Every hardcore Tom Petty fan knows that when Tom took the record to the execs at MCA, they didn’t like it at all. When Paul Zollo asks Tom why in Conversations with Tom Petty, Tom replies “They didn’t hear a single!” One of the other issues with the record that it was only nine tracks long. So while Jeff Lynne, who coproduced the record, was out of town, Tom and Mike recorded the lullaby, Alright For Now, but they still needed more tracks, as the late 80s was the era of the CD and you could make much longer albums for the new format, which was appealing to the suits who have no idea about creativity. Tom tells Paul, “They wanted it to be a little longer. Then I cut the Byrds song ‘Feel a Whole Lot Better’ just to make the record a little longer.”
You can listen to the song here: https://youtu.be/tZxHLkA5EcU
And if you want to check out The Byrds' original, you can find that here: https://youtu.be/to-RVV_3anw
The Byrds' 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 episode four 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 in. First of all, the poll results. I actually forgot to post the poll on Friday so it only went up on Sunday. Right now though, the results are overwhelmingly positive. On Twitter, 6.7% incorrectly graded Runnin Down a Dream between 1 and 6, 16.7% gave it a 7 to 9 rating and 76.7% rated this a 10 out of 10. Over on Facebook it was all ten at least, with a couple of 11s, a 12, and a 15.
Today’s episode covers the first track from side two of Full Moon Fever and the first of only four cover versions that would make its way onto one of Tom’s studio albums. If you’re new to the podcast, I don’t play any of the music from the song in the episode itself out of respect for the estate and to avoid any copyright issues. If you’re not familiar with this one, there’s a link to it in the episode notes so that you can give it a listen before we dig into Feel a Whole Lot Better.
The first thing to comment on is that on Full Moon Fever, the song is called Feel a Whole Lot Better, but on The Byrds’ seminal debut record Mr. Tambourine Man, the original is named I’ll Feel a Whole Lot Better. Who knows why Tom decided to change it but weirdly, it looks weird with the contraction “It’s” before it to me because I know it so well from Full Moon Fever. The Byrds 1965 record went to #6 in the US and #7 in the UK, right around the time The Beatles were moving away from Help and toward Rubber Soul and eventually Revolver. But The Byrds were a very distinctive American band with an American sound and would be inexorably linked to the Summer of Love and the Hippy movement. I’ve always found the Byrds an interesting band. With Gene Clark, Roger McGuinn (originally known by his first name Jim), and David Crosby all learning their craft as writers, they still packed their albums with plenty of covers, so it almost seems fitting that this the band that Tom chose to honour with a cover version for Full Moon Fever.
Every hardcore Tom Petty fan knows that when Tom took the record to the execs at MCA, they didn’t like it at all. When Paul Zollo asks Tom why in Conversations with Tom Petty, Tom replies “They didn’t hear a single!” One of the other issues with the record that it was only nine tracks long. So while Jeff Lynne, who coproduced the record, was out of town, Tom and Mike recorded the lullaby, Alright For Now, but they still needed more tracks, as the late 80s was the era of the CD and you could make much longer albums for the new format, which was appealing to the suits who have no idea about creativity. Tom tells Paul, “They wanted it to be a little longer. Then I cut the Byrds song ‘Feel a Whole Lot Better’ just to make the record a little longer.” Paul remarks that this song was written by Gene Clark and Tom replies “Yeah, to which he was eternally grateful. Then later on I brought the record back and the regime had changed at MCA. I brought exactly the same record in and they loved it”. Tom concludes by saying “This is what you’re up against in the music business. A guy can leave or come and his viewpoint is completely different than the guy that was there. You’re just at the mercy of these guys to some degree.”
Thankfully the record did come and Feel a Whole Lot Better was chosen to be the side two opener. However, before side two kicks off on the CD version, Tom inserted a now legendary little piece of levity in the pre-gap before track six. Here it is: [insert audio]
Rather comically and for probably no other reason than he was around and willing to do it, Del Shannon, (who we talked about last week on Runnin Down a Dream) provides what is listen on the record as “Barnyard noises” for the track. All good fun and another indication of how loose and creative Tom was feeling during the writing and recording of this album.
This might end up being a shorter episode than some this season purely because this is a cover. And it’s a REALLY straight cover. Where The Heartbreakers would take Beck’s song Asshole and Lucinda Williams Change The Locks and really apply the band’s sound to them, this track is really purely homage to a band that Tom, Jeff, and Mike admired.
The opening guitar lick in this one has always reminded me of The Drifters’ Song “When My Little Girl is Smiling”, another song that I absolutely love. If you were curious about where the sound in Listen to Her Heart has its roots, you’d recognize it instantly in this song. No question at all that there’s a whole lot of Rickenbacker 12 string guitar slathered all over this one. Jeff Lynne’s production is streets ahead of the 1965 original, with the bass especially being really clean and present in the mix.
The song opens with that big jangling guitar riff for four bars before Tom comes in doing his very best Gene Clark impersonation. Some songs are so completely entrenched in your brain that it can be hard to change the vocal melody because you know the original so well and I’d be willing to bet this was the case with this song. Tom would have been 14 when it was released and 37 or 38 when he recorded it. So that’s two decades of hearing a song done a very specific way.
The drums are subtly different to the original in that you don’t get the same ratatat snare intro and you get a tambourine hit along with the snare as well as what sounds like a wood block or a bongo or something in the first couple of bars.
One of five songs on Full Moon Fever that are under 3 minutes in length, this one clips along at a pretty furious pace. After 35 seconds we’ve had an intro, a verse, and a chorus already. Tom’s vocal in this first verse (and the subsequent ones) it sounds to me like Tom’s vocal is double tracked. I think I’ve talked about this before, but double tracking a lead vocal isn’t the same as adding harmonies. It means that Tom would have sung the lead vocal twice as close to one other as possible, to make the lead vocal sound thicker. We do also then get harmony vocals in the chorus, three part to my ear, with Tom and Jeff Lynne combining to replicate the Byrds fabulous multipart harmony style. After this first chorus, we then get those beautiful chiming guitars, in both channels, played by both Mike and Tom.
The second verse introduces the call and response harmony vocals in addition to the lead that Tom is singing. But it’s basically the same thing as the first verse.
This second chorus does add in a little change though that I love. The song is in A, and sticks to the 1st, 4th, 5th, minor 6th up to this point. All very straightforward and simple. And the change here isn’t a big one but it moves the song along nicely. The first chorus is a straight four bars, with that D, E, A progression back down to the root. The second chorus though adds in a G, which is the major seventh in this key. That G comes in on the fourth bar and we have then two extra bars of the root A chord - along with the opening guitar riff, before we head into the instrumental break.
I wasn’t sure whether to call this a guitar solo or go with “instrumental break” when I was writing this but it really isn’t a solo to me. This section is chock full of guitars though, with the main riff sitting underneath what sounds like two guitars playing complementary parts over top. It’s densely packed but Jeff Lynne’s genius allows him to have all this guitar going on without saturating any part of the frequency spectrum or having anything clash. The guitars are even more bright and I’m guessing that there’s mandolin in here too - which gives those really chiming tones in the left channel. Any way you cut it, this section is a glorious nod to the 60s. It’s a 40 second, 20 bar break that you can most definitely dance to. There’s a great live performance of this by The Byrds back in the 60s on a TV show where they’re singing live to a backing track and are surrounded by dancers, including two young ladies performing up on 15 foot podiums (or podia if you prefer!) It’s easy to forget that since the proliferation of electronic music in the last few decades, that people in clubs used to dance to real drums and real guitars and singers who didn’t need autotune! What a world folks, what a world!
Alright folks, It’s time for some Petty Trivia!
Your question from last week was this: In the song US 41, from 2010’s Mojo, what was the name of Lucky’s Wife? Was it a) Sandra-Dee, b) Georgie-May, c) Bernadette, or d) Annie Brown
The answer, of course, is d) Annie Brown. I can’t wait to get to Mojo and US 41. It’s one of those strange little tracks that seem in congruous in Tom’s catalogue at first glance. But it’s also a really fun, short little number that introduces the name Pulpwood to many people. Pulpwood of course being the nickname of Tom’s grandfather.
Your question for this week is this I found while researching this song and it’s a gooder. I’ll be massively impressed if anyone actually knows this without hearing the options! Here it is. Terry Melcher, born Terrence Jordan, was the producer who worked on The Byrds 1965 album Mr. Tambourine Man, which Feel a Whole Lot Better appears on. But which huge star of the silver screen was he the only son of? Was it a) Doris Day, b) Lauren Bacall, c) Grace Kelly, or d) Audrey Hepburn?
OK, back to the song. To close out the song we get one more verse chorus and then a repeat of “when you’re gone” over that root A, major seventh G alternating chord progression. To end, we get a partial reprise of the descending lick from the instrumental break. No fade out here, just the splash of a cymbal and the decay of the guitar notes. Very satisfying.
The Heartbreakers played this song 47 times live, according to Setlist.fm, primarily in 1989 on the supporting album tour and again in 2002 for the Last DJ tour, where it was usually played between You Don’t Know How It Feels and Like a Diamond. Toward the end of the tour however, it would be paired with another cover version, most usually I Need You by The Beatles or Handle With Care by Tom’s other band…
Lyrically, this one is a pretty unambiguous tale of woe. The singer has been wronged by his partner and is looking forward to not being with them any more, at which point he’ll probably “Feel a whole lot better”. I like that “probably” in there though. It exposes a slight doubt and vulnerability in the protagonist that makes it much less combative or confrontational. A super simple ABABCAB structure with a super short one line chorus. Again, very sixties pop.
Feel a Whole Lot Better is a really catchy straight down the middle pop song. This cover version of it is faithful almost to the note most of the way through. We do get some slight variation in the percussion but the guitars, bass, and vocals are matched as closely to the original as you could realistically do it. So that begs the question, why do it? Most of the time, I much prefer an artist to take a song and make it their own. But as we heard from Tom, this was essentially a track recorded to pad out the length of the album. And we know that Alright For Now was another of those tracks, but that one has so much charm and is again so different to the majority of the catalogue that it’s good that the record wasn’t deemed long enough or maybe that one may have been discarded or reduced to a B-Side or something. Tom doesn’t reveal though what the third additional song was and I’ll have to do some digging to discover what that might be.
Maybe Tom and Jeff felt that recording this song completely faithfully to the original would expose a new generation of music listeners to a band that maybe had gone out of fashion and were locked into the 60s Hippy movement rather than being a going concern. The band never really made it out of the 60s, despite Gram Parsons attempting to move them more into country stylings to try to revive their flagging popularity. There’s no doubt though that they influenced a huge number of rock n roll bands and if for no other reason than they influenced Tom to write Listen to Her Heart, we should be very thankful that their fire burned brightly for the few years that it did and that the members of the band went on to have long and successful careers. Unfortunately, one of the side effects of Tom bringing this song back into the public’s consciousness was a financial windfall for its writer Gene Clark, who had managed to beat addiction and get himself clean. In Mr. Tambourine Man: The Life and Legacy of the Byrds' Gene Clark, author John Einerson says the following; “Flush with money, he began to neglect his professional obligations. Although the circumstances remain nebulous, the binge also precipitated his final break-up with Terri Messina, who had had a two-decade on-again, off-again relationship with Clark.” So a slight down note to end on but a part of the rock n roll story.
OK PettyHeads, that’s it for this week! Feel a Whole Lot Better is a really good cover. It’s a really nice, bright little pop song. There’s nothing at all wrong with it and I’m not going to give this one a low rating. However, what I would say is that I’m not convinced that Tom needed to put a cover on this album. Had the record company not pressured him to fill it out, I doubt this one would have even been considered. There are also two songs from sessions in 1988 that could have been candidates depending on when they were recorded, but my understanding is that they were both part of sessions intended to be used on a new Heartbreakers record that was abandoned. I would have been perfectly happy with this being a B-Side or maybe a non-album single, but I find that it stands out a little on a Tom Petty solo record as being that “please can you record another couple of songs to make the album longer” track. I do like the song though, both the original and Tom’s cover, so I’m going to give Feel a Whole Lot Better a 7/10.
QUESTION: Terry Melcher, born Terrence Jordan, was the producer who worked on The Byrds 1965 album Mr. Tambourine Man, which Feel a Whole Lot Better appears on. But which huge star of the silver screen was he the only son of? Was it a) Doris Day, b) Lauren Bacall, c) Grace Kelly, or d) Audrey Hepburn?
ANSWER: The answer is….. a) Doris Day. Melcher was the only child of actress/singer Doris Day; his father was Day's first husband Al Jorden, and he was adopted by her third husband Martin Melcher. Most of his early recordings were with the vocal surf acts the Rip Chords and Bruce & Terry. In the 1960s, Melcher was acquainted with the Beach Boys and later produced several singles for the group in the 1980s and the 1990s, including "Kokomo" (1988), which topped U.S. record charts. Melcher also has an odd link to Charles Manson! In 1968, Beach Boy Dennis Wilson introduced Melcher to ex-con and aspiring musician Charles Manson. Manson and his "family" had been living in Wilson's house at 14400 Sunset Boulevard after Wilson had picked up hitchhiking Manson family members Patricia Krenwinkel and Ella Jo Bailey. Wilson expressed interest in Manson's music and also recorded two of Manson's songs with the Beach Boys. Manson eventually auditioned for Melcher, but Melcher declined to sign him. There was still talk of a documentary being made about Manson's music, but Melcher abandoned the project after witnessing Manson fighting with a drunken stuntman at Spahn Ranch. Wilson and Melcher severed their ties with Manson, a move that angered Manson. Soon after, Melcher and Bergen moved out of the Cielo Drive home. The house's owner, Rudi Altobelli, then leased it to film director Roman Polanski and his wife, actress Sharon Tate. Manson was reported to have visited the house on more than one occasion asking for Melcher, but was told that Melcher had moved. So quite a lucky escape!
The reason why
Oh, I can't say
I had to let you go baby
And right away
After what you did
I can't stay on
And I'll probably feel a whole lot better
When you're gone
Baby for a long time
(Baby for a long time)
You had me believe
(You had me believe)
That your love was all mine
(That your love was all mine)
And that's the way it would be
But I didn't know
(I didn't know)
That you were puttin' me on
And I'll probably feel a whole lot better
When you're gone, oh when you're gone
Now I got to say
(Now I got to say)
That it's not like before
(That it's not like before)
And I'm not gonna play
(And I'm not gonna play)
You're game any more
After what you did
(After what you did)
I can't stay on
And I'll probably feel a whole lot better
When you're gone
I'll probably feel a whole lot better
When you're gone, oh when you're gone
Oh when you're gone, oh when you're gone