S5E1 A One Story Town

               
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Length: 15:45 - Release Date: August 24, 2022

Good morning, good afternoon, or good evening, my fine friends. Welcome to the first episode of the fifth 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. The first song we’re digging into is the lead track from the album, A One Story Town. If you’re new to the podcast, first of all I’m glad you found it and really hope you enjoy it.

If you want to listen to the track before we dig in, check out the official video: https://youtu.be/7s1lx39sTxA

If you want to hear live cut that I talked about in the episode, you can check that out here: https://youtu.be/97mYaU4akVE

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 to the first episode of the fifth 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. 

Before we talk about today’s episode, I just wanted to say thanks to everyone who voted on the Twitter polls this weekend. I think that’s something I’ll start doing regularly. I know best ofs and rankings etc. are tough with a catalogue like Tom’s and I won’t pit individual albums against one another, but we can probably find some uncontentious things to vote on! So the poll this past weekend was to find out what our favourite Heartbreakers or solo album cover is. After a preliminary round that pitted four groups of four covers against each other, the final four you voted for were the debut album, Hard Promises, Full Moon Fever, and Wildflowers. Those four covers took 22.9%, 14.9%, 29.2%, and 33.3% of the vote, in that order, with Wildflowers coming out on top. This one surprised me a little, as even though it’s my favourite album cover, as well as my favourite album musically, I figured that Full Moon Fever or the debut might take home the top prize, especially after the preliminary round voting. I was also slightly surprised Into the Great Wide Open or Highway Companion didn’t come through the initial voting, but it was an outcome I didn’t hate! One other thing I wanted to bring people up to speed on is that I finally got around to sorting out my website and coded all weekend to get it close to ready. I think I’ll be releasing that on Friday and it will have a Petty Trivia game section that you can play and share based on all the questions we’ve had so far.

Anyway, this week we begin digging into the fifth Heartbreakers record, Long After Dark. My co host John Paulsen and I will dig into the album as a whole during our episode wrap, but I thought I’d start this one off by saying that I don’t think this album gets the love it maybe deserves sometimes from the wider fanbase and following on from Damn the Torpedoes and Hard Promises, it definitely has a lot to live up to. However, I also see plenty of people online saying that this is their very favourite album, so there’s definitely some support out there for this record. The first song we’re digging into is the lead track from the album, A One Story Town. If you’re new to the podcast, first of all I’m glad you found it and really hope you enjoy it. It’s also worth noting that I don’t play the song in the episode itself to avoid any copyright/legal issues. So if you want to listen to the song before we dig in, pause now, head to the youtube link in the episode notes and check it out, then come right back and we can begin. Sitting comfortably? Excellent. Let’s dig into it.

In Conversations with Tom Petty, Paul Zollo asks Tom whether LA is the one story town and Tom says that it could be LA or it could be a small town, he also points out the play on words saying “You could have a town that didn’t get above one storey. Literally! Or it only had one story.” That’s something that struck me the very first time I listened to this song and my immediate reaction was that Tom was talking about his hometown. Of course the house he grew up in that almost ranch-style bungalow that was low and “close to the ground” as he sings in the chorus. But it’s also obviously about a one-story town in the sense of a parochial place where not much happens, everyone knows everyone else and everyone else’s business and there aren’t any great prospects for a young person. So as we’ve started with the words, let’s flip my usual format and continue talking about the lyrics. Structurally, it’s a really simple song, with two verse-chorus sections, a short solo in the middle either and then one more chorus at the end. And this is where I’ve talked before about Tom being the undisputed king of economy when it comes to songwriting. The one story as in the building height isn’t really a focal point in the song except for that one line in the chorus, ”where everything’s close to the ground” but even that can be considered metaphorically in a sense of meaning very down home and unadventurous. The two verses really set up the conflict of ambition vs opportunity very well. The lines “Yeah, I'm for movin' on, try another town. Time ain't changin' nothin', take a look around” speak to the restlessness many young people feel in small towns that don’t have much going for them, whether that be jobs, entertainment, or lifestyle. This is confirmed in the verse. “Yeh the same shit goes down, nothing turns around, it’s a one story town.” The second verse seems to undercut this desire to get away though. Even though his love interest (presumably), though it could be a mother figure who can’t take it anymore perhaps, has left, he seems reluctant to follow;  “No, it didn't hurt me when she had to leave. She had a far away feeling wasn't part of me.” So there’s possibly a sense that though he wants to leave, maybe the familiarity is also holding him fast and keeping him in this place. “That far away feeling wasn’t part of me” is a really intriguing line that leaves plenty open to the imagination and to interpretation. Either way, the lyrics are really direct and really set a forlorn tone to the proceedings. 

To set a complementary melodic tone in the verses, the chord pattern is all fifths. So this means that the chords aren’t really major or minor as there’s no third note or flattened third note. So if you think about “Dah dah dah” the middle dah is missing. That third note is avoided and the 2nd, 4th and 6th notes are used for suspension and the 7th note is actually part of the bassline which sets the main groove of the song. The song switches from that F, E, F, E B all fifths, to that bright D major chord in the chorus, which releases that tension. We’ve talked about the build and release of tension in a song a few times in the podcast so far and this is another superb example of how good Tom was at doing it. A very simple chord progression not relying on a huge riff or an atmospheric minor key, but leaning into those fifths before resolving to the major root. It’s a wonderfully simple songwriting trick but when it’s done well, it’s incredibly effective.  

Stan Lynch sits on a really tight backbeat groove in this track and if you don’t quite know what a backbeat is, even if you’ve heard the expression before, it’s way simpler than you might think. It basically means that you’re playing the kick on the 1s and 3s (1 2 3 4) and the snare on the 2s and 4s. Listen to what I mean (count it and tap it). That’s the basis for pretty much all rock n roll and has been around since the 30s when swing and boogie woogie started to come to prominence and people wanted to dance. It’s easier to dance to a 4/4 backbeat than say a waltz or a salsa beat. So Stan leads us in with a short trademark fill then leads right into that backbeat. He’s also adding that crash cymbal to the first beat of every bar except for when Tom is singing in the verses. You can also hear a tambourine keeping double time throughout, and I’m not 100% sure what Stan is doing on the hats as the tambourine is persistent and mixed quite high, but it definitely sounds like he’s sitting on those quarter notes to give the tambourine more sonic space. If I had to guess, I’d say he’s sitting on those quarter notes. Especially as Jimmy Iovine is producing and he likes to have that separation of sound in a song.

One of the predominant melodic parts of this song, probably the focal point, is new Heartbreaker Howie Epstein’s bassline. Howie, of course replaced the outgoing Rob Blair for Long After Dark and wasted no time in stamping his style onto the band’s sound. In the vocal sections of the verses, Howies is keeping double time on the root notes and then matching the guitar riff in the non-vocal sections, which is the same progression as the intro riff in the non-vocal sections. That gives both parts of the verse movement and substance in that Tom’s vocal delivery provides the melody then yields it to the bass and guitar. 

The guitars in this one act mainly as sonic padding. There’s that simple, yet tasty, intro lick, repeated in the space between the vocals in the verses. These are accompanied by the shimmering open chords that are being played by Tom. I wondered if Tom was playing his Rickenbacker to get that big full sound on those chords, but on the live video you can see online, he’s playing what looks like a Fender Strat, with Mike on a Gibson Les Paul, maybe a Goldtop. Of course, this could have just been the instruments they used live vs in the studio, but it’s such a gloriously bright tone that reminds me a little of Listen to Her Heart. But that ability to recognize when the guitars need to lead and when they need to sit in the pocket is important in this song. Other than a really subdued solo, the guitars are keeping things moving without leading. Yes, you have that great little eight not lick that Mike is playing, but with Howie matching, and Stan pounding that four four beat out, so you don’t need a whole bunch of complicated noodling or riffing. Again, it exemplifies how extraordinary Tom was when it comes to arranging songs. I know that the rest of the band and Jimmy Iovine would also have had input into that, but Tom would also have had the most say and this is a song he would have likely brought into the studio pretty well cooked by the time it came to recording. The other really cool little bit of guitar that I completely missed until I listened to this song over and over under headphones as part of my research for this episode comes in almost dead on the 1:06 mark as the song transitions from the chorus back to the verse. It’s a crunchy little multi-string bend that’s thrown in and half repeated at about 1:20 leading into the second half of the second verse. Just a super cool little detail that you can miss if you’re not paying attention.

Alrighty, it’s time for some Petty Trivia! 

I already gave you the answer to the last trivia question that John Paulsen posed to me on our album wrap episode. It’s kinda cool that Lenny Kravitz dubbed drums and bass and added additional vocals but as came up online, I’d be really interested to learn whether or not an original version of that song has ever been mixed without his additions. Either way, it’s a fantastic tune and it really surprises me that it didn’t make Let Me Up. Once we get to that album we’ll be talking a lot about several tracks that didn’t make the cut  and what the album might have sounded like if they did.

Your question for this week is this; as noted, One Story Town is the shortest track on the album, but which is the shortest opening track on any Heartbreakers or solo record? (Rockin around with you - 2:29)

OK, back to the song. 

Paul Zollo says to Tom in Conversations With Tom Petty, “It has a cool bassline in it, which anchors the whole track”, to which Tom replies, “Yeah, I remember liking that when we did it, a lot. Nice organ too.”  He’s talking here about Benmont’ keyboard rather that Howie’s… erm… instrument? I kid. This song isn’t quite a Phil Spector wall of sound, but it gets close in the choruses and in those non-vocal breaks in the verse. He’s sitting in the high octave range for those parts and padding out the sound fully. You have the straight backbeat, the melodic bass and guitar twin lead lick, then the tambourine filling out the rhythm and finally that organ sound, with plenty of tremolo, giving it all a really “big” feel. 

One Story Town was the opener for most dates on the Long After Dark tour in 1982 and 83 and after that, was never cycled back into the live rotation which is, as with quite a few songs, a little surprising given its upbeat tempo and arena-rock appeal. There is a live version online from the US Festival in San Bernardino in which you can really hear Howie’s great bassline. They also drop the instrumentation back a little more on the line “yeh the same shit goes down, nothing turns around.” The quality isn’t amazing but I’ll throw a link to that performance into the episode notes for you. It’s a really great vocal performance from Tom, Mike and Stan throw in some extra sauce, and Benmont gets really groovy on the piano in the outro. It also features a great little drum break where you see the percussionist playing alongside Stan. I’m not sure who that is. Phil Jones again added percussion on the album but the video quality isn’t great and I can’t tell if it’s him. 

OK folks, that’s all for this week. A One Story Town is the shortest song on the album, clocking in at a breathless three minutes and six seconds. It’s a brilliantly concise and beautifully constructed pop rock song. It comes in hard, keeps up the momentum, and then crashes out into the fade without ever letting up. In this regard it’s reminiscent of King’s Road or What Are You Doin’ In My Life from previous albums. A perfect set opener and a great example of Tom writing something he knows people will respond to. The only real surprise I think is that this wasn’t released as a single. For me, this track is really solid. Nothing spectacular, but every part played perfectly to serve the song, mixed beautifully, and just a great way to start the Heartbreakers follow up to Hard Promises. A One Story Town gets my vote and I’m giving it an 8 out of 10 to kick off season five of the podcast.

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Petty Trivia

QUESTION:One Story Town is the shortest track on Long After Dark, but which is the shortest opening track on any Heartbreakers or solo record?

ANSWER: To be revealed!

Lyrics

I'm for standin' up, I'm for breakin' free
I don't want fate handed down onto me
Yeah, I'm for movin' on, try another town
Time ain't changin' nothin', take a look around

Oh, I'm lost in a one story town
Where everything's close to the ground
Yeah, the same shit goes down
Nothing turns around, it's a one story town

She was only seventeen but I held her to her word
Had to push her luck and thought she couldn't burn
No, it didn't hurt me when she had to leave
She had a far away feeling wasn't part of me

Oh, I'm lost in a one story town
Where everything's close to the ground
Yeah, the same shit goes down
Nothing turns around, it's a one story town

Yeah, I'm lost in a one story town
Where everything's close to the ground
Yeah, the same shit goes down
Nothing turns around, it's a one story town

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Live

The Wiltern, 1985

(Unknown venue/date)

Live Aid, 1985

The Forum, LA, 1981

Releases

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