S3E10 What Are You Doin' In My Life

You Tell Me
Louisiana Rain


Length: 13:36 - Release Date: April 13, 2022 -

Hey folks! Today's episode covers the searingly upbeat What Are You Doin' In My Life.

You can check out the song here before we get started: https://youtu.be/M24Lfii8O6k

In the episode I talk about an alternate version, from 2018's An American Treasure, which has a slightly different ending and mix. If you want to listen to that, you can find it here: https://youtu.be/gnPH766ZP00

I also mentioned a couple of times similarities that I hear between Mike's guitar tone and playing and that of Ronnie Wood, the guitarist from the legendary Small Faces and the even more legendary Rolling Stones. You can listen to the track that really brought this to mind here. It's called "Stay With Me" and you may know it! https://youtu.be/JtqF0qBqzZo


(* 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 the tenth episode of 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 catalog song by song, album by album and includes conversations with musicians, fans, and people connected with Tom along the way. 

Our topic of conversation today is the penultimate track from Damn The Torpedoes, What Are You Doin’ In My Life. I don’t embed the songs in the episode itself due to licensing issues, but if you want to listen to the song before we get started check out the link in the episode notes, or load it up in your streaming app of choice, then come back and then we’ll get started.

When Paul Zollo says to Tom, in Conversations with Tom Petty, that “It’s a good song”, Tom says “Better than I realized at the time. I wasn’t knocked out by it at the time, but when I played it at that show I realized it was pretty durable. It held up really well. The show in question was the 2004 Art for AIDS concert which was dedicated to the memory of Dana Petty’s brother Stephen Costick, who lost his battle with AIDS in 1993. The song is another that was very rarely played otherwise and that show was the first since 1990 that it was given an airing. It was briefly resurrected for six shows in 2005 with the last performance being August 16 the The Joint at Hard Rock Hotel in Las Vegas, which somehow feels like a fitting send off for this track! 

Right off the top, this one gets your toe tapping. There’s no incidental studio noise, no build, no count, nothing. Just straight into that ten bar intro that sits on that E chord before bursting into the B, which leads into the first verse. If the last song, You Tell Me, was all about Duck Dunn’s savage bass line, this song is carried along at breakneck speed by Benmont Tench’s rip-roaring piano part and Mike Campbell’s gnarly slide part. There are plenty of times in this song where I’m really reminded of the Small Faces and Ronnie Wood’s playing, especially on tracks like Stay With Me. The repeated slides up to E on that lead guitar part also have plenty of country flavour to them and you could easily see a sleazy Honky Tonk band picking this one up and having a lot of fun with it.

Not a ton for Stan Lynch to do on the drums in this song. It’s just about keeping pretty straight time, allowed the guitars and the piano to stampede all over it.The fills are all very simple tom or snare fills that rarely step up to double time. In fact the most variety Stan has to throw into this one is moving from the ride to the hi-hat on the 16th notes. The song starts on the ride and sits there for most of the song other than the verses, where it moves to the hat to give a little more sonic space to Tom’s vocal.

With Stan keeping that steady, but driving drum pattern going, Ron Blair starts off by sitting fairly simply on top of the kick pattern. In some of the transitions between the verse/chorus and back, we get some tasty little bass fills, with those trademark Ron Blair slides, which really crescendo toward the end of each bridge section. He backs it off completely in the last verse, sticking really close to that lone E note, which takes the overall energy down just a hair, so that it can be pushed to it’s finale in the last chorus and into the outro, where he really starts having fun by dropping down to that open E on the bottom string.

Both the lead and rhythm have a fantastic crunchy distorted tone on this song. Through the intro, both are just sitting back and letting Benmont rip around that E chord, before Mike puts in that killer slide up to B. It’s just so greasy and cool. That change is really the hook in the whole song and it’s so incredibly simple, yet so incredibly effective. Through the verses, we get that slide really setting the tone and as the chorus comes back into the second verse, Mike throws in more super tasty slides that give that real spit and sawdust bar hoe-down feel to the track. In the choruses we get those really fat, full major chords and if you listen in the left channel you hear that beautifully placed suspended 4th note (A) in that E chord which again has such a Ronny Wood/Keith Richards feel to it to me. While Mike is having a whale of a time sliding all over this track, Tom is doing what he always does; ie playing a perfect rhythm part. It’s a very 60s rock n roll feeling rhythm part, which acts as an interesting counterpoint to that dirty old slide part. It’s a very rhythmic part too and rather than sticking to a straight time strumming pattern, he’s throwing in a lot of extra strikes through the verse and chorus, rather than simply sticking to the four beats in the bar. It’s all mixed beautifully too though to give a more percussive than melodic feel to that rhythm part and it stands out for how nicely it both compliments the lead and stays out of the way of Benmont’s piano. In the first bridge, to put the focus more on the vocal, Mike drops out of the lead role and becomes a second rhythm part, before sliding into that last line.

The lead is mixed really heavily over into the left channel during the solo so you can really hear Mike shredding! It’s a superb solo and one I’d absolutely love to hear isolated one day if I ever got the chance. He’s throwing in an absolute ton of slides in there and they all sound incredibly precise while maintaining such a cool swagger and playfulness. The highlight is right at the end, at the 2:50 mark as the solo comes back into the bridge. That’s arguably the tastiest guitar phrase on the entire album. Just so juicy and fun and inventive. I’d also be willing to bet that the entire solo was one take. It has that really spontaneous, live off the floor feel to it. 

The organ is nowhere to be heard on this song. It’s all about keeping the song stripped back enough to let that piano lead scream its way through the song. It has that rollicking Little Richard style of keeping time in sections, then it has some great little suspended grace notes as well as a few great fast gliss slides down the keyboard. We’re treated to plenty of fat piano at the top of this one and it’s all right hand rock n roll.Again, an old juke joint rag time pianist could have a ball with this one. We get those big slides into the chorus and through the bridge section there’s no letup. During the solo, it’s much more rhythm piano than adding too much real movement, but what Benmont does do is keep hammering on the B chord through four of the last five bars, even when the chord changes back to E, to again provide a little dramatic suspension through that section. Super cool and I hadn’t actually noticed he was doing that until this listen through!

Alrighty, it’s time for some Petty Trivia! 

Last week, I asked you: Who wrote the book Tom Petty and Me, which focuses primarily on Tom’s early career with the Heartbreakers? The answer, as you all knew of course, is Sizzlin Memphis Natural, Jon Scott. Jon was a guest on the first season of the podcast and was incredibly generous with his time, recounting some fabulous tales that showed both the creative determination of Tom in the early days as well as his whimsical side and then his fierce loyalty to and gratitude to the people who stuck by him when he needed someone to believe in the music he was creating. 

Your question for this week is this: In which Country did Damn The Torpedoes achieve its highest position?

OK, back to the song. 

Tom tells Paul Zollo that the lyrics to this one are about “an annoying groupie in New York” and it has a real obsessed fan vibe all over it that can’t really be mistaken. Despite being about a royal pain in Tom’s ass, the lyrics are pretty glib and funny at times and sit perfectly on top of the hurricane of slide guitar and piano. The last verse has that fantastic line “Well you’re the last woman in the world that thrills me. Now you got my girlfriend tryin to kill me”, It’s also another example of how Tom could get so much out of so little. In the verses and the bridge, it’s quite syllable heavy and moves along at the same breakneck speed as everything else, but once you get to the chorus, it’s a simple line “what are you doin in my life” repeated three times, with “I didn’t ask for you” to cap it. Economical songwriting at its best. There is that slight undercurrent of anger that threatens to bubble up at times, but on top of such a fun musical canvas, you wouldn’t want the song diving too far into the emotional depths. My favourite line in the song though is the one that follows “Probably some jerk tryin to put me under”, which is a great line in itself, but when it’s followed by “Some friend of a friend of a friend of mine” that’s just a great kicker. The way he sings it is very clever, first of all, it increased in attack and volume on each “friend” and he he also bends that word in a way that mirrors those lead guitar bends. We also get a stronger piano fill after that line from Benmont to really drive it home.

It’s another searing, soaring vocal performance and I love that it’s double tracked throughout, with harmonies all through the verses, straight double-tracked vocals in the bridge and then that flip in the chorus where it’s a double tracked lead with a low harmony through the first two lines, then a second, high harmony part on the last “what are you doin’ in my life”. A simply brilliant bit of arranging. It really makes that chorus snarl and bite more than it could have if it were single tracked or only one harmony part. You get plenty of that southern drawl coming through and again, I think it’s a song that could easily suit a honky tonk country band. Another beautifully written and assembled performance from a guy who, and I’ll say it again, is criminally underrated as a vocalist.

There’s a wonderful coup de grace during the outro for this too, as Tom playfully repeats, in a low register, Shelley Shelley, Shelley Yakus, Shelley Shelley, Shelley Yakus in the outro. 

OK folks, that’s all for this week. 

I’m a big fan of this song. It’s one of those that, when I went back to dig into the catalogue, really stuck out and stuck with me as a fantastic deep cut. This one could easily have been a single too I think. That chorus is so memorably, hummable, and you could easily see a stadium of 100,000 people just going crazy dancing along to it. I can’t quite put this one on the very top shelf, but it’s on the next one down for me because it just moves me. The wryly observed irritation in the lyric, a top notch vocal delivery and the twin hammer blows of Mike and Benmont’s complimentary swashbuckling lead parts means I have to give this one a 9/10.

I mentioned a couple of times that I see some similarities in Mike’s playing on this one with Ronnie Wood and I’ll drop a link to Stay With Me in the episode notes so you can hear what I’m talking about. I’ll also add an alternate version that was included on the American Treasure boxset, released in 2018. It’s not hugely different but the mix is slightly cleaner in a couple of spots and you can hear Ron’s bass a little more as well as Benmont’s piano being brought forward a little more in certain places. It also brings up that Shelley Yakus code so you can hear it far more clearly and doesn’t fade out the music all the way before ending on a drum fill from Stan. So I’ll throw that one into the notes too as it’s worth listening to for that modification of the outro.


Petty Trivia

QUESTION: In which Country did Damn The Torpedoes achieve its highest position?

ANSWER: The answer is New Zealand, where it peaked at #1 and was selected at #3 in the year-end chart. Tom and the band only played three gigs in New Zealand, on May 6th, 8th, and 9th of 1980, in the cities of Christchurch, Wellington, and Aukland. I’d be interested to know why the band didn’t tour too often outside the United States as this was definitely not the norm for most major acts.


Well you followed me all around New York City
Tryin' to make people think I wanted you with me
I can only hope that they didn't believe you
I can' t figure out why I got to deal with you

What are you doin' in my life?
What are you doin' in my life?
What are you doin' in my life?
I didn't ask for you

I don't know how you got my telephone number
Probably some jerk try in' to put me under
Some friend of a friend of a friend of mine
Baby who you tryin' to fool when you tell those lies? What are you doin' in my life?
What are you doin' in my life?
What are you doin' in my life?
I didn't ask for are you

Well this is all a little too much to believe
You're puttin' my name all around in the street
Honey where did you think this was gonna lead?
Baby will you tell me what you want from me?

Well you're the last woman in the world that thrills me
Now you got my girlfriend tryin' to kill me
Honey my friends think that I've gone crazy
Can't you figure out that you ain't my baby

What are you doin' in my life?
What are you doin' in my life?
What are you doin' in my life?
I didn't ask for you