want to listen to the song before you listen to the episode, you can find it here: https://youtu.be/YbWDV72oQlo


(* 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. I hope you’re all OK out there in internet-land and ready to start Season Three 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 we start digging into the Third Heartbreakers record, Damn the Torpedoes. It’s a lesser known title, buried in the annals of time and known only to a select few Petty nerds. According to Schrodinger’s mathematical conclusions, this might be true in some alternate universe, but not in ours, where this album is one of the biggest rock n roll records of all time. A friend of mine recently commented on a Facebook post of mine that this is, quote, “one of the best sounding rock albums ever made”. I think this is going to be recurrently relevant as we head into the Jimmy Iovine era. Lots to talk about with this song, so go listen to it first if you need to and we’ll reconvene to talk about the first track from Damn The Torpedoes; the brilliant, the urgent, the classic; Refugee.

In doing my research for this one, a line from Paul Zollo’s book, Conversations with Tom Petty, really hit me hard. It’s not really related to the music or the lyrics, or the reception to the song, or its legacy. As Tom and Paul are discussing the song, Tom says “I’m just proud to have been there on that one.” That sense of grounded contribution to a song is such a superb reminder of the character and the humility that Tom maintained throughout his career. When these interviews took place, Tom didn’t need to downplay his own part in this song. I mean, it’s Refugee for goodness sake, but still, those human moments of wonder and appreciation really shine through and illuminate who Tom was an artist. 

Mike Campbell birthed Refugee by sending a cassette tape to Tom (for those listeners who are too young to remember, cassette tapes were like having an iPhone for each album. Except bigger. And less reliable). Tom then paced around his living room listening to and composing on top of it very quickly and naturally (or as we’d say in 2022, organically!) Again, this is a measure of how innately brilliant and musical a mind Tom had because, and we’ll get into this later, that’s not the melody most people would write to that chord progression. But obviously, the music hit Tom like a freight train and took him down a very specific melodic and musical path. 

Famously, it took days, literally days, for producer Jimmy Iovine to get the drums sounding how he thought they should. This went on to such an extent that it led to a very short departure from the band of drummer Stan Lynch. However, when Refugee starts, you have to tip your hat and say that the intro has to, just has to, sound EXACTLY that way. We get that short, but iconic drum intro starting on the 3 of the 4th bar leading into Benmont Tench’s soaring organ part. My opinion is that Jimmy Iovine’s greatest contribution to the Heartbreaker’s sound was recognizing how integral and important Tench was to the how the band sounded live and figuring out how to get that across in the studio. Listen to how expertly that track is recorded and mixed on this record and you’ll have a sense of how a producer can take a great band and just set them off on a trajectory that they were not on before and might not have found with a different, less focused and hungry producer.

So we get a four bar intro, with an epic organ fullness on top of that F#m-A-E chord progression. We’re then treated to one of the all time classic Mike Campbell guitar licks. This is the foundation for the song and what promises to be the highlight of the whole thing. Of course, we don’t, at this point know where Tom is going to go vocally. But back to that guitar. If you had to condense the essence of Mike Campbell in one simple lick, it’s probably this one. It’s not virtuosic. It’s not revolutionary. But, you’ll never, ever forget it. Any street busker could play that guitar phrase on a beat up old acoustic and you’d know instantly what it was and who wrote it.

After that central refrain is established we head straight into the first verse. Tom fits a lot of words into an interesting melody line that almost works as a counterpoint to the main chord progression but doesn’t really stray too far away from it. It’s such an interesting timing and cadence that he uses and again, sets Refugee apart from almost anything else that was being written at the time. Considering that Tom says that he wrote this basically on the fly, mostly in one go, those opening lines “We get somethin’ we both know it, we don’t talk too much about it. Ain’t no real big secret all the same, somehow we get around it” are just jaw dropping. It disarms you right away because you’re immediately taken away from the notion that this is going to be a predictable rock song about women, or excess, or and of the regular rock n roll tropes of the late 70s/early 80s. I usually talk about the lyrics to songs later on in these episodes, but I’m going to talk about this one right up front because it’s so remarkable. There are three verses in the song and the third is a modification of the second, but there are more exceptional lines in this one song than most artists will ever write in a career. “Tell me why you wanna lay there, revel in your abandon”. “Somewhere, somehow, somebody must have kicked you around some”. “Right now you this ain’t real to you, it’s one of those things you got to feel to be true”. It’s a powerful analogy of how love and relationships can make you feel isolated and oppressed, or as an outsider in your own life. It speaks to that very human failing of lack of empathy for another human being on both an intimate and a cultural level. No mean feat. 

The song has an AABA structure, also known as a 32-bar structure. So you have to 8 bar sections (F#m-A-E) in this case, with a pre-chorus 3rd 8 bar section, with the 8 bar chorus itself going back to the same phrase as the first 16 bars. This is such a common structure that it can be hard to find any dynamic movement in it, but Tom does this by really pushing his vocal delivery to the top of his range, aided by some excellent drum pushes “don’t BANG have…” before going back to the AABA pattern for a second time. 

Another brilliantly written piece of this song is the bridge. Again, simple-sounding, but Refugee’s minor-key tension is completely lifted by that major chord middle eight. When we hit that A chord in the second line, the whole song resolves to something safe and familiar before building back into that 16 bar repeated riff for the organ solo, loading into Mike’s succinct guitar solo. That ear for composition and arrangement blows me away every time I listen to this song. The balance between those two parts is impeccable. Benmont is really elevated from sideman to central player on this track and his tone and phrasing is so precise and melodic that it allows Mike’s bluesy solo to effortlessly bite back into that minor key with a real ferocity before we get the descending run back into the final verse.  

Texturally, the song really does hang on Benmont’s organ and Mike’s minimal, but powerful guitar parts. Those slides at the end of the fourth bar of that A section resolve us beautifully back into the minor chord. The interplay between that keyboard and guitar sits behind the vocal line and fills in the spaces it leaves, or works, again as almost a counterpoint to where Tom is going melodically. You can see how this would have been a really difficult song to balance because though it sounds really simple, there’s actually a ton going on between those three lead parts.

The rhythm section of Ron Blair and Stan Lynch on this one simply keep that main riff driving forward. There are some switches that Ron puts in between verses, but for the most part, this is another song where those two are just keeping time and ensuring that the three-pronged attack of Benmont, Mike, and Tom have solid foundations to build their castle on. “You don’t have to live like a refugee”. On top of the brilliance of everything about this song is Tom’s delivery of one of best rock n roll lines ever written. He’s not singing this line. How’s howling it. Imploring it. Burning it into your consciousness. We come back again to intonation, phrasing, and timing. It’s a song that no-one else can really cover because the timing of that delivery is so specific and so Tom Petty that it’s too hard to do justice to do.

Alrighty, it’s time for us to get back to some Petty Trivia! 

In Episode 11 of Season 2 (anyone remember that far back now?) I asked you: What was the name of Tom Petty’s character on the animated series, King of the Hill? The answer is Elroy ‘Lucky’ Kleinschmidt, or more simply “Lucky”. Tom voiced the character in 28 episodes over a period of five years and, speaking to Rolling Stone in late 2017, the show’s creator, Mike Judge, remarked that Tom was “the nicest, most humble and unassuming rock star you could ever hope to meet.”  A sentiment I think all of us Pettyheads would agree with.

Your question for this week is this: Which all-girl band, primarily famous in the 80s, recorded backing vocals for the track “Waiting for Tonight” which was part of the Full Moon Fever sessions and subsequently released on the Playback Box Set?

OK, back to the song. 

According to Mike Campbell, the song was inspired by listening to John Mayall’s version of Oh Pretty Woman, on which an 18-year old Mick Taylor played a super bluesy riff over the top of future Fleetwood Mac bass player John McVie’s bassline. Mike had picked up a Gibson guitar and wanted to try playing a similar style of lead lick over top of a minor-key riff and this was the result. The song really kickstarted a partnership that would last for the next four decades, despite a small number of looser collaborations between the two on the first two albums. Mike sending over demos, or riffs, for Tom to play with, would become a more common feature of the Heartbreakers’ MO over the years and led to a number of notable additions to the band’s catalogue. Despite the problems in trying to get the song to sound exactly the way the band wanted it to, with as many as 100 takes being performed according to some sources, the band finally found the groove and the fruits of their labour produced a song as long-lasting and timeless as any in the rock n roll cannon. Jimmy Iovine may have driven them crazy at times, but as Mike says, “ Jimmy was on a mission. We were on a mission too, but Jimmy was just driven. He wanted to make the best record ever made, and he wanted to be the guy to do it.” Well, it’s hard to argue with the results.

OK, you lovely people, that’s all for this week. I’m pumped to be talking about this album as it’s among the most iconic rock n roll albums of all time. Cutting the episodes down to time is going to be more challenging than finding things to talk about I suspect! It should come as no surprise that I’m going to five Refugee a 10/10. It’s a flawless piece of composition, arrangement, production, and all round genius. Every part is perfect. I’d be surprised if anyone disagreed with me on this!

We’re almost done, but before I sign off, I wanted to shout out to last week’s guest Gwen Jones. I had a great time talking to Gwen and as a reminder, I wanted to pay forward the generosity that she regularly shows on her Facebook Group, TOM PETTY FANS FOREVER, by giving away a copy of John Scott’s excellent memoir, Tom Petty and Me. I posted a question in that group asking which US State does Gwen call home. The stars at night are, of course, big and bright, deep in the heart of Texas. A whole bunch of people got this answer correct and after drawing names out of a hat, the winner is… [drumroll please!]  Lisa Bradley! I’ll get in touch with her later on social media and send out Jon’s book. I intend for this to be a once-per-season type of thing where I figure out some piece of Tom memorabilia to give away and I’ll switch up where I do that on my socials. 

My last shout out is to my very best friend Randy Woods for his continued provision of music for the podcast. He composed and recorded the intro/outro music which will be the front and back of the show going forward and all the wonderful riffs and licks in between.


Petty Trivia

QUESTION: Which all-girl band, primarily famous in the 80s, recorded backing vocals for the track “Waiting for Tonight” which was part of the Full Moon Fever sessions and subsequently released on the Playback Box Set?

ANSWER: The song featured the vocal talents of Susanna Hoffs, Debbi Peterson, Vicki Peterson and Michael Steele, the original lineup of The Bangles, who had recorded their album Everything, featuring their huge hit Eternal Flame, around the same time that Tom was recording Full Moon Fever.


We get somethin' we both know it, we don't talk too much about it.
Ain't no real big secret; all the same, 'somehow we get around it.
Listen, it don't really matter to me.
Baby, you believe what you wanna believe.

You see, you don't have to live like a refugee.

Somewhere, somehow, somebody must have kicked you around some.
Tell me why you wanna lay there, revel in your abandon.
Honey, it don't make no difference to me.
Baby, everybody's had to fight to be free.

You see, you don't have to live like a refugee.
No baby, you don't have to live like a refugee.

Baby, we ain't the first.
I'm sure a lot of other lovers been burned.
Right now this ain't real to you.
It's one of those things you got to feel to be true.

Somewhere, somehow, somebody must have kicked you around some.
Who knows, maybe you were kidnapped, tied-up, taken away, and held for ransom.
Honey, it don't really matter to me.
Baby, everybody's had to fight to be free.

You see, you don't have to live like a refugee.
No, you don't have to live like a refugee.
Baby, you don't have to live like a refugee.