S5E2 You Got Lucky

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Length: 18:36 - Release Date: August 31, 2022 - US Chart #20

When I think about the arrangement of this song, with the synths leading, Mike filling in those gaps with artfully placed licks, and Tom soulfully ripping his heart out for the audience, I think he’s dead on with that assessment. Today’s episode looks at the second track from Long After Dark, You Got Lucky.

If you want to listen to the track before we dig in, check out the official video: https://youtu.be/_QZixvUjNH4

If you haven't seen the fantastic video for this track (living under a rock???) check it out here: https://youtu.be/mtLpZWNyM0I

If you want to hear live cut that I talked about in the episode, you can check that out here: https://youtu.be/sg7IuLjdO0Q

I also found a couple of really cool live versions by other people. One you might expect and one you probanly wouldn't. This one is by Blackberry Smoke, who have covered a few Tom Petty tracks on their YouTube channel. This version features Amanda Shires on violin and harmony vocals: https://youtu.be/td8To6gb3qA. This version is by Slipknot screamer and Stone Sour vocalist Corey Taylor and is refreshingly brilliant: https://youtu.be/EgGkgyeZF-4


(* 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. Today’s episode looks at the second track from Long After Dark, You Got Lucky. There’s a link to the song in the episode notes, so if you’re not familiar with the track, go give it a listen and then come back before we start the dissection. 

“Benmont was really angry about the synthesizer. It was one of the only times we’ve used a synthesizer. He didn’t want to do it.” This is what Tom tells Paul Zollo in Conversations with Tom Petty and the thing that really jumps out at you as soon as this song kicks in is that it sounds completely different to anything we’ve heard from Tom to this point. The music was written by Mike Campbell over top of a drum loop he’d created on his Drum machine in his home studio. I imagine this was the at the time, quite new, Linn Drum, which would go on to be the sound of the 80s, featuring on songs like Axel F from the Beverley Hills Cop movie, Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s Relax as well as music by Price, Devo, Peter Gabriel, Fleetwood Mac, and composer John Carpenter. 

You Got Lucky was the first single released from Long After Dark and was released two weeks before the album, on October 22nd, 1982. The single reached #20 on the billboard chart and #1 on the US rock charts, which is somewhat curious as it’s probably the least rock n roll sounding single up to that point. The B-side was the penultimate track from the album and another Mike Campbell musical contribution; Between Two Worlds.

The song starts, as so many Heartbreakers songs from this era, with a fill in from Stan Lynch. There’s also a vocal two count from Tom in a single bar intro.The original demo was recorded on Mike Campbell’s drum machine and this loop was then replicated in the studio with Stan played over the top of it. This gave Iovine two drum tracks effectively, which allows the rhythmic dynamic to change during the song. The use of a drum machine likely didn’t sit well with Stan at all and the control issues that had been brewing over the years definitely started to simmer over during the sessions for this album. John Paulsen and I will get into that a little more for the album wrap but I usually tend to side a little more with the drummer when it comes to something like this. You can tell that the kick/snare pattern and most definitely the hi-hat line, which never changes velocity or volume through the track, is pulled from that drum loop. It does give the groove of the song a very metronomic, menacing quality though that undeniably works. That persistent hat lift on the third beat of every bar and the obviously sampled click of the closed hat keeping double time gives it a machine-like quality. My guess is that those three parts (kick, snare, hi hat) would be the machine and then tom/fills and the rest of the cymbals are what you mainly hear from Stan in the final mix. It could also have his snare coming in through the chorus as that sounds slightly beefier. It would be a really cool one to sit and listen to from the master tapes as there’s definitely plenty of production on this one. The drums don’t actually change through the first two and half minutes of the song, with only the occasional transition fill or cymbal hit in the chorus. There is a second loop which comes in at the 2:40 mark with some booming floor tom hits and what sounds like heavily-echoed hand claps. 

While we’re on the rhythm section, there’s a glorious high bass note that Howie Epstein plays on the one count of the second bar which he lets hang for two full measures before stepping back down for two measures. This four bar phrase is then repeated and leads into the first verse. During the verses, the bass then holds down the groove by playing a stabbed pattern that leads into the one of each bar before dropping back out to open up the bottom end. He then sustains those bass notes in the low register in the four bar pre-chorus to take us into that initial major chord. Another expression I’ve probably used a lot without talking about is “pre-chorus”. If you’re not sure what that is, it’s usually something that leads from the verse to the chorus that doesn’t really follow the chord progression or the tone, or both, of either the verse or the chorus. So that section where Tom sings “Go, yeh go” feels different. Bass, guitar, and synth all go to sustained chords and that change from Am to F leads nicely into the C major of the chorus. So that section acts like a short bridge between the verse and the chorus and is typically called a pre-chorus. So after that pre chorus, Howie stays on those sustained notes and basically sits on the root notes of each chord before falling back into that stabbed pattern in the verse. 

So a really simple, but effective rhythm section to this one which sits in the pocket and doesn’t take any of the limelight from the synth and the vocal, which are the real stars of this song. So let’s talk about that synth that Benmont hated so much. When you’re a rock n roll purist like Benmont, it’s easy to see why you wouldn’t necessarily want to use a synth. One of my other top three favourite bands of all time, Queen, famously added the line “No synthesizers!” usually with an exclamation point, to each of their first seven albums. It was seen as somehow straying away from the rock n roll integrity that serious musicians held to and it’s something I must admit I like about 70s rock; it sounds like four or five guys making music on real instruments. However, when used sparingly and well (as Queen often failed to manage), it can definitely add a very specific vibe to a song and I think that’s most definitely true of You Got Lucky. I tend to agree with Tom when he tells Paul Zollo, “I don’t see them as taboo. I don’t see anything as taboo. I think if it’s getting the job done, it’s okay with me.” He goes on to say of Benmont, “He begrudgingly played it. And I’m glad he did, because it was a hit record.” The rhythm synth part itself is fairly simple, with lots of suspended chord stabs played around that minor key progression and a restless movement that never seems to fully settle until the chorus comes in. There’s also that second lead line, that in another arrangement could have been played by Mike Campbell, or played on the organ by Benmont. It cuts out in the first four bars of the verse before coming back in again, somewhat surprisingly in the second four bars. The keyboard space is really full in the chorus and I suspect that in addition to that synth playing either barred 5th chords or full chords, and the guitar opening up, I’m pretty sure there’s an organ added in there too, mixed fairly low, as you can hear the tremolo after Tom sings “You got lucky babe”. I can’t quite tell but I think the synth actually drops out in the second half of that section. It’s mixed quite tightly into that upper mid frequency though so it’s a little harder to separate those sounds out. Like the rhythm section, the synth and organ parts are repeated with little to no deviation through each section of the song. The solo section follows the verse chord pattern, as does the outro, so  once you’ve listened to the verse, pre-chorus, chorus progressions once, you know what’s going to happen throughout the rest of the song. Sometimes this could lead to a song being a little stale, but it’s definitely important in this track because it sets that ambience perfectly and I’ll talk a little more about that when I talk about the music video later. 

A guitar song this isn’t, but what Mike adds in becomes important because he’s the one adding those little bits of colour and break from the repetition that give the song more width than it would otherwise have. Beginning in the second half of the intro, Mike starts to add in this little licks and background phrases, bending around that lead synth that Benmont is playing. As we go into the verse, he sits back and plays a lot less and there’s some heavily muted syncopated chugging, mixed down low. I’m not sure if this is Tom or Mike as it sounds initially like there’s only one guitar and on the live versions, Tom doesn’t appear to be playing in those sections. You can hear these parts much more clearly when the song is played live and I’ll definitely add a link to a live version of the song so you can see how much different it sounds. Through the pre chorus, it sounds like he’s simply playing a really low single bass note, which into that chorus resolves into some cleaner broken chords. You can hear that single string bass note that he’s playing really clearly after Tom sings “you got lucky babe”, bom bom…….. “You got lucky babe” bom bom. Again there’s a lovely little fill after Tom sings “you turn your eyes away” higher up the neck and Mike is, again, just adding those little touches to back up the melody. The solo is really unique to this song and quite unlike anything else I can remember Mike playing. In a 2003 interview with Songfacts, Mike says this of that part; “The guitar solo was Tom's idea, he suggested we do a Ennio Morricone guitar sound, kind of a vibrato arm strat kind of solo… like a Clint Eastwood movie... It was Tom's idea to put that approach on there.” Again, this approach really adds to the oppressive tone of the song. Mike that reprises parts of the solo and builds on it during the outro. When it’s almost faded out, he plays a couple of hammer on/pull offs that really remind me of Mark Knopfler from Dire Straits. It’s certainly a style you could imagine Knopfler employing. Again, check out the live version I’m going to post as Mike plays a fantastic heavily bluesy solo. Oh and wait for the outro on that version. Killer.

Alrighty, it’s time for some Petty Trivia! 

Your question from last week was this; One Story Town is the shortest track on Long After Dark, but which is the shortest opening track on any Heartbreakers or solo record? This answer stumped a few people and I think maybe some of you didn’t read or listen to the question quite closely enough. The shortest song on any studio album is the instrumental “Airport”, which closes the She’s The One Album. If you’re looking overall shortest non-instrumental song, that would be Alright For Now from Full Moon Fever at 2:00 even. The shortest single is I Need to Know which flies in at 2:24! Tom wrote a few shorter tracks in his career and five of the seven songs on side two of Full Moon Fever come in at under three minutes.

Your question for this week is even tricksier. In 1988, Tom sang backing vocals on Joni Mitchell’s Dancin’ Clown, from the album Chalk Mark in a Rain Storm. Can you tell me which other iconic 80s rocker also appeared on the song?

OK, back to the song. I really, really like the vocal on this track. It harks back to the first record in some ways for me, bringing to mind the tightly controlled howl of The Wild One or Fooled Again. You then get the first instance of Howie singing high harmonies, possibly along with Stan too. Through the verses he’s employing a half imploring, half threatening delivery. In the choruses, it’s a far purer tone that he uses, so again, the instrumentation is leaving enough space in that section to allow Tom to change the dynamic of the song with his vocal. Marvelous arrangement and production.

Tom has been quoted in the past as not particularly liking Long After Dark and in Warren Zanes biography, the author makes the following observation; “He says he doesn’t like Long After Dark. But what he doesn’t like is the world he was living in during that period of time. The songs tell the story of that place more directly than the material on any previous recording.” He goes on to say that Tom as “A man who didn’t want to be in his marriage but didn’t know how to leave it.” In several places on this album, those cracks in Tom’s relationship with his first wife Jane are really evident and this song is not drenched in ambiguity in what Tom is trying to say. “If you can do better than me, go.” and in the second verse, “You put  your hand on my cheek and then you turn your eyes away”. These are pretty fresh wounds that Tom is exposing through his music for pretty much the first time.That fantastic chorus line “Good love is hard to find. You got lucky babe, when I found you”. It’s a combative first strike from a wounded animal and one that hits home really directly. It’s a song about heartbreak but this time it feels a hell of a lot more personal and that’s why it also feels that much more powerful.

“You got lucky” is also one of the most frequently quoted lyrics by Pettyheads and whenever someone unearths a rare treasure and shares it online, someone will inevitably quote it in the comments. It’s one of those lines that just resonates with people.

Before we start to wrap up, I wanted to say a few words about the fantastic video for this song. When MTV really started to blow up, they were always looking for good videos and this song was on regular rotation on the channel. The band conceived of the idea for the video and based a dystopian aesthetic around Max Max 2 which would probably fall almost into the steampunk category these days.  In the 2011 book covering the history of MTC, by Craig Marks, Tom is quoted as saying “That was when we really saw MTV change our daily lives. Not only were teenagers spotting me on the street, older people would spot me, too. We knew it was big.” He also tells Marks that he received a phone call from the King of Pop himself, Michael Jackson, who would also go on to produce one of the biggest videos of the MTV era, Billy Jean, and Jacko told him that he thought the Mad Max theme was an incredible idea. Predating Queen’s I Want To Break Free and Dire Straits Money For Nothing, it was one of the first truly ambitious music videos and unlike other iconic music videos such as Madonna’s Material Girl, or Dave Lee Roth’s Just a Gigolo, it wasn’t just a glitzed up musical performance. In fact the only time you see an instrument in the whole thing is when Mike finds the guitar in the shack that forms the central location for the video. With the TV array showing old sci-fi movies and a couple of clips of the Heartbreakers playing like, alongside the likes of Chuck Berry, there’s a very definite retro vibe that kinda feels a little like someone’s stumbled onto the back to the future set after it’s been abandoned for a hundred years.We then see the space invaders machine and Tom twirling his pistol before the five men head back out onto the road, Mike clutching his newly found guitar. It’s an abstract mini-movie that runs for over a minute before the music kicks in at all. The Heartbreakers brought in director Jim Lenahan who had previously worked with the band on The Waiting and Insider and would go on to direct the equally captivating Running Down a Dream towards the end of the decade as well as Jammin Me. 

The video also notably features an early appearance of Tom’s later trademark top hat, and hats in general would be prominent part of several videos in the years to come.

All in all, it’s safe to say that this video was a big deal for Tom and the band and remains a fan favourite.

OK folks, that’s all for this week. Tom tells Paul Zollo that while it’s not one of his favourite compositions, “It’s just kind of a love song.” He goes on to say “You know what that song is? It’s a perfect little single. When I hear it on the radio, I think ‘Wow, we really just filled every little space in the right way.” When I think about the arrangement of this song, with the synths leading, Mike filling in those gaps with artfully placed licks, and Tom soulfully ripping his heart out for the audience, I think he’s dead on with that assessment. The oppressive, mechanical despondency in the tone of this one make it completely unique to the Heartbreakers catalogue and it sits with Don’t Come Around Here No More as one of a couple of songs that, to me, have a distinctly eighties feel yet don’t sound too dated, unlike some of the things on Let Me Up I’ve Had Enough, which we’ll get to in a few months. As always when I’m trying to rate Tom’s songs, I start from 10 and work down, taking away points where I feel things could have been done differently or better. So I think that as Tom says, it’s a fantastic pop song, a great single, and has no fat to trim. My only criticism is that I think Stan could definitely have played that drum part and elevated the song a little. As you’ll hear in the live version, the track doesn’t suffer at all for being played over live drums. And according to setlist.fm at least, it’s the 18th most played live song in the Heartbreakers catalogue. So I’m going to give You Got Lucky a 9 out of 10. I don’t think it belongs at the top table of Petty songs, but it’s one of the standouts on a strong album.


Petty Trivia

QUESTION: In 1988, Tom sang backing vocals on Joni Mitchell’s Dancin’ Clown, from the album Chalk Mark in a Rain Storm. Can you tell me which other iconic 80s rocker also appeared on the song?

ANSWER: Billy Idol. This was a weird little cameo appearance from Tom that I stumbled across while digging around looking for something else and I wondered if anyone else was aware of it. Apparently, Mitchell had heard Billy Idol singing his version of the R&B ballad, To Be a Lover. She felt that he captured the spirit of the song and brought to it the fresh energy and spirit of rock n roll.  His vocals were recorded a few days after the Grammys in 1987 and Tom would later record his cameo on the song. I’ll leave a link to the song in the episode notes and see if you can spot Tom’s contributions. They’re pretty obvious even though they're fairly minimal and it’s Tom in full-on character mode.


You better watch what you say
You better watch what you do to me
Don't get carried away
Girl, if you can do better than me, go
Yeah go but remember

Good love is hard to find
Good love is hard to find
You got lucky babe
You got lucky babe
When I found you

You put a hand on my cheek
And then you turn your eyes away
If you don't feel complete
If I don't take you all of the way then go
Yeah go, but remember

Good love is hard to find
Good love is hard to find
You got lucky babe
You got lucky, babe
When I found you

Yeah go
Just go but remember
Good love is hard to find
Good love is hard to find
You got lucky babe
You got lucky babe
When I found you