S6E2 It Ain't Nothin' To Me

               
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Detail

Length: 18:25 - Release Date: December 7, 2022

"It’s another radical left turn for the band sonically and obviously is the first Heartbreakers song to be co-written with someone other than Mike Campbell. The introduction of Dave Stewart into the Heartbreakers tight little circle definitely rocked the boat and was a precursor to the restlessness that culminated in Tom working with Jeff Lynne, thereby capping the first phase of the Tom’s career"

Check out the song here: https://youtu.be/MKiaaPd5RLY

And if you want to listen to the live version from Pack up the Plantation, check that out here: https://youtu.be/TS79C1Lw86I

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 episode two season six 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. Last week I shouted out a few people and missed an important one. Nic Apostoleris, who was one of my guests in Season Three and has been a wonderful supporter of what I’m doing as well as a great person to get to know and chat with online. Nic has a new album of his own coming out soon and I can’t wait to share that with you all once he releases it.

Today I’ll be talking about the second track from Southern Accents, the very groove-heavy It Ain’t Nothin’ To Me. If you’re new to the podcast, or just need a reminder, I don’t play the song in the episode itself out of respect to Tom’s estate and to avoid any copyright issues. I always leave a link in the episode notes though so that you can go listen to the track before we start and afterwards too if you like!

In Conversations With Tom Petty, Tom says…. Nothing at all about this song. And there’s a dearth of information to be dug out on this one, which seems curious. It’s another radical left turn for the band sonically and obviously is the first Heartbreakers song to be co-written with someone other than Mike Campbell. The introduction of Dave Stewart into the Heartbreakers tight little circle definitely rocked the boat and was a precursor to the restlessness that culminated in Tom working with Jeff Lynne, thereby ending the first phase of the Tom’s career, before Full Moon Fever elevated him to an even higher plane. The song was an ever-present part of the set on the Southern Accents tour in 1985 but never played after that, most likely because that tour was the only Heartbreakers brought out a horn section. I’ll be talking about the live version from Pack up the Plantation toward the end of the episode too and the horns are definitely a part of the discussion.

The song opens with studio chatter, irregular guitar tones, solo bass, and keyboard notes, before the kick snare pattern comes in. You’re immediately struck by how much this doesn’t sound like a Heartbreakers song and how little that sounds like Stan Lynch on drums. I know that Don’t Come Around Here No More was written and mainly recorded in Tom’s home studio, with Dave Stewart programming the drum machine. You really get that feel from this intro too and I’d be surprised if the drum part wasn’t written on drum machine too and then played live by Stan, with the mix having elements of both performances interwoven.  After around 15 seconds of this preamble, the fat bass line kicks in and Mike starts some some really bluesy shredding accompanied by whistles and howled vocalisations from Tom. At the 30 second mark, the horns come in and we get another first; a Heartbreakers song that isn’t led, melodically, by guitar or keyboards, with the horn section providing the riff. In the right channel, you get this great little funky rhythm guitar part and I’m not sure if that’s Tom or Dave Stewart who played both bass and guitar on this song in addition to Tom and Mike. So again, this longer intro really sets the restless mood that the rest of the song is going to follow. The first measure of the first verse comes in on 48 seconds and that restless, agitated sound underpins the first lyric. It’s a very spartan, mechanical tone overall with that rhythm guitar panned hard right and Mike’s lead playing panned slightly to the left. We also get some seemingly unrelated abstract lines in the verse, with Tom singing “we got a man on the moon” to which the choir responds “it ain’t nothing to me”. The backing vocals are sung by Mike, Howie, and Dave Stewart and I do believe this is the first time that Mike is credited with backing vocals on a Heartbreakers record. It’s almost certain that the three men would have recorded their half of the call and response as a group rather than individually and you really get a lot of room reverb and their delivery is slightly sloppy and syncopated, giving it a really live feel. Through this section, the drums are keeping a metronomically tight backbeat and the bass guitar is really staccato and stabbed, with only a very few small runs and licks. So you can tell immediately that this part isn’t something that Howie would have written, nor Tom or Mike for that matter. It’s so far from their wheelhouse that it could only be an outside player, in this case, the aforementioned Dave Stewart. The funky stutter-stepping verse then gives way to a much brighter, more Heartbreakers-esque chorus. But where three years ago, the padding would have been provided by Benmont on organ, here it’s the horns that fill out that section. To me, it’s a little jarring because that upper register sounds a little tinny and unfulfilling. Think about how Benmont might have played that in place of the horns; probably in the mid range on the Hammond, bringing the lush wobble of the Leslie speaker into play. I like the way the guitars open up in this section and Mike’s bluesy licks are replaced by a much cleaner tone that harkens back once more to the bands’ more Byrds-oriented stylings. The drum pattern doesn’t change in this section either and I honestly can’t imagine that Stan overly enjoyed recording whatever drums he did on this track. For such a funky feeling song through the A sections, it’s a fairly lifeless, uninspiring drum part. We also get some keyboard, or synth after the line “right with you” that I can’t quite peg. It sounds like a synth but there isn’t anyone credited with synth on this track in the liner notes.

The chorus leads straight into the next verse with no fill, so again, very un Stan-ish. Here, Tom is talking about smiling politicians and songs from rich musicians, “called tokyo long distance and the Queen came for tea”. So thematically it feels like the lyrics are about the disposable nature of fame and stardom. Might mean somethin’ to, it means nothin’ to me. We hear that cool phase effect on Tom’s vocal on third line, as we did in the first verse which changes up the dynamic a little, but otherwise, this verse doesn’t build on the first in any way. Likewise the second iteration of the chorus doesn’t take us to any new scenery with Tom, I’m fairly certain, singing his own major fifth harmonies over the line “I can go right with you”.

After this second chorus, we get a key change into the bridge, which is my favourite part of the entire song. Again we get that chiming Byrds-esque lick over the root chord from Mike and I’d be willing to bet that’s being strummed out on his Rickenbacker. Those notes just ring out like shiny silver bells. We also get some double time toms and some bigger floor tom hits from Stan in this section so you know he’s not a character from Westworld just robotically playing the same four bars repeatedly. Just as it starts to get interesting though and you hear the beginning of what you think is likely going to be a rip-roaring solo, the song heads back abruptly into the next verse. Those really low, fairly quite toms, or more likely electronic drums, are retained through this verse and we do get some different sonic touches with some heavily slid or whammy bar’d guitar notes thrown in to give the song a more greasy layer. We also get an ominous suspended minor chord faded in on the synth again. That leads us back into the chorus again which cuts half way through back into that bridge section again for 8 bars before we drop AGAIN into another verse. The lyric in this verse is a thinly veiled jab at TV evangelists who “have a message for avoiding the wreckage” as Tom songs before calling out gypsies at home watching Jerry Falwell on TV. Then the kicker here is wryly placed - might mean something to you, it ain’t nothin to me. I’m glad that the reference to Falwell is less than flattering in this song as, to put it mildly, I wasn’t a fan. After this last verse chorus, the song is basically done and we get a protracted, minute and a half fade out around the funky intro progression. Mike Campbell adds some trippy guitar into this section and the drums cut out with Benmont then ripping out a killer jazzy piano part over top of reedy synth pad and the horns keeping that base motif  repeating. 

Alright folks, It’s time for some Petty Trivia! 

Your question from last week was this; Three of the following states are the only ones in which the Heartbreakers never played a live show, but which is the State in which they did play? Is it West Virginia, Alaska, Utah,  or Vermont? Well, it might not be a huge surprise to learn that Tom and the boys never made it up to Alaska, but it’s surprising that West Virginia wasn’t a stop on a tour of the southern states. You’d also have been pretty confident in thinking that the band would have stopped in Vermont as they did that northeastern swing, but again, you’d be wrong. It was almost as much of a surprise to me that the band did play Utah when it didn’t play a couple of those other states. The Heartbreakers took the Dogs with Wings tour to Salt Lake City on August 10, 1995, and on November 5th 2002, the Last DJ tour made an appearance in  West Valley City.

Your question for this week is this. How many #1 singles did Tom enjoy, both solo and with the Heartbreakers, on the US Rock chart? IS it a) zero, b) 6, c) 10, or d) 15

OK, back to the song. On the subsequent Southern Accents tour in 1985, the Heartbreakers recorded a live set at the Wiltern Theatre in Los Angeles on August 7, which was released as Pack up the Plantation Live (with a few tracks recorded on other dates), on November 25, 1985. 3 months from recording to release for a live album is pretty great and shows you that there were almost certainly very few overdubs, if any, on that live record. The version on that record is, in my opinion vastly superior to the studio version. First of all, it’s ever so slightly slower, second of all, the drums are live and Stan swings them slightly, like a Phil Rudd ACDC groove, adding in hat lifts and a few small fills, to make it actually sound like the Heartbreakers. We also get way more Benmont, both on the organ and piano. When the song flips to that major key middle eight, you also have way bigger dynamics. Also MIke Campbell is playing his absolute balls off on this one. This song is perfect for a live setting as it’s essentially a jam track rather than being something that has any sort of poignant meaning. And it just absolutely cooks in this live arrangement. Tom’s vocal is incredible and the call and response sections are beautifully full, with the addition of the Rebelletts on additional backing vocals. So when I listen to a jam song in a live setting I enjoy it a lot more. On the record it really sticks out like a sore thumb. We also do get a face melter from Mike and my friend Pete Nestor commented today how much more Dave Gilmour that guitar tone is and I’d add that a lot of the bends he’s putting in there, definitely have that Gilmour growl. We do also get that Benmont piano scat with Stan adding in a killer funky, syncopated calypso style beat to proceedings. Even the horns on this sound fuller, brassier, and richer. Everything about this version is superior to the studio recording to the extent that I can’t imagine that you’d ever listen to the Southern Accents version on a playlist when you have this one to go to. Even down to the horn stabs in the big rock n roll stop ending, it’s night and day.

Alright folks, that’s all for this week. Look, I’m going to be honest, I always listen to this track when I’m listening to the album because, although it’s jarringly out of place with songs like Rebels, Dogs on the Run, Southern Accents, or The Best of Everything, or songs that didn’t make the final album, like Trailer, Walkin From the Fire, or The Apartment Song, it’s part of that set of songs. However, I don’t listen to the song on its own and I just don’t love the arrangement or the instrumentation. Like I said, the live version absolutely cooks and I love listening to that when I’m throwing up Pack up the Plantation. However, the lyrics are fairly minimal and fall short of Tom’s better work, never mind his best work and feel a little disposable. I think there’s a reason they never tried to rework this one live without the horns and Heartbreakers and horns just don’t go together for me, and I say this with apologies to the many people who loved that development in the band’s sound. So I’m stuck with a difficult decision. I feel I have to rate the studio version and not the live version and I’ll be talking about Pack Up The Plantation Live with my cohost John Paulsen, maybe as a bonus episode at the end of this season. So what I think I’ll do is give you my score for the studio version AND the live version so you can see where I’m coming from.

For me, the studio version of this song is middling 5 out of 10. I don’t dislike it particularly, but I don’t listen to it at all, unless I’m spinning Southern Accents in its entirety. I find it sonically jarring and haphazardly arranged, never settling into one vibe or another. The live version however, is a strong 7 pushing hard toward an 8 because I think the work Mike puts in on guitar and Benmont’s ripping piano along with the addition of organ and more layering to the vocals, just elevates it a ton.

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Petty Trivia

QUESTION: How many #1 singles did Tom enjoy, both solo and with the Heartbreakers, on the US Rock chart? IS it a) zero, b) 6, c) 10, or d) 15

ANSWER: I guess this was a very slightly trick question in that you had to pay attention to the word “Rock” in US Rock Chart. Unfathomably, Tom never had a Billboard #1 either solo or with the Heartbreakers. However, the Tom did enjoy ten #1 singles on the US Rock chart; The Waiting, You Got Lucky, Jammin’ Me, I Won’t Back Down, Runnin’ Down a Dream, Free Fallin’, Learning to Fly, Out in the Cold, Mary Jane’s Last Dance, and You Don’t Know How It Feels. Don’t Come Around Here No More peaked at #2, as did You Wreck Me.

Lyrics

We got a man on the moon (it ain't nothin' to me)
We got more comin' soon (it ain't nothin' to me)
Got natives in New Guinea with gold in their teeth
Might mean somethin' to you
It ain't nothin' to me

But when you dance I can go right with you
Yeah when you dance I can go right with you

We got smilin' politicians
Got songs from rich musicians
Called Tokyo long distance and the queen came for tea
Might mean somethin' to you
It ain't nothin' to me

But when you dance I can go right with you
Yeah when you dance I can go right with you

I got a dog on my leg
I'm walking on eggs
Missionaires walking backwards
Touch 'em and they bleed
Might mean somethin' to you
It ain't nothin' to me

But when you dance I can go right with you
Yeah when you dance I can go right with you

Everyone has a message
For avoiding the wreckage
Gypsies at home watching Jerry Falwell on TV
Might mean somethin' to you
It ain't nothin' to me

Absolutely, infinitum!

Oh yes baby that's really something!
Ha! Ha! Ha

Yeah, that's really something!
Ha!

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