Hello my fine friends! Today we're taking about the final track from 1981's Hard Promises, the beautiful You Can Still Change Your Mind.
If you want to listen to the track before we dig in, check out the official video: https://youtu.be/k5XHrJ1A0WI
If you want to hear the 2018 remastered version that was included on the An American Treasure compilation, you can find that here: https://youtu.be/HNY2W54_QG8
And if you want to hear Benmont's wonderful stripped back piano version, go check it out here: https://youtu.be/gXEq9TDuS_Y
(* 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 to episode nine 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’m currently recording this while looking after my sick little kitty cat Eli, who had a three night stay in the hospital to treat a urinary tract infection. He’s all doped up and staggering around the house in a confused daze, but he did have a good two hour nap on Dad and has been eating and drinking plenty, so I’m positive about a full recovery! My wife and youngest daughter are away at the lake and my eldest has gone on her first unparented road trip, 5 hours away to Edmonton, so it’s just me, the animals, and Tom’s music for the rest of the week. I think I’ll manage.
Anyway, you don’t come here for my diary entries, you come to listen to a discussion about Tom’s music. Today’s episode covers the last track from Hard Promises, You Can Still Change Your Mind. I’ve included a link in the episode notes if you want to give it a listen before we start. Once you’ve done that, we can dig in!
“You called it Mike’s tribute to Brian Wilson.” is the rhetorical question that Paul Zollo poses to Tom in his book Conversations With Tom Petty. Tom responds “I thought it sounded like something that could have been in the Beach Boys’ catalog somewhere, Very different from what we normally do.” I think that one statement sums up Hard Promises very neatly. This album is when the songwriting butterfly fully emerged from the chrysalis of the first three albums, but especially Damn The Torpedoes. Tom says “We were trying to find some different ground. We didn’t want to make Damn The Torpedoes again.” So not to head into a full album recap, which I’ll be doing with my friend John Paulsen in next week’s episode, but if you think about Nightwatchman, Something Big, Insider, The Criminal Kind, and this track, it really is uncharted territory for the band and a record that expanded their sound and their potential avenues of exploration more than any other to this point. The comparison to the Beach Boys is completely lost on me as, for some reason, they’re one band that I just can’t figure out or don’t relate to at all. If anything, I get more of an ELO vibe, which is quite a coincidence given who would go on to produce three albums for Tom.
In the album wrap episode for Damn the Torpedoes, John Paulsen and I discussed the incongruity of the intro for Louisiana Rain and the final track from Hard Promises also includes an unconnected, arguably superfluous 13 seconds of programmed synth sound. There’s no mention of who or how this was played or on what in the liner notes for the album, and again, it feels out of place, especially for such a soulful ballad. The 2018 remaster which appears on the American Treasure compilation cuts this portion out entirely and comes straight into that alternating root, 3rd 5th broken chord structure. The way this is played is a structure as old as popular music. Whether it’s the Bangles Eternal Flame, or, in a slightly different mode, Let it Be, the rhythm of the piano is playing the root, 3rd, and 5th notes of the chord, in some combination. With this song, it’s anchoring the fifth as the root and then playing the root and the third on the beat. (sing it) It’s the first time the Heartbreakers would use this shape though and off the top of my head, I can’t actually think of another example of it.
We have a four bar instrumental intro, all in C Major, which is curiously not a guitarist’s key. Tom tells Paul Zollo that the song is “really mostly his. He wrote the whole arrangement. It’s a great piece of music and it would have to be laid at his door”, so I wonder if Mike actually wrote this on piano initially. There is some heavily echoed or processed percussion in the background to the intro and I would love to know what that is. It sounds a little like a very lightly struck conga or something that comes in on the one count. Stan adds in some big cymbal washes and Mike is very gently sliding around that left channel. As the first lyrics come in, Ron then comes in with a simple bass part. Tom comes in with the vocal and it’s all very languid and easy, with no real attack from anyone.
In the background you can hear what sounds like a synth, which comes in half way through the first verse, so I’m thinking that might be an ARP. Mike is listed as playing the harmonium on the album, but it doesn’t really sound like Harmonium to me. I guess it could be, if it was run through an effects unit. As the song moves into the chorus, that keyboard section swells into that glorious change from minor back to major. The piano is consistent throughout the verses and chorus, keeping that rhythmic progression gentle pressing forward. As the song breaks into the bridge, Benmont moves to playing a double-time arpeggio and allowing Stan and Ron to really lead the rhythm. In the last chorus, building to the transition, the piano moves up another octave and plays a wonderful C7 arpeggio and then adds in some chords to the mix.
The percussion is interesting in this one too. Apart from the bridge, Stan is backed right off and playing very little, other than a simple boom - boom boom - cha beat and adding in some very reverb-heavy floor tom fills from the chorus back out to the verse. Likewise, Ron is keeping things very simple and playing mainly on the first beat of each bar before walking up the scale into the chorus. Again in the bridge though, he starts to add in a lot more to the groove and plays a beautifully timed slide in the “oh you don’t have to wait” line and then again coming back out of the bridge. It’s all very mellifluous and relaxing, wending its way lazily through the song rather than driving it forward.
The guitar in this song is very muted and provides the texture and colour that the keyboards usually would. But this being a keyboard forward song, the guitars are there to just add a few phrases here and there and it’s Mike using his slide again. Those phrases come to the fore in places between sections and the lap steel feel meshes perfectly with the synth/piano vibe. There’s also a great little change of tone, to a crunchy distorted guitar in the outro with about ten seconds to go, which closes the song on a slightly harder edge as it fades out.
Alrighty, it’s time for some Petty Trivia!
Last week’s question was this; Ron Blair left the band after the recording of Hard Promises, but which was the first album he appeared on after his departure? This one threw quite a few of you. Maybe the wording was less obvious than I thought, but the question wasn’t “on which album did Ron rejoin the band. Had it been, you could make the argument that it was The Last DJ, which he jumped into the recording sessions late on, or you could say that it was Mojo, which was his first full album back with the band. However, the question was, which was the first album that Ron “APPEARED ON” and as a couple of people correctly identified, Ron played bass on Between Two Worlds, from Long After Dark. He also guested on the final track of Southern Accents; The Best of Everything.
Your question for this week is this: At the very first Farm Aid concert in 1985, as well as Tom and the Heartbreakers, which artist appeared whose career had also been profoundly impacted by the work of promoter Jon Scott?
OK, back to the song.
As with everything else in this song, Tom chooses a vocal delivery that has some facets we haven’t heard anywhere else on the album. He’s in full southern drawl mode, especially during the verses. During the Chorus, he comes back much closer to his crooner voice. During the bridge, he’s really pinching his airflow to create a strained, almost nasal attack that I don’t remember anywhere else on Hard Promises. He also moves slightly away from the melody line in the last chorus when he sings “Everything’s gonna be alright”, stepping up a tone rather than down, just to add that little bit of variety. The backing vocals in this one, providing those harmonized “OOs” are provided by Stevie Nicks, Lori Nicks (Stevie’s sister in law) and Sharon Celani (SAY LANI) and that very ethereal, shadowy production on those backing vocals always reminds me a little of I’m Not In Love by 10cc, the way they’re very breathy. When you buy a modern synth, there’s always a “voice” patch that you can use to play those types of harmonies and they typically sound very similar to the way that those three ladies sing together. Lori and Sharon have been a part of Stevie’s life for decades and perfectly compliment her style, so it makes sense that they came in to record those lines with Stevie. It definitely gives the song a very different feel from how it would have sounded with Stan and Tom singing those high harmonies and maybe one of the reasons it was never played live, as the song does need that texture to really shine as it does.
The lyrics to this one are fairly abstract and approachable for anyone. The sentiment is fantastic; no matter how things are going, no matter what mistakes you’ve made, no matter how the world seems right now, you can still change your mind, you can change your feelings. The first verse is an introspective look at how people try to face the world alone and are often afraid to ask for help. The second deals with the idea that sometimes people set their expectations too high and can be disappointed with a life they imagine rather than the one they actually have. The choruses shatter this preconception before the bridge puts the final stamp on this “it gets harder by the minute, it gets harder ever day, listen to me darlin, oh you don’t have to wait.” Tom would revisit this idea of the non-permanence of bad decision or past hardships on 2006’s final solo record Highway Companion, with the song Square One. Where that song is much more personal, this one is more oblique and invites the listener to look at the invitation to change from their perspective rather than Tom’s.
One of the things I really enjoy about this song is that key change at the end of the chorus, to E major, before the song drops back to C for the next verse. It’s a lovely way to move between those two sections and C to E always sounds quite dramatic and atmospheric. It really adds a lovely dynamic to an otherwise fairly simple chord progression.
As with last week’s track, The Criminal Kind, I couldn’t find a record of You Can Still Change Your Mind ever being played live. Again this could possibly be due to it possibly not working the Tom would have liked without Stevie, Lori, and Sharon, but more likely because it’s a very mellow, easy groove and not something that would ordinarily fit into a rock n roll show set. Tom does however tell Paul Zollo that he thought it might have been a good single. He says, “That was when I was realizing a ballad couldn’t be a single. And they were probably right, because there’s not a lot of rhythm to it. But I just thought it was so beautiful, it would have sounded great on the radio.” It’s hard to say whether the song would have worked as a single, but if you fast forward to the mid to late 80s and the hair metal explosion, every rock band had a slow ballad and many of them charted really highly!
I wanted to thank @s2artsp on Instagram for telling me that Benmont used the song to close out his set on Oct 28, 2017 in the first public appearance by any Heartbreaker after Tom's passing. I couldn’t find any footage of that performance, from the Largo in Hollywood, online, but I did find a video of him playing it at the Iridium Jazz Club in New York on November 8th of 2017. I’ll include that in the episode notes as it’s a really beautiful, delicate acoustic version of the song, which Benmont introduces by saying "I'm going to play a song by two of the greatest songwriters who've ever lived. If you're familiar with it, I'm very glad."OK folks, that’s all for this week. I think this song probably isn’t as loved as maybe it should be. It lacks a guitar riff and is a very slow-tempo number. It also stands in stark contrast to everything else on the album and again, to my ear, sounds more ELO, or even solo-era McCartney in the bridge. Like Louisiana Rain from the last album, it’s a downward gear shift to the album tempo wise, even more so in this case actually. I think it finishes off a brilliant follow up to Damn The Torpedoes very nicely and for me, it’s delightful ambient experience that doesn’t require you to pay close attention, doesn’t challenge your palate at all, but is an entirely pleasant four minutes to spend in the company of a soaringly beautiful melody with a hopeful lyrical message. So I’m going to give this one a 7 out of 10 to close out the album.
QUESTION: Ron Blair left the band after the recording of Hard Promises, but which was the first album he appeared on after his departure?
ANSWER: This one threw quite a few of you. Maybe the wording was less obvious than I thought, but the question wasn’t “on which album did Ron rejoin the band. Had it been, you could make the argument that it was The Last DJ, which he jumped into the recording sessions late on, or you could say that it was Mojo, which was his first full album back with the band. However, the question was, which was the first album that Ron “APPEARED ON” and as a couple of people correctly identified, Ron played bass on Between Two Worlds, from Long After Dark. He also guested on the final track of Southern Accents; The Best of Everything.
It's gonna be another hard night
You wanna take it all alone
You wann a face up to the trouble
You wanna face up to your soul
And baby you can have it anyway you want it
You just get a little lost from time to time
Sometimes it gets a little crazy somewhere down inside
But you can still change your mind
You can change your feelings
You can still change your mind
Everybody wants all the world can give 'em
Everybody wants to get all they can get
Everybody's waiting on somethin' that hasn't come yet
And you can hide it for a little while honey
You can try and just lose it for awhile
Then it's gonna do somethin' to ya somewhere down inside
But you can still change your mind
You can change your feelings
You can still change your mind
Oh and it gets harder by the minute girl
Oh it gets harder every day
Listen to me darlin', oh you don't have to wait
You can still change your mind
You can still change your feelings
Just hold tight, everything's gonna be alright
If you can change your mind
You can change your feeling