Everything is alright. For now at least. And that’s where I think this song becomes much more interesting. Despite the light fluffiness of the verse progression and the sincere expression of adoration in the lyrics, that caveat on the title line, we’re alright “for now” belies a slight tension in Tom’s state of mind. Now, it just could that no other words fit as well as “for now”, but given that Tom was very rarely glib about word choice, I would say that this deliberate inclusion of doubt either betrays his emotional state at the time or possibly his unwillingness to be absolute in his assertion that everything will be fine.
Today’s episode covers the fifth track from side two of Full Moon Fever, Alright For Now.
You can listen to the song here: https://youtu.be/l4zpU9T937I
Fillmore '97 version'
Live Anthology version
(* 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 fourteenth episode of season eight of the Tom Petty Project Podcast! I am your host, Kevin Brown. This is the weekly 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.
Some quick social media stuff before we dig into this week’s song. First of all, I seem to have forgotten to put up the poll because… well, I have no excuse! But, over on Twitter, the marvelous Will Porteous from Wildflower Records commented “I used to play this when I used to do acoustic gigs. Such a playful song. Those lyrics are so fantastic. They remind of the more lighthearted Wilbury’s tracks.” There’s definitely lots of Wilburys influence on this album and I couldn’t agree more that this song is one of the clearest examples of it. On Facebook, Sight & Sound commented “Amazing skill set as a writer to be able to take us from something as big as love, or our place in the universe, and then to a nostalgic spot of only a few hundred square feet. All while using a killer riff to boot, and all in two minutes and 30 seconds. Reminded a little of the great Canadian rockers , Bare Naked Ladies killer tune; “The Old Apartment”. For those of you who don’t know the Barenaked Ladies, give this song a go - and everything else from the same album! Great stuff! As I was reflecting on the wistful nature of the lyrics in The Apartment Song, Laura Jean commented “That's something we can all relate to, I think you know anybody, that's why Tom's songs just hit such a chord with everyone, because they were so real and you could relate to what he was saying” and my pal Paul Roberts said “Kev.. Great podcast as usual. Whilst The Apartment Song is great I don't quite rate it as high as you. I'll go 8.
We all have our Rock Solid faves of the Petty deep cuts.. this is one of yours & I understand that. I rave about Dog On The Run & some Petty fans have never even heard of it!!” Thanks as always Paul and I love that you keep dropping Dog on the Run into the conversation to keep introducing people to a song they might not know! Dean West commented “In my top five all time favorites. Simplicity at its finest.” and Edie Lott mentions the earlier version of the song, saying “I love the version of this song with Stevie”. I commented on last week’s episode that this track is one of those rare ones where I love both versions and couldn’t really pick between the two. Thanks as always to everyone who commented and listened to last week’s show. I think that’s been my favourite episode to write so far. Certainly in the top five!
Today’s episode covers the fifth track from side two of Full Moon Fever, Alright For Now. If this is your first time listening to the podcast, I don’t play any of the music from the song in the episode itself in order to avoid any copyright issues and to be mindful of Tom’s estate. If you want to give the song a listen before we dig into it, there’s a link in the episode notes!
On February 23 or last year, Dana Petty posted on the Tom Petty Nation Facebook group that “He wrote this beautiful lullaby for Annakim when she was about 6 or 7”
When Paul Zollo asks Tom about the song in Conversations With Tom Petty, Tom confirms this, saying “That was written late at night, with my kids in mind. That was when Jeff [Lynne] wasn’t there.” Paul then comments on the beautiful finger-picking style of guitar playing that’s used and Tom responds “Mike and I did it. We did that live, the two of us, just playing together.” OVerdubs were then added later, specifically the bass guitar, additional acoustic guitar, and harmony vocals. And I think it’s safe to assume that this becomes the only song on the album that Jeff Lynne doesn’t actually play on with Mike Campbell playing that bass guitar line.
The song really has a very live feel to it and begins with a false start, followed by Tom saying “One more” and counting them back into the next take. The intro is short and sweet with at run around the verse chord progression and I think there are three guitars here, with the two live acoustics being played by Tom and Mike, with a third playing some of those arpeggiated runs. I think this is another first for a Tom song in that one of the guitars is doubling the vocal melody line pretty much all the way through the song, accentuating that melody.
The twin fingerpicking style in this one always reminds me of Never Going Back Again by Fleetwood Mac, which many an aspiring guitarist would have ripped out their hair trying to copy before realizing that it was more than one guitar part. This one is much more pronounced in terms of being more than one instrument, but the weaving and blending of the notes is crafted so delicately that you are immersed so fully into the melody that it’s virtually impossible to pick out which notes are being played by which guitarist. It’s a very basic four chord song other than the bridge and has a lilting folky quality to it that just breezes along effortlessly.
The two verses to start the song are only a pair of lines each that end with that minor sixth, fourth, root progression. There is then a repeat of this verse pattern with an acoustic guitar taking the place of the lead vocal and it’s hear that you can hear those lovely hammer-ons that I’m gonna say Tom is playing. For all you non guitar nerds, a hammer on is where the note is played by simply “hammering” your finger onto the fretboard to sound the note rather than picking or plucking it. In this case, there’s a picked note followed immediately by the hammered note. It gives the chord a nice suspension with the fifth note (A) being plucked and immediately the sixth note then being hammered on. So you get that very slight dissonance that the major 6th note gives you in a chord. The vocal also begins on the major 6th and it works beautifully here to give you the slightly restless feel of a baby just starting to fall asleep, fussing all the while.
During the bridge section, we get a lovely harmony vocal that I suspect is Tom’s voice singing two harmony parts over top of the lead. It doesn’t sound like Jeff Lynne at all and Mike Campbell isn’t credited with any backing vocals on this record. We also get that wonderful Beatlesy chord change to the third, which is an F# and then down to Em. As my pal Will Porteous said of last week’s song that it has a large Wilbury’s influence, this chord change in this part of the song really feels very George Harrison-esque to me. It’s a key change for four bars before dropping to the A chord again for two bars that hang the bridge slightly longer than you think.
Alright folks, It’s time for some Petty Trivia!
Your question from last week was this: Buddy Holly’s Peggy Sue shares a strange connection to the The Apartment Song. What is it? Is it a) the album it is on was released on the same month and day as Full Moon Fever, b) Buddy Holly’s eponymous album featuring the song peaked at the same position on the Billboard chart c) The producer’s last name was Petty (Norman - who also cowrote it), or d) Peggy Sue and The Apartment Song are exactly the same length.
Well, Buddy Holly’s eponymous record was released on February, 1958, while Full Moon Fever came out April, 1989 and while Tom’s first solo album peaked at #3 on the Billboard chart, as far as we can tell, there’s no record of Buddy Holly’s debut charting at all! Peggy Sue clocks in at 2 minutes 30 seconds, while The Apartment Song clocks in one second longer at 2:31, so the answer is . . . that Buddy Holly’s producer was named Petty. Norman Petty to be precise, who also cowrote Peggy Sue and many of Holly’s other early hits. An accomplished songwriter and performer in his own right, Petty opened Clovis studio and produced albums for a number of Texas performers including Buddy Knox, Waylon Jennings, and eventual Wilbury Roy Orbison. So there’s another connection here aside from just the name! The studio is still standing and you can tour the location by appointment if you’re ever in Clovis, Texas.
Your question for this week is this. Which is the only song performed by the Heartbreakers that was co written by Tom and Benmont Tench? Is it a) Welcome To Hell, b) Melinda, c) Sins of My Youth, or d) Dreamville
OK, back to the song. That beautiful lift to the A major at the end of the bridge leads us perfectly back into the next verse. This verse features a harmony vocal and has more words fit into the space of the progression that the first two. Again I think this is a deliberate approximation of the how restless babies often are before they finally close their eyes and drift off to sleep. Those harmonies are then taken back out for the final verse before coming back in for the repeat of the last line.
Tom’s vocal delivery in this one is very subdued and what I’ve called before in the podcast, his most natural voice. There’s no push or character in his vocal, it’s just a sweet, plaintive assurance to his daughter that everything is alright. For now at least. And that’s where I think this song becomes much more interesting. Despite the light fluffiness of the verse progression and the sincere expression of adoration in the lyrics. But that caveat on the title line, we’re alright “for now” belies a slight tension in Tom’s state of mind. Now, it just could that no other words fit as well as “for now”, but given that I don’t think Tom was very often glib about word choice, I would say that this deliberate inclusion of doubt either betrays his emotional state at the time or possibly his unwillingness to be absolute in his assertion that everything will be fine. Either way, I find that one a very interesting lyrical choice and I’d love to have been able to ask about it.
The live version that was included on the Fillmore 1997 release has a very different arrangement, with Benmont Tench taking the matched lead on the piano and Mike Campbell playing some beautifully modulated guitar. We also have Steve Ferrone playing some additional percussion, especially on the ride cymbals. Scott Thurston also provides the harmony parts and the effect is this gorgeous, fatter sound than we hear on the album version. The version on the Live Anthology however, is much closer to the original, only with some electric guitar rather than solely acoustic.
The song was played live 68 times, including 32 times on 1995’s Dogs With Wings tour in support of Wildflowers. So this is clearly a song that Tom connected with throughout the remainder of his career.
OK PettyHeads, that’s it for this week! A short one this week, but with a track like this, there’s not a ton to dig into and rather than drag it out, I figured I’d keep it short and sweet, like the song! Alright For Now is a sweet lullaby and a nice, gentle ode to Tom’s daughters that I would imagine still brings both tears to their eyes and joy to their hearts whenever they hear it. It’s a soulful little number that I think should have been the natural album closer and I’m going to give it a rock solid 7 out of 10.
QUESTION: Which is the only song performed by the Heartbreakers that was co written by Tom and Benmont Tench? Is it a) Welcome To Hell, b) Melinda, c) Sins of My Youth, or d) Dreamville
ANSWER: The answer is…. b) Melinda. Melinda is one of those strange tracks in the Tom Petty catalogue, like Black Leather Woman, or Dog on The Run, that we only have live performances of rather than a studio recording. Oh those three though, Melinda was played fairly frequently between 2003 and 2013 and is a song that is well-loved by fans as a result of its inclusion on 2009’s Live Anthology, which I’m really excited to dig into with my co-host John Paulsen. When played live, the track was frequently for Benmont Tench to really roll up his sleeves and cut loose on the piano and remind every that we was every bit as incredible as musician as the other members of the Heartbreakers.
Goodnight baby, sleep tight, my love
May God watch over you from above
Tomorrow I'm working, what would I do?
I'd be lost and lonely if not for you
So close your eyes
We're alright for now
I've spent my life traveling, spent my life free
I could not repay all you've done for me
So sleep tight, baby, unfurrow your brow
And know I love you, we're alright for now
We're alright for now