S4E1 The Waiting

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Length: 16:27 - Release Date: May 11, 2022 - US Chart #19

Welcome back to Season Four of The Tom Petty Project podcast. Thanks so much for staying with my on this journey, or, if you're just finding this ridiculous vanity project, I welcome you with open arms! Today's episode covers the sensational lead track from Hard Promises; The Waiting.

If you want to listen to the track before we dig in, check out the official video: https://youtu.be/fKDYErlu5Kc

I talked about Linda Ronstadt's version in the episode and you can check that out here (it's pretty damned good!): https://youtu.be/GI6mCtHcIvw

And if you're feeling particularly frisky, check out the Live Aid version (in front of 100,000 people!) here: https://youtu.be/Txnv9muzZgk


(* 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 opening episode of season four 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. 

I hope you all enjoyed my chat with John Paulsen last week. Im looking forward to doing as many album wraps as we can over the coming months and I was asked on Facebook about the possibility of the two of us backtracking and covering the first two albums, so that’s something I’m definitely going to see if we can figure out. Today’s episode covers the fantastic opening track from the Heartbreaker’s fourth album Hard Promises and is, of course, The Waiting. Go check out the episode notes for a link to the song so that you can go listen to it before we dig in. If you’re new to the podcast, I don’t actually include the song itself in the episode for licensing reasons, but I’m exploring whether or not that might be something I can do in future seasons.

OK, the waiting is the hardest part, so let’s get into it!

Before we start digging into the song, I wanted to just mention how excited I’ve been to start talking about the songs from this album. I’ll get into the reasons for this with John during our album wrap episode, but Hard Promises is an album that just resonates really hard with me. There are so many outstanding tracks on it and along with Wildflowers, it’s probably the record in the catalog that I spin the most often. The Waiting is also one of my very favourite Tom Petty compositions so I don’t think there’ll be any surprises when I give my rating at the end of the episode!

The Waiting was the first single from Hard Promises and would have been hugely anticipated as the lead single from an album that had enormous shoes to fill. The track did reach number one on the US rock charts, but peaked at #19 on the billboard charts. Ironically, the song from the Hard Promises sessions that gained the most mainstream traction was Stop Draggin My Heart Around, which the radio stations ate up. The song was essentially a track originally intended for Hard Promises but given to Nicks’ after Tom realized that Insider had to stay a Heartbreaker’s song. The song was taken entirely as-is by Iovine and Petty with Nicks simple recording her vocals over the existing recording. 

According to Tom, the title is based on a quote from Janis Joplin in which she says “I love being on stage. Everything else is just waiting. In Conversations with Tom Petty, Tom tells Paul Zollo that he’s pretty sure that that’s where the idea was born. He also says “Roger McGuinn swears that he said it to me.” but reflects that he’s pretty sure that wasn’t the case and the Joplin line was the inspiration. He also tells Paul that the chorus was what came first and when asked whether that was unusual for him, he says “Yeah. It is unusual. I usually kind of work linear, from the beginning. It’s a whole lot harder to work back from the chorus. It is for me.” 

Because of this, Tom says that he worked exclusively on The Waiting for weeks, but was so convinced that the chorus was really strong, that he knew he had to find the right verses to be able to run with it. There’s a wonderful quote in Conversations With Tom Petty where, in talking about the song and the work that went into it, he says “I just had to get the whole fish in the boat. I knew I hooked it.” Sometimes, songs come all together in one blaze of inspiration and sometimes it takes a lot of work to mold them into the right shape. I’m just eternally thankful that Tom recognized the strength of this one and stuck with it.

Disc One from 1995’s compilation release Playback is titled ‘The Big Jangle’. Other than Listen to Her Heart, no song epitomizes that better than The Waiting. The song starts with that fantastic suspended chord guitar intro. For four bars, we have Tom and Stan playing alone. Tom laying the foundations for the song with that gorgeous tone and Stan filling things rhythmically on the hi-hat and toms. There’s also some tambourine which would likely have been overdubbed, but the whole thing is so cleverly arranged. One of my Twitter followers, Mary Beth Donnelly puts it perfectly when she noted that it’s “Always good to build anticipation with a song about anticipation”. What a great way to describe the opening 9 bars of this song. You’re not sure at first exactly what direction the song is going to take, but the tone and tempo immediately makes you relax. It’s such a happy, upbeat vibe and in that way, stands in stark contrast the album opener from Damn The Torpedoes. The feeling is sunshine and fresh air. You can almost feel the Pacific Coast Highway flying by under clear blue skies. That positivity is reinforced immediately by the opening lines; “Oh baby don’t it feel like heaven right now, don’t it feel like something from a dream.” At this point, you definitely get the sense that, again in juxtaposition to Refugee, this is not a song about heartache or pain, it’s going to have some sort of positive message. After the first four bars of the intro, Mike’s lead chimes in. It’s really heavy on the reverb and sounds like it’s been recorded in a huge hall, which of course it wasn’t, it’s just beautifully engineered again by Shelley Yakus.

Once we hit the song proper, I should say that this is one of my favourite Stan Lynch drum parts and one I simply cannot master in terms of replicating the way he plays it. In Conversations with Tom Petty, Tom tells Paul Zollo that no one could have played this song but Stan. I would agree 100%. It has a certain tempo and bounce to it that is entirely Stan. It’s a really hard thing to describe, but some musicians are just so unique in how they approach a song and Stan absolutely nails this one to the wall in every way. All the fills are perfect, the kick drum pattern sits between the beats wonderfully and the subtle alternation between that pattern and a straighter backbeat in the chorus makes it a wonderfully toe-tapping part that he’s playing.

Ron plays a very easily identifiable Ron Blaire bass line, sitting on that kick pattern, but moving up and down the scales to give that bottom end some movement. I’ve used that expression a lot in the podcast so far and I should probably explain what it means from my perspective. In this song, for example, it would be easy and perfectly fine for Ron to sit on the root notes of each phrase in the verse and chorus and it wouldn’t slow the song down or take away from it. However, by making those decisions to slide up to those root notes in the higher octaves and to play around with those notes, it just adds more character to the song and doesn’t leave it sitting in one place too long in that bottom end. It’s what a guitar lick or a vocal scat line can do melodically but what Ron does expertly on so many Heartbreakers songs. So when I say “movement” that’s what I’m talking about. Playing something that’s still fairly melodically simple, but with just enough variation that it doesn’t fade completely into the background. 

As with Damn the Torpedoes, the rhythm section is engineered to perfection. That tight, but full snare sound, the way the toms are mixed high but clean, the cymbals being crisp and clean and the bass being completely clear throughout. I’ll talk about this with John in our album wrap and I think we may even have touched on it in our last conversation, though I think I edited it out. The Heartbreakers, to me, would have come into the studio to make this album with a lot more confidence than the previous record. Everything they learned about studio craft and the way Jimmy Iovine made records was polished and honed and The Waiting is the best example of a great band taking a great song and recording it perfectly.

The song follows a fairly simple ABABCB structure and again, the beauty is in the simplicity. The verses are an unambiguous expression of love and lead into one of Tom’s best choruses. Talk about building backwards from that chorus. How could you not? “The waiting is the hardest part” That can be about getting to the end of a work day to get back home to your family. It can be about getting back home from a prolonged absence to see your sweetheart. As an ex-soldier, the waiting to get home on leave to see the place you grew up was interminable and I spent hundreds of hours on trains subconsciously “waiting”. You could also interpret it as being the waiting to accomplish something that you’re working towards and is almost within your grasp. So that line carries a ton of emotional and allegorical weight, yet it sounds so effortlessly easy. Tom employs the trick he often uses lyrically too where he changes just one line of the chorus. “Every day you see one more card” becomes “Every day you get one more yard”. I absolutely adore that second line. Again, it sounds simple, but in a song about waiting and anticipation, it’s saying that you just need to keep putting one foot in front of the other and eventually you’ll reach your goal. Whatever that is. So Tom may have been talking about something specific to himself in the lyrics, but writes them in such a way that they can mean a lot to different people in different contexts.

One of my favourite Tom Petty songs and one of my favourite drum parts also has one of my favourite bridges. This is where the song goes to a minor chord for the first time but it’s a definiantly positive expression. “Don’t let it kill you baby, don’t let it get to you” sucks you in and then “I’ll be your beatin’ heart, I’ll be your cryin’ fool” delivers a lyrical knockout punch. I love the vulnerability in that line. No matter what, I have your back and you can count on me. 

I haven’t talked yet about Benmont’s organ part on this song and it’s a really simple part and it’s mixed fairly low in most cases. So as is sometimes the case, it’s there to fill out the sound and just make the entire thing sound a little bit wider. This is the thing about The Waiting. If you look at it from a musical standpoint, it’s not blowing your mind in any way. There’s nothing technically challenging about how it’s structured or played. Benmont doesn’t have any lead lines on this as he did on so many tracks on Damn the Torpedoes, but the song doesn’t call for that, so he sits in the pocket and just adds that little bit of colour.

Alrighty, it’s time for some Petty Trivia! 

Your last trivia question in season three was; At which legendary San Francisco venue did the Heartbreakers enjoy a 20 night residency between January 10th and February 7th of 1997? The answer, of course, is San Francisco's Fillmore.  The anticipation among us fans for a rumoured box set of performances from this run is high following a recent interview with Mike Campbell in which he confirmed that the work has been done. No official announcement has yet been made and no date has been confirmed, but this is going to be a hugely popular package for harcore fans to dig into.

Your question for this week is this. Which original track was recorded during the Wildflowers sessions to be included on 1993’s Greatest Hits album?

OK, back to the song.

Coming out of that middle eight, we hit a twelve bar solo that shows Mike at his melodic best. No Chuck Berry imitation here. No shredding. No trying to take things too far. Just a superbly written and played solo. If I ever get to talk to Mike, this is one I really want to ask him about. I wonder if that solo was played in one or two takes, off the cuff, or planned out. It certainly feels more like the latter and if it’s the former, it only makes it even more fantastic. The other thing that happens in the solo is that those big crash cymbals from Stan are brought up and he moves to the bell of the ride in the second half when the switch to the minor chord happens, to really make the whole thing chime and crescendo into the outro. We get a repeat of the chorus and a kinda of false ending. At 3:06 you think that the song is building to a big close. Had Denny Cordell produced this song, I think it would almost certainly have ended here but instead we get a reprise of the intro with some additional keyboard from Benmont before hitting those ad libbed vocals to fade.

Vocally, Tom pushes his voice a little on this one and it’s not quite in Refugee territory but it builds to close to that sort of energy and on the lead into the chorus when he sings “to make me wanna live like I wanna live now”, you hear him really force that rasp to his voice and attack the delivery. He then drops back into honey mode for the chorus until the final “The Waiting is the Hardest Part”. He clips his vocals hard in the bridge and overall, he kinda runs through a fair bit of his repertoire in this one song without it sounding fragmented or contrived. Basically, a perfect vocal performance. 

Tom tells Paul Zollo that Linda Ronstadt actually called him when she was covering The Waiting for clarification on one of the lyrics. Tom recalls “She phoned me because she couldn’t figure out all the words. It was the lin ‘No one could have ever told me about this” and I thought “Dan, I’ve got to try to enunciate better”. I think that that line is so great because of where he puts the syllables in time to the music. 1 2 123 123 4. There are too many syllables there really, but he makes them work in such a cool way that even that adds to the build into that chorus.

Jimmy Iovine tells Warren Zanes in his 2015 biography, Petty, that he thought that The Waiting was bigger than Refugee and that when it wasn’t a huge hit, he felt devastated. I also find it somewhat odd that the song wasn’t a bigger hit that it ended up being. It’s a perfect pop-rock track with an immediately memorable hook, an easy melody to sing along to and a great feel to it all round.

OK folks, that’s all for this week. 

When Paul Zollo asks Tom “Any idea what makes a melody work?”, Tom’s response is “I think it’s as simple as, can you hum it in your head? Does it do something to  you where you hear it? Is it a friendly thing? Do you want to hear it again?” The Waiting is four for four in this regard. It has that inexplicable quality to it that great songs all have. They just hit you and you stay hit. I’ve listened to The Waiting probably two or three hundred times at least but it’s a song I can never get sick of hearing. I will give The Waiting the strongest 10 out of 10 that I can. It’s a song that I loved the first time I heard it, have loved ever since, and listen to regularly, even when I’m off burrowing into the deep cuts.


Petty Trivia

QUESTION: Which original track was recorded during the Wildflowers sessions to be included on 1993’s Greatest Hits album?

ANSWER: The answer is Mary Jane’s Last Dance. The song became one of the last tracks that drummer Stan Lynch would record with the band and of course has very a very ambiguous central theme. Kim Basinger, who starred in the dark, brooding video for the song said of the reason she appeared in the video at the peak of her stardom; “I did the Mary Jane’s Last Dance video for one reason: Tom Petty”.  I think that’s a recurring sentiment that’s been echoed by many collaborators over the years.


Oh baby don't it feel like heaven right now
Don't it feel like somethin' from a dream
Yeah I've never known nothing quite like this
Don't it feel like tonight might never be again
We know better than to try and pretend
Baby no one could have ever told me 'bout this

The waiting is the hardest part
Every day you see one more card
You take it on faith, you take it to the heart
The waiting is the hardest partwell

Yeah I might have chased a couple of women around
All it ever got me was down
Then there were those that made me feel good
But never as good as I feel right now
Baby you're the only one that's ever known how
To make me wanna live like I wanna live now

The waiting is the hardest part
Every day you see one more ca rd
You take it on faith, you take it to the heart
The waiting is the hardest part

Don't let it kill you baby, don't let it get to you
Don't let 'em kill you baby, don't let 'em get to you
I'll be your breathin' heart, I'll be your cryin' fool
Don't let this go to far, don't let it get to you



The Wiltern, 1985

(Unknown venue/date)

Live Aid, 1985

The Forum, LA, 1981