S3E9 You Tell Me

               
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Length: 13:48 - Release Date: April 6, 2022 -

Hey folks! Today's episode covers the the super bluesy/funky YouTell Me, which is the second track from side two of the immensely third Heartbreakers album, Damn The Torpedoes.

You can check out the song here before we get started: https://youtu.be/lQ9n1NU_fwY

Transcript

(* 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 episode nine in the third season 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. 

Today’s episode continues our review of side two of the Heartbreakers’ monster hit Damn The Torpedoes, by looking at You Tell Me. If you wanna listen to the song before we get started check out the link in the episode notes and we can dig in. I don’t embed the songs in the episode itself due to licensing issues and out of respect for the Tom Petty estate.

In Conversations With Tom Petty, Tom tells Paul Zollo that “You Tell Me” was the only song that was written during the recording sessions, with the other eight tracks that made the release being pretty much complete before heading into the studio. Amazingly, I can’t find a single record of the band ever playing this song live, there are no alternate takes kicking around and it hasn’t been included on any of the compilations to date. I find that quite odd given the quality of the song and how good it would have been as a mid-set palate-cleanser live.

Following on from Benmont Tench’s fantastic keyboard performance on Don’t Do Me Like That, this song features a nice tinkly piano lick to intro and plenty more Benmont throughout. This wouldn’t be accidental sequencing and when Tom and Jimmy would have been sitting down to arrange the track listing, I’m sure that natural transition, coupled with the downshift in gears, would have made this the most logical next track. It also sounds very much like a grand piano recorded with lots of natural reverb as it’s an expansive tone that fills that middle frequency gloriously when Benmont is playing those fat chords. I’d class this as the longest musical intro to any song on the album, at almost 37 seconds. I realize that Louisiana Rain has a much longer intro but we’ll get to that in episode 11. I think you can almost call the first minute of that song a hidden track within a track, rather than a structural part of the song. But, I digress. To go along with that juicy piano part, which plays mainly on the 4th of every 4 bars of the intro, you get that sultry, swampy guitar lick that Mike is playing, which is panned all the way into the left channel. Tom’s rhythm in the right channel is very simple and steady, as it frequently is. This is the first time on Damn the Torpedoes that they really go back to panning any of the guitars so far over to either side. Stan is hitting the hats very, very gently through the first four bars of the intro and adding some light splash cymbal in there, which is mixed very carefully to take the attack off it and just have the wash of the decay feature.

The intro really sets a visual scene. To me it feels like a humid August night in Gainesville with a streetlight corona trying to battle its way through the grimy front window of a dark bluesy dive bar, most likely with a faulty neon sign outside. It’s a song that has grit and danger to it. In that way, it’s staging and feel remind me a little of Fooled Again from the debut. It even has a similar foreboding lyric. However, the tempo and arrangement of this song cuts along in a very different way from that earlier track and is the work of an already more accomplished songwriter and a more experienced group of studio musicians. It also has that live-off-the-floor feel to the rhythm of it that comes, from it having been written, at least partially, in the room with the band.

It’s another tight drum part from Stan Lynch, just keeping the groove. The main heart of the song is the bass line, which is propelled forward with slick, funky inevitability by Duck Dunn. This would the second time the Heartbreakers would bring Duck in to play bass on a track, after Hometown Blues from the debut album and again, you can hear slight differences between the way he plays this track and the way you imagine Ron would have done. Given the fact that they never performed this track live, I wonder if Ron wasn’t in the studio when it was being cut and whether he ever actually learned the part or cared for it. Of all the Heartbreakers at that point, he was the one who cared least about fortune and fame (which would be at least part of the reason he would leave the band between the next two albums) so I could see it possibly wrankling him a little that they had brought Duck back in to play this part. Or, it could have just as easily been that he said “Hey, you know who would the hell out of this track???” Who knows. There’s scant background available about the track so we’ll maybe never know. That bass line really walks all over the scales throughout pretty much the entire song. I really like how that bass phrase ends on the one of each following bar and alternates between stepping up and stepping down. It’s such a strong foundation to build out the rest of the track from, musically. 

We get a fantastic, big push to start the verses, with that switch to E, before dropping back down to that root B minor. The song is pretty much just two chords through the verse and chorus, other than a G that we hear for one bar toward the end of the chorus. So again, sitting in that groove, on a single chord, the bass line carries all the movement and adds the swagger for this one.

We head into the choruses with another push and we get those beautiful piano trills at the end of the first line “what you want me to do. We also hear the organ swell a little to fill out the body of this section and the bass backs off to provide a little space for the other instruments, before building back into the interlude before the next verse. I those last two bars of the chorus, we also get some nice slides from Mike on the lead guitar, which is brought forward in the mix to add to that build and eventual release of tension. So as we talked about last week, this is a great example of spending some serious time with the arrangement so that each part isn’t clashing with another. Through those verses and choruses, Stan isn’t doing too much on the drums and again, is just providing a solid backbone for that delicious bassline. Very in the pocket, very subdued, and adding in only very short, simple fills in the transitions between parts. 

As we head into the bridge, two cool things happen. The first is that Duck Dunn slightly alters the familiar bassline. It’s played higher up the neck and plays in much straighter time. At the same time, Stan goes to double time on the ride and plays some triplets in there before adding in a fairly thunderous fill coming out of the bridge and into the solo. The second thing is that wonderful change to F#, where that seventh note comes in to give the song an almost Bossa Nova swing to it (something I’ll be really talking about during Hypnotic Eye) before dropping back to the Bm. You also don’t get a push into the bridge, so it’s just one more simple thing to differentiate this section from the rest of the song. Such a wonderfully simple, but perfectly placed and executed middle eight. It’s actually a 9 bar bridge, with that A chord held for two bars instead of one to again just ratchet that tension up another notch before releasing it.

The chord progression in the solo follows the structure of the verse repeated twice. The solo itself is very understated and built more around soulful bends and double or triple note phrases, somewhat reminiscent of Dave Gilmour from Pink Floyd. We do get some nice piano from Benmont and again those nice triplets on the ride from Stan. It also features a killer disco bass lick toward the end of the second part of the chorus, which you can listen out for at around the 3:18 / 3:19 mark. The last Chorus builds in terms of the way it's mixed - a little louder and a little fuller. The outro sees some more really bluesy interplay between the two guitar parts and everything else just dropping into accompanying space. Stan is a little more dynamic through this section and plays off that main bass lick nicely as the sound fades out.

Alrighty, it’s time for some Petty Trivia! 

Last week, I asked you: Who played drums on Tom’s third and final solo album, Highway Companion? The answer, which a few of you got, but a few more didn’t, is Tom Petty himself. The album was truly a three-man effort, with Tom playing guitars, drums, harmonic, piano, and keyboards; Mike Campbell playing guitars and vibraphone; and Jeff Lynne taking on guitar, bass, keyboards, and autoharp responsibilities. All three men co-produced the 2006 release, which is the only Tom Petty release to include no co-written songs.

Your question for today is this: Who wrote the book Tom Petty and Me, which focuses primarily on Tom’s early career with the Heartbreakers?

OK, back to the song. 

Lyrically, this song wears its heart on its sleeve and is neither subtle nor ambiguous. It’s one of Tom’s songs about a dysfunctional relationship. That first verse has a similar vibe to Strangered in the Night and thematically, it again reminds me a little of Fooled Again. They’re very much peas in a lyrical pod in the way that they describe being on the wrong end of a imbalanced power dynamic in the relationship that the singer is describing. The two lines to finish the chorus “Baby you tell me, Honey you tell me” are really a line being drawn in the sand in an attempt to redress this balance. The betrayal reaches its nadir as the bridge crescendos into that payoff line “Yeah the last thing that I needed was to finally realize that you were lying”. Again, a fairly straightforward lyric that isn’t hard to parse, but has some good imagery. The line “I saw fire, I went left, I went right” describes the confusion that you can feel in this type of relationship. But we also have that slightly cheesy rhyme of pain and rain. It’s entirely forgivable though as it acts as a callback to the very opening line “Baby I heard thunder”, so it just about avoids being too clich├ęd.

Tom’s vocal delivery on this one sits nicely in the middle of both his range and his anger. It never reaches the same ferocity as Refugee, but also never drops into the honey-like tones of Here Comes my Girl. The harmonies through the chorus add a little more depth and the bridge sees Tom throwing in some pretty great Lennon-esque delivery when he sings “dying” and “lying”. For the most part, it’s a fairly reserved vocal delivery that again moves the song along but doesn’t take the lead away from that bass line.

OK folks, that’s all for this week. 

This song, for me, is all about that glorious, glorious bassline. There are a few songs on this album with great bass parts and this one is probably the best. It’s also by the far the funkiest and bluesiest, so the bass will almost always take a natural lead in this type of arrangement. It’s a great switch of gears from anything else on the album and provides a little respite from the hard rocking nature of almost all the previous 6 songs on the record. It’s a song I really like but I wouldn’t put it on the same shelf as the big hitters from this record or from Tom’s wider catalog. Again, that’s just a preference thing. And it’s arguably the least interesting song lyrically on the record. So for those reasons, I’ll give You Tell Me a solid, but not spectacular 7 out of 10.

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Petty Trivia

QUESTION: Who wrote the book Tom Petty and Me, which focuses primarily on Tom’s early career with the Heartbreakers?

ANSWER: 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.

Lyrics

Baby, I heard thunder
I woke up, middle of the night
Baby I saw fire
I went left, I went right

So you tell me what you want me to do
This might be over honey
It ain't through
Let me know
When you're fininshed with me
What you want me to be
Baby, you tell me
Honey, you tell me

Baby, I don't understand this
But that's alright
I can take a little pain
I've been winnin' and losin'
Baby, I've been in and out of the rain

So you tell me what you want me to do
This might be over honey
It ain't through
Let me know
When you're fininshed with me
What you want me to be
Baby, you tell me

Well you put me through
Your paces and your twists
Until I felt like dying
Yeah, the last thing that I needed
Was to finally realize
That you were lying

So you tell me what you want me to do
This might be over honey
It ain't through
Let me know
When you're fininshed with me
What you want me to be
Baby, you tell me

Baby, you tell me
Will you tell me

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