S8E3 Love Is a Long Road

Free Fallin'« PREVIOUS EPISODE   A Face In The CrowdNEXT EPISODE »


Length: 23:10 - Release Date: July 19, 2023

Love is a Long Road is a really durable song and though I pointed out that it has a few rock tropes in it, they’re not overdone and not dated and I think this song really holds up well in its original recorded form. It’s another song with a very simple structure but with a couple of nice twists and turns in it.

Listen to the song here: https://youtu.be/2AilA-M6N5U
Check out this great live Sounstage version here: https://youtu.be/IZKXHkx_kec
If you want to listen to the very first live performance of the song, on January 29, 1990 in Charlotte, you can find it here: https://tinyurl.com/4feb2fj3

Album version

Live 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 second 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. 

Before we start, I wanted to give a quick shout out to Will Porteous who, I know, has been waiting for this season of the podcast, but possibly, is looking forward to next season even more. I’m really looking forward to having Will on the show as a guest and I know you’re gonna love him, even though I’m probably going to need to put a “strong language” warning on that episode! Any time two old lags start yacking, it’s bound to get a bit salty! But on a serious note, Will has been a phenomenal champion for the show and is a brilliantly creative and very funny fella. If you’re anywhere near Norfolk in the UK and you’re looking for a great little indie record store, be sure to check out Wildflower records, on Church Street in Diss. Anyway, Will has been sharing the episode links for this season, as have the wonderful folks over in the Tom Petty Fans Forever Facebook group, so I just wanted to give them a little love back. I forgot to post the poll about I Won’t Back Down last week, but when I’d asked how y’all would rate Free Fallin’, the results were slightly surprising. A staggering 25% of you rated Free Fallin between 1 and 6, 8.3% rated it between 7 and 9% and 66.7% of you correctly said that it’s a 10 out of 10. This prompted Will to suggest that, and I quote, “Die hard fans thinking it’s gash for no reason other than it was a mega hit. It’s a perfect song with an amazing story behind it. For Gods sake, it’s a classic!” Now, I will say that I had shared the link to the poll on my other podcast socials and so I suspect that it wasn’t Petty fans downvoting it, but Will’s point has merit I think. There’s a certain type of fan that will poo poo an artist’s most commercially successful record just because they think it’s somehow gauche to write a big hit. I couldn’t disagree more and I covered this in the episode, but the reason Free Fallin is still played regularly on rock AND pop radio is because it’s a beautifully constructed piece that you can sing along. 

Speaking of beautifully constructed pieces, today’s episode covers track three from Full Moon Fever, Love is a Long Road. If you want to hear the song before we start digging into it, I’ve left a link in the episode notes. I don’t actually use any of the music from the song in the episode itself out of respect for the estate and to avoid any copyright issues. So if you’re not familiar with this one, go give it a listen before we start!

In Paul Zollo’s fabulous book, Conversations With Tom Petty, Paul mentions that Mike Campbell had said that Love is a Long Road was inspired by motorcycles. Now, before we get to Tom’s response, I don’t know why, but as badass and as cool as Mike Campbell is, I simply cannot imagine him on a motorbike! I don’t really know why. I mean, I can’t imagine Tom riding a hog either to be honest. Maybe they’re just a very different kind of cool than biker cool. The kind of cool that doesn’t try to hard, or really at all, and certainly doesn’t need any props. Well, other than a guitar, spotlights and thousands of fans. Look I don’t know where I’m going with this, other than to say that the image of Mike Campbell riding a Harley is just completely incongruous to me! Maybe it was to Tom too, because he responds, “I didn’t know that. I remember writing it. Mike had a track that was very close to what we used, but it had a very different rhythm.” Tom also mentions that they recorded it without Jeff Lynne, who had returned to England briefly and that it was a lot more chaotic, with lots of drum fills. On his return, according to Tom, “he helped us straighten it out. He really was the one who made it work.” Future Wilbury’s drummer Jim Keltner was brought in to play drums and percussion. Tom goes one to say that “It was basically, musically, Mike’s idea. I wrote all the melody and lyrics to it and then all of us had a hand in the arrangement.”

The song has always given me flashbacks to Won’t Get Fooled again, with the keyboard intro and then the huge power chords. This has to be the first time Mike has thrown those big hard rock chords and tone into a composition that I can think of and it lends it a real 80s rock feel. Not in a bad way at all, but again it sounds a little unlike anything Mike and Tom had written to this point. 

The keyboard part, played by either Tom or Jeff Lynne, but I suspect that it’s Tom, sits on the fifths rather than the full chords. Maybe a little music theory is necessary. I’ve definitely talked about fifths before but maybe some of you aren’t sure what that means. So, a major chord is comprised of the root note, or first, the 3rd, and the 5th. So [sing Do Mi So]. A 5th chord, or a power fifth as it’s sometimes called when it’s chugged on a really crunchy guitar, is just the root and the fifth, so [Do Mi]. So that initial keyboard part is playing a B fifth. B, and Gb before you get a nice little shift up in the bass note and down in the higher note, which sounds great. Again, it has that sort of 80s rock feel like, maybe Bon Jovi or Bryan Adams. But because it’s Tom, it also just feels a little different. Also, with neither Tom nor Mike being shredders on the piano, it’s very simple. After four bars, the intro riff repeats and you also hear the addition of a synth pad again in the background, very subtly. But the volume is very slowly increased into Mike Campbell’s first bombastic power chord. With that power chord, you also get the unmistakable sound of real drums. And the drums on this one are pretty high in the mix and sound fantastic. I’m pretty sure that Keltner would have played the drums somewhere other than Mike’s garage, where most of the rest of the album was recorded, because a Dennis Kirk is credited with engineering on this track, so my suspicion is that the drums were recorded in a different location. Regardless, it’s incredible to think that the majority of this album was recorded in Mike Campbell’s garage and Mike was the sound engineer! In Warren Zanes biography Petty, Jeff Lynne comments that “I’d only known Mike Campbell for his brilliant guitar. But as an engineer, he gave me everything I wanted, got it going as quickly as I needed, y’know” One more string to Mr. Campbell’s bow! 

Once those big drums come in, pounding along with the chords, the intro goes around for another 8 bars. On last week’s episode, I commented that I Won’t Back Down really feels like a very modern song because the lyrics come in so quickly. This track takes the opposite tack and gives us a fantastic intro. Easy to see why this was used as the tour opener on the 1995. You can really go to town opening a rock show with this song. Along with those power chords, you also have Tom’s guitar with a brighter tone and I think there might even by a third guitar playing an arpeggiated broken chord in there. Again, for a producer who has a reputation for simplicity, there’s a lot of guitar. To quote the famous detective Clouseau, it is obvious to my trained eye, that there is a lot more going on here, than meets the ear!” The whole thing just sounds so big after the relative sonic calm of the opening two songs.

We get a thunderous three note tom fill into the first verse and then Keltner just sits solidly on the backbeat on the drums, with the bass following on the root notes, and a little tambourine sprinkled in lightly for good measure. One thing I like about this riff is that it doesn’t resolve down to the root as you’d expect. The progression is B, D, A . . . E, D, A. The first time you hear it, you’re probably expecting it to be B, D, A . . . E, D, B. But by landing on that natural seventh in the back half of each phrase, it creates a real tension in the verses. We’re also hearing more textured guitar rather than those crashing chords and again the laying of these guitars just fills the sonic spectrum and makes this song feel fat. Maybe even fat with a p - h!

Tom’s vocal is crisp and clean on this one and he’s using what I’d kinda call his natural voice. He’s not leaning into the drawl, isn’t pinching his delivery, and isn’t having to stretch at all. It’s a song he can sing without breaking a sweat and hey, you know what? Those are nice to have in the set! 

The song to this point has followed a structure of 8 bar sections. 8 bars of initial intro with just the keys, 8 bars with the guitars, then a verse lasting 8 bars. To take us into the chorus, we get a pre-chorus of four bars with a key change to go along with it. This section alternates between G maj and A maj before resolving back to B for the chorus. The guitars back off here too, playing nice ringing open chords, with the staccato keyboard also dropped out to create that slight dynamic change. This changes again in the third and fourth bars, as the guitars come off beat and play a syncopated, choppy chord progression to lead us into the chorus. It’s not a huge change, but it adds a wonderful flavour that wasn’t there before. Think of it like a pinch of cilantro in a spicy curry. And for any of you who insist that cilantro tastes like soap, you are out of your ever-loving minds! The last thing to note here is that there’s some sort of effect on Tom’s vocal on the line “to have each other to hold”. I’m not sure if it’s double tracking or a little chorus or something. It’s really light, but it gives those higher notes a slightly more haunted quality. 

The chorus, eight bars again, then drops us back down to that root B fifth chord. The progression here alternates between B and E and again this is so  densely packed with guitar, but you can hear the lead playing that little lick. The rhythmic keyboard part is back and we’re also getting some fantastic high harmonies on the word “Love”. Again another little change we get is an inversion of the progression in the last two bars. The first six bars of the chorus are B, E, B, E, B, E and then in this last couple of bars, it switches to E, B. So it stays on the fifth for two bars before dropping back to the root. On this change back to B, we also have everything drop out for a big three count hang until the snare and tom hit on the four leading us out of the chorus. One other thing I should mention and I don’t know if I picked up on this before, but the crash cymbals are mixed fairly low on this track. Obviously this is deliberate and probably you don’t want a big splashy cymbal sound cluttering up the sonic space. But I thought I’d mention that as I was waiting for a big Stan Lynch-esque crash on that final note, but what you get is more subdued.

The second verse-chorus pair is a carbon copy of the first, with nothing added or changed. The keys come back in pounding out those eight notes and the bass is plodding away on the root notes, underpinning that straight backbeat. Again we get that stop at the end of the chorus. You know, thinking about Jim Keltner’s drums on this one, it always reminds me of his work with the Wilburys. When I covered A Woman In Love in season four, I’d commented that you don’t necessarily need Duck Dunn to play that bassline. You could almost make the same argument that you don’t need one of the greatest drummers of all time to play a straight backbeat on fairly straight ahead rock song. Except when you do. And especially when you can. Keltner is exactly Tom and Jeff’s kind of musician. He understands exactly what the song needs and plays no more and no less. But he also has a very specific thing that he does that is hard to explain if you’ve never played drums. Yes, he’s playing a very simple part, but he’s also playing it absolutely immaculately. We’ve talked a bit about programmed drums on the first two tracks of Full Moon Fever but there’s not a drum note anywhere on this song that isn’t being played by an expert set of hands. And he makes it sound simple and tight, but it’s not mechanical or metronomic. He has that uncanny ability, like Phil Rudd of ACDC, to play a deceptively straight groove with a ton of feel and a very specific feel. Trust me, I can play every note of this song without breaking a sweat - I know where all the accents are supposed to be, but if you dropped Keltner’s drum part out and let me re-record it, it just wouldn’t sound the same. No matter how many hundreds of hours I practiced it. Anyway, sorry about that, if you’re new to the podcast, I’m a drummer so I sometimes end up wandering off down percussive rabbit holes! Just to say that there’s a reason that EVERYONE wants Jim Keltner to play drums on their record. 

This second chorus leads us into a Mike Campbell solo. Guess how many bars? Look at you, you got it! A full eight bars of Mike doing Mike things on his axe. He plays this one with so much bluesy feel. He’s putting a ton of vibrato on those held notes. The solo isn’t pushed right up on the mix as much as it could be, but Mike’s perfect tone still rings through. The progression here is again slightly different and instead of a one bar drop, that we get in the chorus, here it’s two bars that we’re left listening to Mike strangle his guitar high up the neck with a ferocious three semitone bend up to the last note.

We then get the intro played over with the keyboards alone first and then the big power chords and thunderous drum hits. Guess how many bars? Yep! You got it again, but eight in total this time. So once through the full progression with just those eight notes and the synth pad a little higher in the mix, then once more through with the big rock stabs. 

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

I Won’t Back Down was the second Tom Petty song covered by Johnny Cash on his third American series album. Which of the following artists was also covered by Cash on this record? Was it a) Neil Diamond b) Soundgarden, c) Nine Inch Nails, or d) U2?

This was a bit of a sneaky, dirty pool question because Cash covered songs by all four artists in his American series and two of them appear on the same album! The answer is…… U2 annnnd Neil Diamond! His cover of One, from U2’s Achtung Baby appeared, alongside I Won’t Back Down, on the third American series record. ALso on that album was his cover of Diamond’s Solitary Man. Cash added his rendition of Rusty Cage, by Soundgarden on Unchained, the same album on which he covered Southern Accents.  His iconic cover of Nine Inch Nails’ Hurt was from the fourth record, The Man Comes Around. Again Tom and the Heartbreakers would play as Cash’s band for his cover of I Won’t Back Down. Of course the friendship that Tom stuck up with one of his heroes would later lead to one of Tom’s best opening lyrics. But we’ll get to that when we get to it!

Your question for this week is this; How many songs from Full Moon Fever appear in the top ten list of most performed live songs? Is it a) 2, b) 3, c) 4, or d) 5? Tune in next week to find out!

OK, back to the song. Coming back out of that solo and into the third verse, there’s not a ton of change here again, except there’s a huge echo/delay added to Tom’s vocal when he sings the word “up” at the end of “Yeah it was hard to give up” and it lands between the beats. This effect isn’t then added to the end of the next line, “never enough” and really, it would sound a bit weird because “uff” isn’t a word maybe? I kid, but on a serious note, up ends on a sharp consonant, where enough is much softer and an echo wouldn’t really have the same punch at all. Also, you don’t want to overdo it and if we’re learning anything from this record it’s maybe that Jeff Lynne never does anything unnecessary!

At the end of this verse, we get the first change from Tom vocally. On “To try and save my soul” he does move back to that pinched delivery where he’s really closing his throat and shoving the air angrily through his windpipe. I’ve come to think of it as his “Refugee voice” but of course he used it on the first album on Fooled Again, so it was definitely always there.

There’s one last little trick up this song’s sleeve. You’d be fairly safe assuming that song is going to run through to a fade out here. But coming out of this chorus, we get short, four bar instrumental break where that chorus lick is played much more overtly. After this, we do go back into the chorus, but we also have Mike playing a seering high note solo centred on one or two notes, but really laying into them. We’re also hearing Tom drop out and let the harmonies take the vocal spotlight and then some vocalizations. 

And here’s the last little bit of magic. The drums stop seemingly too suddenly, and the rest of the instruments are dropped out to let Mike’s last tortured note die underneath the rhythm guitars before a final drum hit/big power chord to finish. No fade out baby! It’s a very satisfying ending to the song. 

Lyrically, this track is basically a mini three act play. “There was this girl I knew, She said she cared about me. She tried to make my world The way she thought it should be.” We’re establishing a dysfunctional relationship where Tom is met someone who wants him to be something he’s not. “Yeah, we were desperate then To have each other to hold. But love is a long, long road.” So you get the sense here that the narrator thinks that maybe this relationship just needs work. I recently celebrated 25 years of marriage and can definitely tell you that it takes work. Relationships are very rarely easy or simple and this is the story that the first verse sets up, with that realization in the chorus that love is a long road. The second verse then jumps us forward in time: “There were so many times I would wake up at noon. With my head spinning 'round, I would wait for the moon” They say that comics and musicians keep similar hours and I’ve heard Tom’s wife Dana say that Tom was certainly not an early riser. I do love that line though “I would wait for the moon”. Such a great way of saying that this character definitely feels more comfortable at night. But then things take the turn and we find out that things aren’t going well: “And give her one more chance To try and save my soul. But love is a long, long road”. The but in this context isn’t a “but we’ll get there” and more a “but sometimes it doesn’t work out and it’s hard” to me. A very subtle shift set up by the narrator trying to reconcile what he needs and what he’s getting. 

The last verse/chorus is then the resolution where the protagonist realizes that this relationship is over and he needs to move on. “Yeah, it was hard to give up. Some things are hard to let go. 

"Some things are never enough. I guess I only can hope” and this broken sentence leads into the prechorus really nicely; “I only can hope For maybe one more chance To try and save my soul"

But love is a long, long road” That’s a really powerful last line. It’s accepting the agency for change. I can’t rely on anyone else to make me happy, that has to be intrinsic, not extrinsic. There’s also another little bit of Petty stardust sprinkled in there. “I guess I only can hope” rather than “I guess I can only hope”. You could definitely sing it that way and semantically it means the same thing, but the cadence wouldn’t work nearly as well. I love those little songwriting tricks that the cream of the crop use.

Love is a Long Road is the b-side to Free Fallin’ and I can’t help wondering how this one would have done if it had been released as a single in its own right. It did receive a significant amount of radio play and reached #7 on the Billboard Album Rock Charts. My album-wrap cohost John Paulsen and I have chatted before about songs that chart that weren’t singles and this is likely where a lot of these types of tracks end up with a chart position. I do think this could have been a single, but when you look at the five songs that were released from the album, you’d have to say that you wouldn’t replace any of them as they all have a specific character in their own right and provide a broader look at the content of the record. 

The track was first played live in Charlotte, North Carolina on January 29, 1990. It opened the show that night and Tom would play seven songs in total from Full Moon Fever. I’m going to drop a link to that performance in the episode notes, because there is a bootleg copy of it available through the fabulous Live Petty website. It’s really cool to be able to hear the first live airing of a song and at some point, I might see if I can collate as many of those as we have access to! 

OK PettyHeads, that’s it for this week! 

No let up in pace or quality on the album so far. Love is a Long Road is a really durable song and though I pointed out that it has a few rock tropes in it, they’re not overdone and not dated and I think this song really holds up well in its original recorded form. It’s another song with a very simple structure but with a couple of nice twists and turns in it. Mike Campbell’s guitars sound great, Jim Keltner really sticks the landing on the drums and it’s a spot on vocal performance from Tom. Can I rank it as high as Free Fallin and I Won’t Back Down? I don’t think so, but this would be a song I would have been thrilled to hear live. So Love is a Long Road gets a really solid 8/10.


Petty Trivia

QUESTION: How many songs from Full Moon Fever appear in the top ten list of most performed live songs? Is it a) 2, b) 3, c) 4, or d) 5? Tune in next week to find out!

ANSWER: Well, the answer is….. 3. And it’s the big three you might expect; I Won’t Back Down, Runnin Down a Dream, and Free Fallin are the 3rd, 4th, and 5th most played live songs in Tom’s catalogue, with 645, 645, and 614 live performances each according to setlist.fm. That platform is obviously not always 100% accurate but proportionally I think it’s pretty darned close. The top ten most played live songs are: American Girl, Refugee, I Won’t Back Down, Runnin Down a Dream, Free Fallin, Mary Jane’s Last Dance, Listen to Her Heart, You Wreck Me, Don’t Come Around Here No More, and Learning to Fly. A pretty staggering set of songs by anyone’s standards and obviously only the tip of the iceberg.


There was a girl I knew
She said she cared about me
She tried to make my world
The way she thought it should be
Yeah, we were desperate then
To have each other to hold
But love is a long, long road

There were so many times
I would wake up at noon
With my head spinning 'round
I would wait for the moon
And give her one more chance
To try and save my soul
But love is a long, long road

Yeah, it was hard to give up
Some things are hard to let go
Some things are never enough
I guess I only can hope
For maybe one more chance
To try and save my soul
But love is a long, long road