S8E7 Yer So Bad

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Length: 19:17 - Release Date: August 16, 2023

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/WdRViFCvvUo

Official video 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 seventh 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 in. So the results of this week’s poll. I gave Feel a Whole Lot Better a 7 out of 10. The majority of the poll results agreed, with 57% rating it between 7 and 9. 29% of you gave the song a solid 10 out of 10 and only 14% rated it between 1 and 6. Over on Facebook, Bob Reidy says that, “the album is Tom’s masterpiece at least in my mind. I love his version of that song. I found out years later that it was a cover of a Byrds’ song. Love both versions.” And Pete Nestor from the Honest and Unmerciful Podcast started his comment with a very nice allusion to the CD message from the album. He posted; “Hello Podcast Listeners. Side 2 kicks off breezy and carefree. While there’s n o doubt side 1 has the gargantuan hits, side 2 is way more fun and this track sets the tone. I don’t care if it’s a cover, it’s a load of fun. It’s nice to hear Tom letting loose a little. It feels like Side 1 was Tom’s job interview and side 2 is the party after he’s received his signing bonus check!” I love this analogy and there’s a distinct shift in tone between side one and side two is noticeable and most likely quite deliberate. Carol Rosenberg Shapiro simply commented “Best cover band ever”. And the Fillmore boxset proves that beyond a shadow of a doubt. And I love bands that can cover a wide range of artists in concert, I’d just always rather hear original songs on studio albums! Janet Massa Lovell commented “Fantastic! Better than the original” and I’d definitely agree with that. It’s one of those strange songs that you think “That should actually have been a Heartbreakers” song. .P. Koffman said “He had to do a tribute to The Byrds. It is classy to do that based on how heavily influenced he was by them. The song fits perfectly. A safe bet to start side B on a happy and familiar note.” and that’s a good point that it’s a fairly sure fire winner to open the second side of the record And to finish Terry T-Bone's Mathley commented “I’m a big fan of the original, but Tom does it justice!!”

Thanks as always for your comments and feedback. Keep it coming!

Today’s episode covers track two from the second side of Full Moon Fever, fan favourite Yer So Bad. 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 want to give the song a listen before we dig into it, there’s a link in the episode notes!

Yer So Bad could almost be the most important song in the entire Tom Petty canon. Almost. Probably not the most important, but it was the first song that Tom showed to Jeff Lynne and from there, the rest of Full Moon Fever and then The Traveling Wilburys dropped effortlessly into place. You have to think there was a little magic in the air that night. In Paul Zollo’s essential book Conversations with Tom Petty, Paul asks Tom if George (that’s George Harrison) Liked LA. Tom answers “I don’t think he really liked LA. He complained a lot about the smog and it being over-populated but he had a lot of friends here.” Among those friends of course were Jeff Lynne and Jim Keltner and around this time, Tom and Jeff had been hanging out off and on after their serendipitous meeting at a traffic light and then again at a restaurant where Tom began his friendship with George Harrison. Tom tells Paul Zollo, “It was around this time that I showed Jeff one night that I had written the song ‘Yer So Bad’. But there was one little bit in the B section where I didn’t know where to go. He showed me this e minor chord and that kinda opened it all up to me.” The story concludes with Tom asking Jeff “Will you produce this?” and Jeff responding, “Sure, let’s do it. Where should we record it?” The rest, of course, is rock n roll history made via Mike Campbell’s spare bedroom.

Yer So Bad was the fifth and last single to be released from Full Moon Fever and while it didn’t chart on the Hot 100, it did reach #5 on the Billboard Rock chart as well as hitting #44 up here in Canada. By the time of its release, Full Moon Fever had already been out for a full year. So I wonder if the wave had crested and was in retrograde at this point. Had this been the second single from the album I wonder if it would have possibly charted higher. One thing’s for certain is that Tom Petty fans almost universally love this track. I can’t remember ever seeing a negative word about in the online fan groups and among casual fans I know, it’s well-liked. I think that’s partly because of the black humour of the lyrics coupled with the jaunty, fun beat that goes with the song. 

The track starts with a four count count in from Tom that has a slight delay on it to make it sound like two voices. After this and in keeping with the majority of Full Moon Fever, the song just gets going.  We get that gorgeous strumming pattern on the 12 string guitar and a very short harmonized ahhh vocal. After four bars of that strummed a minor, Tom comes straight in with the vocal. I’m 95% sure there are two acoustic guitars in this track - one on the 12 string, and one on a standard six string. So it would be the typical setup of Mike and Tom playing complimentary parts with possibly slightly different chord inversions to fatten up the sound. But I think the intro lick is both of playing the exact same pattern with the same chord positions. There are no drums and no bass guitar or keyboards through this first verse, so you really get to focus in on those guitars, the rhythm, and the words that Tom is singing.

We rip though that first brilliant verse with only the addition of those harmonized ahhs again after the word singer. And man, what an opening lyric. Right away, you know this isn’t going to be a big stadium anthem or any sort of personal tale. “My sister got lucky, married a yuppie. Took him for all he was worth”. This is a tongue in cheek pastiche right from the opening line and it only gets gloriously darker from there on out! It’s another stunningly simply chord progression. Am - G - D - Am through this section. When we get to the “But not me, baby” pre-chorus - which is the B-section that Tom was referring to struggling with, that’s when we get the drop to Em and the band comes in. . When the band does come in, the time signature finally reveals itself. Up to this point you would have probably counted this in 4/4 time but with that great skiffle beat, I think it’s probably actually better expressed as 2/4. The kick on the 1 and the snare on the 2 of each bar. Either way, it just swings in a really cool away and gives you that old 50s rhythm and blues feel! 

This pre-chorus also featured densely layered harmonies which help build the song into a chorus which features a kick drum as one of the musical hooks. We also get nice like broken chord lead guitar coming out of the pre-chorus into the chorus. 

The chorus then sees the dum da-dum kick drum motif along with the mandolin/acoustic guitar C major chord on the words bad, had, and mad. Stunningly simple yet beautifully constructed. I know I keep saying that on this record, but it’s one of the main features of how this set of songs were written, worked up, recorded, and produced. Don’t clutter them, but pack as much in as you can without losing any of the impact. The lead out of the chorus hangs on the D chord and we hear a reprise of that compact little broken suspended chord that Mike Campbell plays.

Before we get into the second verse, with that immortal line, I just wanted to comment on how much I love the snare sound on this song. As a drummer, I always have an ear out for the percussion in a song and I love the way Phil Jones plays this one. I wondered at first whether it was being played with brushes, but the more I’ve listened to it I think it’s more likely a nice big snare, like a jazz snare, with the snare wires nice and loose and rattly. It gives it such a distinctive sound unlike most of the rest of the album.

The progression of the second verse is pretty much identical to the first but I think the mandolin comes in full time here, and is mixed a little lower. So as with most of the songs on this record, there’s a ton of guitar/mandolin/stringed instruments all over this one. We also get that killer line “My sister’s ex husband can’t get no lovin’. Walks around dog-faced and hurt”. The first time I heard this song that’s the line that stuck with me, especially as I’d never really heard the expression before. While writing this episode, I decided to look at the origins of the phrase and from what I’ve found, it has ancient roots! In Homer’s Iliad, Achilles insults Agamemnon by calling him "dog-faced" and Helen also self-deprecatingly refers to herself using the same term. I don’t know if it’s an old Floridian insult or quip, but it doesn’t seem to have wide usage in a modern context which just makes me love it all the more in this song.

This second chorus leads us into the solo, which, like Feel a Whole Lot Better is more of a vibe than a really clear melody or virtuosic bit of noodling. It’s also multi-tracked with a second lead part coming in toward the end. Underneath that you still have 12 string and 6 string acoustic guitar and again I’m pretty sure the mandolin is also in their mixed down low. The only word to describe this section is “rich”. The solo itself is mixed at pretty much the same level as the other guitars too, so this really adds to it feeling more like a texture rather than a lead melody or spotlight part. But, as always, it’s Mike Campbell playing exactly what the song needs.

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

Your question from last week was this: 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?

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.[1] Wilson and Melcher severed their ties with Manson, a move that angered Manson.[11] 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!

Your question for this week is this: Which is the most covered song in Tom’s catalogue? Is it a) Runnin’ Down a Dream, b) Breakdown, c) I Won’t Back Down,  or d) Learning to Fly?

OK, back to the song. Coming out of the solo we head back into the pre-chorus and chorus The latter of which is going to repeat), there’s one subtle little vocal trick that Tom pulls out that I love. The first two times Tom sings the line “But not me baby”, he rhymes the word me and the second syllable of the word baby. So “Not ME, bay-BEE”, but in this last pass, he pronounces that second syllable BAY. “So baaaaaybay” rather than “Baybee”. When we get to the end of this first chorus everything drops out so that you can really hear that gorgeous Bum buh-bum kick drum and here you can hear that a tambourine has also been added to accent the snare. The chorus repeats one more time and then we get what I always think of as a big Buddy Holly ending. No fade, just that syncopated rhythm guitar to finish. And I don’t know if I’d ever really noticed until listening to it closely for this episode, but right as those last guitar chords are about to fade away, there’s a half heard voice and some whistling in the background. I’ve spoken before about my love of those things being kept in songs. Like Marcy Campbell’s “It’s just the normal noises in here”, this little bit outside the song right at the end gives the whole thing a much looser, playful feel. One thing I haven’t talked about at all in this one is the bass guitar. That’s because Jeff Lynne is just keeping that bottom end rolling along and not adding any sort of extra sauce or spice. That’s all coming from the guitars and Tom’s brilliant lyric. 

The song was a firm favourite in the set list, sitting just outside the top ten most performed live tracks at 13th spot. According to setlist.fm the song was played 308 times including on every date of the 40th Anniversary Tour in 2017. There’s a great version from the PBS Soundstage performance where the song is played mainly solo by Tom and with big hard stops on NOT. ME. That performance also features Steve Ferrone hamming it up in the background doing the actions for the lyrics in the pre-chorus in the background and clearly egging on the front row to join in with him! I’ll leave a link to that one in the episode notes so you can go give it a watch!

Yer So Bad is almost like a prototype for what the Wilburys would go on to do. Whimsical, comical, bouncy, poppy, and supremely catchy music with wonderfully expressive lyrics. A song to really have fun with. It really shares that playfulness and polish that would become a signature of rock n roll’s ultimate supergroup. 

OK PettyHeads, that’s it for this week! I’m not going to beat too much around the bush here. Like most fans, I adore this song. I love the lyrics, I love that wonderful skiffle beat, and I love the richly later guitars and vocals. I also love the ending. It’s a simple little thing but again, it throws back to the song’s 50s rock n roll roots. While I can’t really put Yer So Bad at the top table with the very best of Tom’s catalogue, it’s definitely on the table with the bride or groom’s parents and has been given access to the free bar for the evening. I’m going to give Yer So Bad an 8 out of 10.


Petty Trivia

QUESTION: Which is the most covered song in Tom’s catalogue? Is it a) Runnin’ Down a Dream, b) Breakdown, c) I Won’t Back Down,  or d) Learning to Fly?

ANSWER: My eagle-eyed pal Paul Roberts asked whether I meant released cover versions and pointed out that thousands and thousands of bar bands the world over covers Free Fallin. I did confirm that I was only talking about recordings that had been released. I use a website called secondhandsongs.com to dig into this info and I’ll leave a link in the episode notes in case you’re interested in going to take a look. The answer to the question though is ……. c) I Won’t Back Down. Along with the famous covers by Johnny Cash and Sam Elliott (who is basically mimicking Cash’s delivery), there’s a ska/two-tone version by Reel Big Fish, a hard rock cover by rock band by Everclear, and the more faithful version from Lucinda William’s tribute to Tom, 2020’s Runnin’ Down a Dream.


My sister got lucky, married a yuppie
Took him for all he was worth
Now she's a swinger dating a singer
I can't decide which is worse

But not me baby, I've got you to save me
Oh, yer so bad, best thing I ever had
In a world gone mad, yer so bad

My sister's ex-husband can't get no lovin'
Walks around dog-faced and hurt
Now he's got nothin', head in the oven
I can't decide which is worse

But not me baby, I've got you to save me
Oh, yer so bad, best thing I ever had
In a world gone mad, yer so bad

Oh, but not me baby, I've got you to save me
Oh, yer so bad, best thing I ever had
In a world gone mad, yer so bad

Oh, yer so bad, best thing I ever had
In a world gone mad, yer so bad