S4E3 - Nightwatchman

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Length: 15:57 - Release Date: May 25, 2022 -

Hey folks, thanks for downloading this podcast. It means the world to me that people actually sit and listen to me ramble on about my favourite artist. Actually, it's a bit weird now that I come to think about it! What are you doing with your lives!!! Go outside! Smell a flower!

High Five an Anglican minister (they could use cheering up)!!! But once you've done those things, come back and listen to me talk about Nightwatchman, which is one of my very favourite Tom Petty songs.

If you want to listen to the track before we dig in, check out the official video: https://youtu.be/AIp74acO1lM

Check out this fantastic live version that was included on The Live Anthology too: https://youtu.be/PhtHLXrtW7w

I dedicated this episode to the wonderful Marv Quibell, host of PodsLikeUs, which I appeared on last month. You can check that episode, and Marv's podcast generally, right here: https://marvsmooth.podbean.com/e/pods-like-us-meets-the-tom-petty-project/


(* 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 the third 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 just wanted to start quickly by saying that my heart goes out to my friends in Texas and the families of the victims of the latest, senseless school shooting. I won’t get into the political issues surrounding gun laws in the US because it seems increasingly like it’s an issue that will never be tackled. I hope that none of you listening were directly impacted by this tragedy and that you’re all staying safe out there. Today’s episode covers the very-highly regarded deep cut, Nightwatchman and I’d like to dedicate this to Marv Quibell, host of PodsLikeUs; a podcast about podcasts and podcasters that I was recently lucky enough to appear on as a guest. Marv is also a huge Tom Petty fan and has been a strong supporter of my show for a long while now. He also happens to be a real life Nightwatchman and listens to lots of different pods while he’s making the rounds. So here’s to you Marv, stay safe and I hope you enjoy this one. OK, enough jibber jabber from me, go listen to the song at the link in the episode notes, or wherever you stream your music, come back, and we’ll get stuck into one of my top ten Tom Petty deep cuts.

Nightwatchman is arguably the first real quote unquote story song. You could maybe argue that the Wild One was a story, or What are you doin’ in my life, but this is the first song with a very defined central character. And the character was based on a very real person. After the explosion of Damn the Torpedoes and Tom’s newfound fame, it became necessary for him to have security at his home. In Conversations with Tom Petty, Tom tells Paul Zollo, that he found this new reality both disgusting and amusing at the same time. He goes on to tell Paul that “This guy used to sit outside of the door in a little cage. And he sat in this cage every night. I think that was the inspiration for the song. That particular guy would show right about dark and go home at dawn and I was always up all night. So I would wind up going out there and talking with him a lot. Really, he was the only other person awake in the house. So I think he inspired the song.”

One of three songs from Hard Promises co-written with Mike Campbell, Nightwatchman starts with that cavernous drum sound. And right away we’re treated to a little Stan Lynch flourish as he hit’s a great drum roll into the first beat of the second bar. After two bars of that funky syncopated drumbeat, which is anchored by a four on the floor cowbell, Mike Campbell comes in with the delicious guitar lick. Paul Zollo describes it as “Spidery” and I think that’s a great way of describing it. I wanted to say too at this early point that one thing I love about this track is the tempo. It would have been easy to bump this up by 5 or 10 beats per minute and get it rocking a little more, but having it sit unhurriedly at around 90BPM, you get a real languid, lazy feel to it that just punches everything up so much.
Another killer, killer drum part Stan Lynch on this song and in concert with Ron Blair’s bass part, again it has a funk to it that you definitely haven’t heard on a Heartbreakers recording up to this point. But it still has a rock n roll edge to it. You could most definitely imagine a full horn-section R&B arrangement of this one, but Jimmy Iovine does his usual masterful job of keeping things really clean. Talking of keeping things clean, through that first verse, Ron Blair is playing pretty much the simplest thing possible, just keeping really straight time on the 1s and 3s with that single low E note. Because of Stan’s double kick, you get a little more of that syncopated feel in the interplay between the bass and the kick drum. As we hit the first verse, Stan moves to the ride cymbal but puts the snare hits mainly back on beat on the 2s and 4s. I think I can also hear some shakers being added in there. I know that Phil Jones plays some percussion on this album and I wonder if he provided the cowbell and those extra shakers in that verse section. During the second verse, Stan cuts loose slightly more and through both, Ron is sitting in his higher range and adding in some nice little simple runs.

Structurally, this is a much more interesting song that you might think on first listen. For starters it begins with a chorus that sounds more like a verse and builds to a verse which crescendos to sound more like a typical chorus. I think I’ve talked a little about structure before and you most commonly see songs employ an A B A B structure. Verses are referred to as the A section and Choruses as the B section. The middle eight, or bridge (the bit in the middle of a song that usually doesn’t sound like either the A or B section) is then the C section. Interestingly, at a loss at what to call the title track from their eleventh studio album, Genesis took A B A C A B from an early draft and named the song and the album ABACAB. Back to Nightwatchman though, it flips that norm on its head, so we end up with a B A B A C B structure. Not quite as catchy a song title I guess…Structurally, the song is also really short narratively. Even though it has a very distinct character the lyrics come in at 17 seconds and are basically all wrapped up by 1:41 with the chorus lyrics repeated throughout the outro. Again this shows that incredible creativity and willingness to take different approaches to suit different songs. Thematically, it makes so much sense for the first words to be “I’m the Nightwatchman” as it frames the whole song.
Let’s get back to that guitar part. Mike is playing that fantastic staccato lick, but you can hear Tom playing that simple heavily-muted chicka chicka reggae-esque groove in behind. And that’s all that Tom’s doing through that chorus, giving the heavily percussive feel of the song even more of a swing. In the verses, he opens the strings up and plays an accompanying chord progression as Mike starts to slide all over the riff. I always it when Mike throws a little country sauce into a Heartbreakers song. You wouldn’t necessarily expect it on a funkier track like this but it really makes those verses pop and that gorgeous clean tone is managed beautifully by Engineer Shelley Yakus. Listen too to how Stan’s fill mirrors the cadence of Mike’s slide fill right after Tom sings “I could be just what you need” in that first verse. Complete sympatico and those little touches are a product of a band knowing the song inside out and listening closely to what each other is playing. 

To give the chorus that big atmospheric feel and give the twin guitar licks centre stage, as I already said, Ron’s bass is being as unobtrusive as possible. Likewise, Benmont’s keyboards are nowhere to be seen until that first verse, when they sweep up into that treble range adding that big push. He then sits in that same space for four bars and using an old keyboard players trick of lifting off one finger from the chord at a time so you go from a full chord of three notes, down to two, then to one and out for the last four bars of the chorus.
The song has so far been in E for the choruses and B and E for the verses. After that second verse, we then get a really uplifting change into a big A major for the bridge (or remember, the C Section!). Through that middle eight, Stan does some great work alternating the kick and the snare leading and adding those big crash cymbals to the pushes (dah dah) between the 3rd and  r 4th beats of alternating bars. After the first 8 bars of the bridge proper, it goes into a second section and you can really hear those muted guitar chugs and a nice rock n roll pick slide. At 2:09 you also hear a piano note which almost seems out of place, but adds such a cool element of surprise. It’s a really deep E2 note that was actually played by Alan Bugs Wiedel, Tom’s driver, tech, and all round MVP for his entire career. On the record, Bugs is credited with “wild dog” piano. Tom tells Paul Zollo that “I think Bugs his that note because no one else could. We were all busy with other things, so we had him hit that note on the piano. He’s always been handy.” There also some congas in that last bar of the bridge just to add that little more sultry nightclub street vibe to proceedings before the song essentially goes back to that initial instrumental intro into the B section. We get Benmont adding in a little more organ through this section and again alternating between playing a single note and adding in one or two more at various times. This gives that upper register a kind of swaying feel to it. Ron Blair also really cuts loose in the outro as it builds as Stan continues adding in plenty of syncopation and really leaning into the cymbals. The congas or maybe bongos are there again, as is the cowbell and Mike adds that slide from the verses back into the chorus to wrap things up.

Alrighty, it’s time for some Petty Trivia!

Last week’s trivia question was this; The Heartbreakers released ten songs, on original studio album release with subtitles. So not deluxe editions or compilations. By subtitles I mean something added in brackets after the main title. I gave you an easy oneness the episode I asked this in was for A Woman In Love (It’s Not Me). I then asked you to name the other nine, So, here we go:
From the debut album, we have Rockin' Around (With You) and Fooled Again (I Don't Like It)
From Damn the Torpedoes we have Shadow of a Doubt (A Complex Kid),
From Southern Accents, we get Make It Better (Forget About Me)
From Let me up (I’ve Had enough) we have the album-closing title track
Then from Songs and Music from “She’s the one” we have Walls (Circus) and Walls (No. 3) as well as Angel Dream (No.2) and  Angel Dream (No.4)
I did catch one person out who also quoted Insider in brackets featuring Stevie Nicks. That isn’t how the track is listed on the album however, but is on Wikipedia for some reason. I’ve suggested an edit to the page as the pedant in me doesn’t like discrepancies between the original published work and how it is presented on Wikipedia!

I digress. Your question for this week is as follows; At which Los Angeles venue was 1985’s Pack up the Plantation primarily recorded?

OK, back to the song.

Lyrically, this is definitely one of my favourite Heartbreakers songs from that early period, though if I went back through my notes, I bet I’d find that I’ve said that quite often. But I think this one stands out because of firstly that inverted structure and that iconic opening line, “I’m the Nightwatchman. I make the rounds.” The first verse is this guy telling someone that he feels he could be doing more than this but it’s a bitterness that, to me, is tempered by the fantastic last line in the second chorus “How safe do you wanna be?” The implication being that this guy is pretty damned good at his job. There’s a possibly slightly darker edge to it though if you go back to Paul Zollo’s book as Tom says, “Would you get into a firefight with somebody here? For what we’re paying you? And he’d say, in a low voice, Well you know it’s my job. I take my job seriously.”

That leads perfectly into that last verse, which is just so narrative and unambiguous and so beautifully written. “I sit around at night and listen to the radio. If I get real bored I might have a little smoke. Yeah I got a permit to wear this 38. But listen, my life's worth more than the minimum wage.” So again, Tom taking elements of conversations with an actual security guard and working them into a fabulous lyric. He’s also doing that thing he does so well of putting in more syllables than the obvious cadence of the song would accommodate and making them sound seamless. And again, coming up with a rhyme that shouldn’t work on paper, until you deliver it the way that Tom does; 38 and wage. He trails the last syllable of wage off so you don’t get that hard G sound. Again a fantastic vocal performance. Controlled, restrained, and with the energy being pushed at exactly the right times.

OK folks, that’s all for this week.

A little bit of Nightwatchman trivia for you. In cricket, a Nightwatchman is a player who comes into the batting order earlier than usual at the end of a day’s play. If there’s bad light or tiredness creeping in, this can save a higher-order batsman from being out cheaply and keep them fresh for the next day.  For the third song in a row on this album, I find myself unable to give this anything less than full marks. Nightwatchman has a great premise, a huge hook, a killer guitar lick, a tremendous rhythm section along with a really economically brilliant lyric. It’s also another completely unique-sounding song in the Heartbreakers’ catalog. I would say too that it’s also just one of my favourite TPATH songs, never mind deep cuts so I will hold up my hands and admit that this may be one that I’m slightly overrating because I love it so much. If someone told me they rated it an 8 or a 9 I wouldn’t be mad at all. So another ten out of ten on Hard Promises. Let me know if you agree or disagree and why and we can take this to the socials!


Petty Trivia

QUESTION: At which Los Angeles venue was 1985’s Pack up the Plantation primarily recorded?

ANSWER: The answer, as many of you guessed, is The Wiltern Theatre. The beautiful twelve story art deco building is an iconic landmark in LA, situated at the corner of Wilshire Boulevard and Western Avenue at the Western edge of the city’s Koreatown. Ten of the sixteen tracks for the Heartbreakers’ first full live album were recorded at the venue on August 7, 1985. Some notable songs that didn’t make the cut from that performance were Don’t Come Around Here No More, Don’t Do Me Like That, and Spike.


I'm the nightwatchman
I make the rounds
I'm the nightwatchman
I gotta keep my nose to the ground

Honey this ain't no job
For a man like me
I got potential
I could be just what you need
You got to think
About the pros and cons
You could be right
You could be wrong

I'm the nightwatchman
I am security
I'm the nightwatchman
How safe do you wanna be

I sit around at night
And listen to the radio
If I get real bored
I might have a little smoke
Yeah I got a permit
To wear this. 38
But listen, my life's worth more
Than the minimum wage

I'm the nightwatchman
I am security
I'm the nightwatchman
How safe do you wanna be

I'm the nightwatchman