S5E8 Straight Into Darkness

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Length: 19:24 - Release Date: October 19, 2022

"Tom tells Paul Zollo that “Sometimes it takes a lot of work. Sometimes the songs won’t reveal themselves to you until you find the right sound and the right recording of it. And this one was like that. You couldn’t really get everybody grooving the same way until we went over to the piano, and then everybody instinctually found what to play. But that’s part of working with a group.

Today's episode is dedicated to the sublimely brilliant Straight Into Darkness; track two from side two of Long After Dark.

You can listen to the song here: https://youtu.be/RyPeUV9-po8

Check out the Live Anthology version here: https://youtu.be/GDzgR8q7yoc

I mentioned a distinct similarity to King of Pain by The Police, which you can listen to here: https://youtu.be/tFN5DveQH0o

Do follow Megan on social media and go check out her website: http://www.meganvolpert.com and you can find her book for sale here: https://bit.ly/3BgUUav (OFFER CODE 08STRAIGHT) or here: https://amzn.to/3L227Q8


(* 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. Welcomethe ninth episode of season five 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. As this episode airs, we’re in the week leading up to Tom Petty Weekend in Gainesville, Florida and if you didn’t get a chance to listen to my conversation with the event’s producer, Dan Spiess, I do recommend checking that out. Dan is knowledgeable about a ton of Gainesville related music and we had a wonderful chat about his vision for future Tom Petty tourism in the city. I really wish I was able to attend the shows down there, but I will live vicariously through the stories and photos that you all share, so don’t be stingy with them!

Today we’re digging into the fantastic second track from side two of Long After Dark, Straight Into Darkness. As always, go give the song a listen before we get started. You’ll find a link to the track in the episode notes. Once I’m done rambling on with my thoughts and opinions, maybe go back and check the song out again and see if what you think.

Paul Zollo describes Straight Into Darkness to Tom in Conversations with Tom Petty as “a powerful song”. Tom’s response is “That’s a good one, yeah. That was in that same period (as We stand a chance”. I remember it really came to life when we turned it over to the piano. We let the piano take it. We were trying to do it more guitar-based, when we first started recording it. When it got turned over to the piano is when it really started to show what it was about.”

That piano intro really sets the whole mood for this song right out of the gate. And right away, it’s an unconventional pattern. Benmont’s left hand, playing the bass notes, doesn’t start on the root note of the chord and the right hand plays almost in counterpoint to what the bass line is doing at times. So you get this fantastic suspended progression that sounds a little like The Stranglers in their more melodic moments. The other thing about this intro is it’s kinda hard to learn if you’re playing it on piano because the tape speed has definitely been changed. This was something Tom got into doing around this time and it drove Stan Lynch crazy. In Warren Zanes biography, Stan says “They went through the rectum of the fourth dimension and never came back.”. We’ll probably talk a bit about that when John Paulsen and I do our album wrap episode, but speeding up, or slowing down the mix very slightly is pretty common recording trick which is used to give the song a slightly tighter or looser feel. In this case, the song is sped up a fraction from what it would have been played at. 

Stan plays a little trill on the hat to actually open this song on the four-and before the piano comes in and after those four initial bars, Tom’s guitar then joins the mix to add to that suspension. The drums also come in here and there’s a distinct cowbell keeping the time while Stan plugs in the gaps with cymbals and some additional fills through the next four bars, after which we get the full band playing, with Mike adding a buzzy toned lead guitar into the mix playing an almost discordant progression over the top of everything else and Howie playing a neat stuttering picked bass line. Listen to how he’s playing those double notes. Dum D-dut Dum… Gives it a little swing and little more soul.

One thing I noticed a few weeks back and mentioned to Megan Volpert when I was talking to her about this track is that there’s a very distinct similarity in the tone of this song and that piano intro to The Police’s 1983 hit King of Pain. I went back to look at which song was recorded first and The Police went into the studio in December of 1982 to write record Synchronicity, with Long After Dark coming out on November 2, 1982. So maybe Sting had heard the track and thought that the overall feel of it would complement the lyrics he’d been writing about the breakup of his first marriage. Or maybe it was just a case of convergent musical evolution and both men came up with similar ways of writing songs about uncertainty and pain. The intros aren’t identical, but when coupled with the thematic direction of each song, they’re definitely musical cousins.

We get an additional 8 bars of intro with the whole band playing and in the fourth of those bars, right around the 22 second mark, you hear Mike play a deadened note. I’d be willing to bet that this was accidental but the band liked it and left it in to add a kind of fly into the ointment in an already restless, unresolved chord progression. Stan is playing some lovely double time hats and adding in hat lifts to the mix to really make this song quite involved from the start. Those drums are really big and meaty again but when you listen to Stan’s fill into the first verse, he actually pulls off the attack in those latter snare hits. Another example of Stan being so much more than the “power drummer” he’s often pigeon-holed as. 

During the verse, with that cowbell keeping time, MIke’s guitar tone is almost Don’t Fear The Reaper-like. It has a similar feel to the sustained, irregular riff that plays in Blue Oyster Cult’s classic track and is kinda the same progression for the first bar of every two. The verse is beautiful arranged musically, with the instrumentation initially dropped way off but building in intensity into the chorus. You don’t hear Benmont’s piano in the verse but I’m pretty sure there’s some organ or possibly even a little synth in the treble range as, with the guitars panned slightly left and right, there’s something sitting in the centre that you can’t quite make out clearly. I love this decision to bury a little something in there to add to the suspense and the unresolved feel of this section of the song.

The song has really left you feeling slightly uneasy to this point with no clear path to any sort of resolution, but then that big major key chord change to start the chorus. That main 5 note phrase or riff in the chorus is pure Roger McGuinn and Tom employs it to superb effect here. It’s so clever to have that bright sunny lick just before the words “We went straight into darkness” straddle the change to the minor chord. The verses being so dark, or pensive, thematically, that C major chord in the chorus really lifts the song into that B section brilliantly. I talk lots about how damned good Tom and Mike were at playing off one another and find notes and spaces for each other within the same chord and this chorus is another exceptional example of that, with Tom’s simple ascending broken C chord sitting at half time over Mike’s jangling Byrds lick. Just gorgeous. The chorus also features one of Howie Epstein’s soaringly beautiful harmony parts. It’s pretty incredible that he was in immediate lockstep with Tom vocally. It’s so seamless that you could be forgiven for thinking Tom was doubling himself, the way the rhythmic pattern of the vocal line is so precise.

After that first chorus we get a four bar intro back into the second verse that matches the tenor and feel of the 8 bar band intro to the first. In the second verse, you can really hear Stan’s triplets on the hats really clearly. The second verse plays out pretty much the same way the first one does, with the same gradual build. We also get a couple of clear, bright harmonic guitar notes from Mike at the start of the fourth bar of this verse. Again in the chorus we get that organ/synth filling in the sound and Howie adding in some ascending octave runs in the bass line. Throughout the chorus, Howie is playing a slightly straighter part, without the double bass notes and this allows that guitar lick, vocal, and lyric to occupy centre stage completely.

The bridge in this one comes in hard. An immediate change from C to D and then the key change to G. There’s a wonderful descending organ fill from Benmont in that two bar interlude and during the rest of the bridge, Mike is playing some more Byrds/Hollies-esque padding in the gaps between the lyrics. This section is pretty cool in that it tricks you with it’s structure. We have that 2 bar intro to the main section, with a four bar progression of root, fourth fifth, which in this case is G, C, D. Then the second part is actually six bars instead of four with that G to C repeated twice before the last two bars in D. So again, all these little things to try to make the song a little more interesting and take it somewhere you’re not necessarily expecting it to go.

After this middle 12 as it ends up being, Tom vocalizes us into the solo section where Mike deploys that Blue Oyster Cult-esque tone I was talking about earlier. And it’s not even really that the tone is super close, it’s how Mike is playing that progression and leaving pauses where you wouldn’t ordinarily leave them. This solo is played over top of the main verse chord progression and is a very simple, melodic solo, dancing around the suspended chords rather than any sort of shredding. After the guitar solo, this gives way to Benmont reprising the piano lick from the opening 8 bars but an octave higher. You also get Mike adding those harmonic notes right at the end of this section. 

Alright folks it’s time to put on your thinking caps and get ready for this week’s Petty Trivia! 

Your question from last week was this;  Which of the following facts about Gainesville, Florida is not true. a) It is home to the University of Florida, which is the fourth largest public university in the US by enrollment, b) Tech company Shazam was founded in Gainesville in 2006 by resident Josh Greenberg c) the Town’s population has more than quadrupled in size since Tom was born there, or d) Gainesville’s record temperature has, ironically, never hit 105 degrees.

Well, the maximum temperature recorded in Gainesville was 104, on June 27, 1952. On October 20th, 1950, the day Tom entered the world, it was a warm but not sweltering 85 degrees. The University of Florida ranks fourth in enrollment, behind Texas A&M in top spot, University of Central Florida, and Ohio State. When Tom was born, the population of Gainesville was approximately 27 thousand and has grown to over 140 thousand today. That means that the only fact that was untrue was Josh Greenberg founding Shazam in 2006. Greenberg was a Tech entrepreneur, but founded Grooveshark rather than Shazam, which was a service very similar to YouTube, but for music. After Grooveshark was taken offline due to a series of lawsuits from Universal, Sony, and Warner Music, Greenberg died unexpectedly of unknown causes in 2015 at the age of 28 and on April 18 of the following year, one year after his birthday, the Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce staged the first Annual Josh Greenberg day in his honour.

Your question for this week is this: Surrealist pop artist Robert Deyber created the album art for which album? a) Highway Companion, b) Into The Great Wide Open, c) Southern Accents, or d) Hypnotic Eye?

OK, back to the song. Coming back out of that bridge-solo-reprise, the instrumentation really takes a back seat to the vocal, even more so than the first two verses. We’ll talk about the lyrics shortly, but it’s worth noting here that the final verse of this song is, I would argue, one of the strongest Tom wrote on the first five albums. He could always write a killer chorus and always had lines here and there that you marvel at, but this entire last chorus is a work of art and leads into the final chorus in a very clever way, which I hadn’t picked up on until reading Megan Volpert’s book. The last thing to say about that though is that the way Tom sings the word “on” in that last line of this final verse is again so major key positive and cathartic that it crescendos into that last chorus just as majestically as the instruments do.

The chorus repeats and then we have the guitar solo section repeated, with Howie laying down some extra sauce on the bass underneath it and this section fades us out. In that second chorus, I think Tom is doubling Howie’s harmony as it sounds fuller and is higher in the mix. Tom also plays around the melody line a little more too, especially on that final “night” at the end of the very last line.

Onto the lyrics of this one. Going back to Paul Zollo’s comment that this song is powerful, I think that’s a fair understatement. I’m not going to dig massively into the analysis of the whole thing as I’m going to do a book review of Megan Volpert’s triumphant philosophical dissection of Tom’s meaning in this song for her book Straight Into Darkness, Tom Petty as Rock Mystic. But I did want to highlight a couple of things that I picked up from reading her analysis. The first thing is; The three verses of this song are really different. The first one talks about a romantic association and is Tom’s wistful recollection of love lost. The second is very specifically about the Heartbreakers heading to the UK early in their career and the line “there was nothin’ only black sky” paints a picture of uncertainty. But the final verse is just the pure fighting spirit of I Won’t Back Down. Tom’s looking for redemption and sonically, we get it in this final stanza. The other observation, which I alluded to earlier is the very clever, very subtly switch in the way the last verse and the following chorus connect. In the first and second verses, the last line ends. “The feeling just died.”  and “only black sky” with the chorus beginning a new phrase; “We went Straight Into Darkness”. With the final verse, the last line ends with “the strong carry on” and the chorus begins “Straight into darkness”. So you can read that entire phrase as “The weak ones fall, the strong carry on straight into darkness.” So that indomitable spirit of determination. Darkness. Unknown. But you head into it and you hope to come out the other side of it. And as Tom says of the last verse in Conversations with Tom Petty “Yeh there’s some hope in it. It wasn’t just a downer. The last verse is spectacular. Every line, concisely perfect. Every word, deliberately placed. “I don’t believe the good times are over. I don’t believe the thrill is all gone. Real love is a man’s salvation. The weak ones fall, the strong carry on”

As I say, I’m going to put out a special, probably fairly short, bonus episode in the next couple of weeks talking about Megan Volpert’s book, but let me summarize it very quickly by saying that it’s one of the best artistic critiques I’ve ever read. It combines the author’s personal connection to the song with a rigorous academic approach to understanding and dissecting the lyrics as well as inspection of their poetic meter, which I found interesting. It’s written in ferociously passionate and unapologetic prose and I would very seriously recommend that anyone who loves Tom Petty’s music, and this song in particular, should read this. As a final word on Megan’s work and that last chorus, if you read her article which she wrote when Tom passed, she structured her farewell to Tom around the sentiment of those last four lines.

OK folks, that’s all for this week. Talking about how this song finally came together, Tom tells Paul Zollo that “Sometimes it takes a lot of work. Sometimes the songs won’t reveal themselves to you until you find the right sound and the right recording of it. And this one was like that. You couldn’t really get everybody grooving the same way until we went over to the piano, and then everybody instinctually found what to play. But that’s part of working with a group.” It’s well documented that Tom wasn’t completely happy with Long After Dark but according to Rolling Stone’s 2020 article, Tom Petty’s 50 Greatest Songs, Tom said “That song was one of the few things I was excited about on Long After Dark.” Straight Into Darkness is my favourite song from Long After Dark and I also think it’s the strongest overall. It’s a fairly simple arrangement, as I’ve said, and doesn’t stray far from a quintessential sound, but there’s something about the angst and pain of the first half of it and the resolution of that third verse, combined with that striking piano intro that just elevates it above everything else on the record. So I’m giving Straight Into Darkness a perfect score. 10/10.

I’m going to leave the last word to Megan. As she explained to me in our conversation, this song saved her from a potentially catastrophic decision and the way she ends the introduction to her book is both touching and poetic and provides a great coda to this episode. She writes; “Rock n roll is a church and Tom Petty was one of my priests. He was a spiritual gangster and then he died. He went straight into darkness and I am still here, very much alive.”


Petty Trivia

QUESTION: Surrealist pop artist Robert Deyber created the album art for which album? a) Highway Companion, b) Into The Great Wide Open, c) Southern Accents, or d) Hypnotic Eye?

ANSWER: Well the Into The Great Wide Open artwork is called “Autumn Landscape”, which was painted in 1921 by Czech-American artist Jan Matulka. The painting on the cover Southern Accents is an 1865 work by Winslow Homer, titled “The Veteran in a New Field” and the artwork for Hypnotic Eye was developed by Jeri Heiden and Nick Steinhardt at SMOG Design, a boutique design firm in the Silver Lake neighbourhood of Los Angeles. And, as the wonderful Janet Lovell gave me a great bit of info about during our conversation, the Highway Companion album art was painted by Robert Deyber. If you didn’t listen to that conversation, I’d go give it a listen. Janet told me all about the artist and his work and showed me the book that she received from him which was personalized for her shortly before his untimely death! The eulogy on his website starts by describing the artist as “A visual raconteur” and goes on to say “Bob was a storyteller with a paintbrush, his mind’s eye planted deep within his subconscious, best known for his unique, visual interpretations of English sayings, idioms, euphemisms, cliches and Figures of Speech. It is the undecided tone between sincerity and irony that makes his visual vocabulary distinctly A Language All His Own, from literal translations of fanciful sayings to kitschy depictions of everyday terminology, showing off both his cultured brilliance and wicked sense of humor.” I’ll leave a link to his site in the episode notes so that you can check it out. He really is a singularly unique talent whose artwork both Tom and Dana were big fans of.


There was a little girl, I used to know her
I still think about her time to time
There was a moment when I really loved her
Then one day the feeling just died

We went straight into darkness
Out over the line
Yeah straight into darkness
Straight into night

I remember flying out to London
I remember the feeling at the time
Out the window of the 747
Man, there was nothing, only black sky

We went straight into darkness
Out over the line
Yeah straight into darkness
Straight into night

Oh give it up to me, I need it
Girl, I know a good thing when I see it
Baby, wrong or right, I mean it, yeh


I don't believe the good times are over
I don't believe the thrill is all gone
Real love is a man's salvation
The weak ones fall, the strong carry on

Straight into darkness
Out over the line
Yeah straight into darkness
Straight into night

We went straight into darkness
Out over the line
We went straight into darkness
Straight into night