S9E15 Too Good to Be True

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Length: 25:50 - Release Date: December 13, 2023

Maybe she’s the girl who is gonna be picked up in King’s Highway. Maybe the thing she’s finally managed to break free from is a relationship with a self-obsessed movie star who has been pulled into a world of glamour and glitz. Maybe, just maybe, I’m massively overthinking this, but it sure is fun to connect dots and build out the narrative in your own mind!

Today’s episode covers the second song on side two of "Into The Great Wide Open", "Too Good To Be True'".

You can listen to the song here:https://youtu.be/ek2_lOix9zI

If you want to hear a live version from Take the Highway, you can find that here: https://youtu.be/h8dMrn8FW80

And if you want to check out the edit I made of the track, you can listen to that here: https://youtu.be/AHTxhEBXFZQ

Album version

Live version from Take the Highway

Kev's edit


(* 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 episode fifteen of the ninth season 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. 

I hope you’re all enjoying the Guestember guest episodes. I had a little trouble with the edit of this last week’s episode and had to re-upload it, so thanks to my guest this week Will Porteous for pointing that out to me! I finished the last of my interviews yesterday, with the amazing Trapper Schoepp and that one will be available for you on December 29th. This week’s guest though is another double act from The Waiting, a Montana-based Tom Petty tribute band. Doc Wiley and Chris Gillette were wonderful fun and we chatted up a storm, so do make sure you check that one out!

Over on Facebook, we were discussing last week’s track “All The Wrong Reasons” and my pal Paul Roberts left the following comment: “Must admit I'm re-evaluating Great Wide Open. Yep always loved the "big two" songs..... but there is much more here. The deep cuts are really impressive and there are some more gems to come in the depths of side 2. Thanks Kev, loving this season.” So am I Paul. I think I’d commented somewhere that Into T rhe Great Wide Open isn’t an album I’d always have immediately reached for in the past, but in prepping for this season and listening to the songs far more closely, this is a incredible set of songs that really foreshadows the creative zenith Tom is about to hit in the next three years. J.P. Koffman responded to Paul saying “It has always been my personal favourite. I got into Petty during the heights of FMF and was anticipating this one, listened non stop for months. The FMF to Wildflowers period with this and the greatest hits in the middle...really put Tom in the greatest songwriter of all time conversation.” And I’ve definitely commented on this - the experience of working with Jeff Lynne and the Wilburys really seemed to unlock something in Tom. His writing became noticeably freer and more natural. Which is not to say that he wasn’t writing great songs before that, of course he was, but it almost feels like the process became easier and more enjoyable from Full Moon Fever on. On Twitter, the wonderful Kelsey Van Halen has wandered into the feed from the Van Halen podcast that I’ve made a few guest appearances on. She writes “Absolutely LOVE the guitars in this song. From acoustic to the lead. Such a beautiful song” and Viola wildflower commented “One of my very very favorite songs of Tom’s”. 

Thanks as always for your comments. You keep leaving em, I’ll keep reading em! As a last note before we start this week’s episode, we heard the very sad news on Monday of this week that Jim Ladd, who inspired the song The Last DJ. Jim was a towering force in free form radio and as Tom always fought for the integrity of his art, so did Jim. Here’s Jim talking about how much the song meant to him… [insert JL interview clip] … And the credit he’s talking about there simply reads “Jim Ladd, for his inspiration and courage”

Today’s episode looks at the second track from side two of Into The Great Wide Open, “Too Good To Be True”. Go check the episode notes for a link to the song if you want to listen to it before we get into.

Too Good To Be True was released as a single in the UK and Germany, and perhaps surprisingly was the highest charting single from the album in the former. In Germany the single didn’t chart, but regardless, it did receive a decent amount of radio play back in blighty! The song was a virtual ever-present on the tour for the album but was never played again live after that. In Conversations With Tom Petty, Tom mentions to author Paul Zollo that “in our last gig, where we were purposely looking for odd things to do and that one came out and we played it for a bit. And I really like it.” so again, another track that maybe could have been aired some time later in a set list but just didn’t make the cut. 

The song is in Fm but is definitely played in an Em shape. Normally, it would be the case that you’d just capo on the first fret to move the song up a semitone, but I read on a guitar tab website that someone thinks that the song was actually played in Em with no capo, and then sped up to be at that higher key. Now, we know that Tom wasn’t averse to using this trick to get a slightly different sound and I think a couple of tracks from either Hard Promises or Long After Dark use the technique. As my pal Randy Woods told me when I asked him how he thought this might have been achieved, he point out that a capo won’t have exactly the same tone as playing open strings, so there’s every chance that the guitar tab website is right and that the track was sped up before the vocals were recorded so that it could sing it in Fm rather than Em but keep that open chord voicing on the guitar. If I ever get a chance to speak to Jeff Lynne I’ll maybe ask him about that one!

The intro to this one is a nice faded in synth swell that is matched by a reversed cymbal (I don’t think Stan Lynch is playing a swell there) we then hear a big kick and crash cymbal hit to kick off that intro progression. The kick snare pattern is pretty straightforward and there’s a splashy cymbal being played on the first beat of every four bars. There are also some claves added to the percussion on every second bar that play on the 3-and and the 4-and. They’re very heavily processed/effected and I’ll talk about that maybe a little more later on as we hear them very distinctly at a certain point in the song. The bass also drives this track more than maybe anything on Full Moon Fever or Into The Great Wide Open. It’s a nice full bass tone that Howie is playing just stepping up and down over those root notes. As always, there are a multiple guitars here, an acoustic and a very very slightly distorted electric both playing a basic strumming pattern. It’s hard to hear exactly what each part is doing but the acoustic sounds like it’s very simply strumming and I think the electric might be adding in some passing notes in between the chords. But it’s all very dark and mysterious in the intro section. 

The verses simply follow this up down chord progression as Tom croons out the vocals. There is a neat little piece of arrangement here though in that the transition to the chorus comes sooner than expected and without any real build or push. Each line of the verse is sung over 4 bars but we only get three lines, rather than the four we might expect. The kick snare pattern in the chorus changes up and moves to the snare playing each beat of the bar and the kick playing on the 2nd beat and the 3-and, so between the 3rd and 4th beats. The chorus then messes with the structure a little further by having the repeated line “It was too good to be true” sung over two bars, but again repeated three times, before an additional bar leads us back into the main chord progression. This means that the verse as a whole is twelve bars and the chorus is seven. 

We then get the main progression for four bars, with that three note ascending lick leading us into the second verse. There’s another nice little production touch here at the end of the line “Everything that she dared to dream”, with a big vocal effect, reverb and delay and probably some phase too, that gives that last word this big ethereal, otherworldly feel. There are also a couple of synth notes after the words “outside her door” that are added in and just contribute to this uneasy back and forth progression. The second chorus proceeds like the firs t and as I didn’t mention the synths the last time around, you can hear them here playing some broken chords over top of the guitars to again add to the moodiness. 

The main progression then plays again for four bars but the acoustic guitar is panned over into the left channel so that you can hear it a little more brightly, before Stan Lynch plays some quarter notes on the toms to lead us into the bridge, which plays out for eight bars. We get some additional oohs vocalized here and the some great jangling chords on the electric guitar to compliment the rocksteady acoustic strumming before the song transitions back into that familiar pensive section which Mike Campbell plays a solo over top of. And this solo has a very spontaneous feel to it, compared to the very measured, very precisely arranged part in, say, Dark Of The Sun. The synth is really washing over this section too, especially as the solo leads back out into the last verse. Here, we have some fantastic little guitar licks added in by Mike C as well as what sounds like a little bit of piano after the second line. This chorus really hangs on that last chord and rather than being seven bars, it’s pulled out to ten.

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

According to Setlist.fm, eight of the fifteen songs from Echo were never played live, so your question from last week was this: which track from the album was played the most in concert? Is it a) Echo, b) Free Girl Now, c) Room At The Top, or d) Swingin’?

Well, the title track, Echo, was only played once, on March 13, 1999 during the Heartbreakers second Fillmore residency. It’s hardly surprising that the heartwrenching ballad was not a fixture in the setlist, as I imagine it was tough for Tom to think about, let alone sing those lyrics. Free Girl now was played 45 times on the Echo tour and once in 2001, while Room At The Top was played 39 times, all on the Echo tour in 1999. So your answer is…. Swingin, which was virtually ever present on the Echo tour, usually being performed as the fourth song after Breakdown. In all, the song was performed 62 times by the Heartbreakers with its last performance coming at Forest Hills Stadium in Queens, New York on July 26th, 2017 as a part of the 40th Anniversary tour.

Your question for this week is this: Other than Learning to fly, which single from Into The Great Wide Open reached number 1 on the US Rock chart? Was it a) Into The Great Wide Open, b) Out In The Cold, c) Kings Highway, or d) Makin’ Some Noise?

OK, back to the song. After this last chorus we get a final “too good to be true" from Tom and we head into the main progression again, with Mike Campbell adding a couple of last guitar noodles before the song ends on a big open chord. Or that’s what you think. After that chord trails off over four bars, just as you think the song has finished, the claves strike again and the song comes back in, allowing Mike Campbell and Benmont Tench to trade licks on the guitar and keyboards. You can really hear the effects on the clave there, which I think are exaggerated here. It sounds like a massive spring reverb has been added as well as that delay. There are also multiple little additional parts in this section. Before we start to fade out with around fifteen seconds left. Now, this is where I have to hold up my hands and say that I don’t know if this false ending is the right choice. The last wonderful chord chimes right around the three minutes and four seconds mark. The song is three minutes and fifty eight seconds long and really, other than some instrumental noodling, nothing else happens. If I’d had the production reins, I would likely have added some of that noodling into an 8 or twelve bar outro before ending on that fantastic chord. I’m going to try a different edit of that to see what it sounds like and throw that into the episode notes. Yes, it’s a cool false stop, but it’s just that when it comes back in, I don’t think the final almost-50 seconds really add anything at all to the song. So that’s most definitely a personal preference and don’t be too mad at me suggesting that this could have been edited differently. 

When author Paul Zollo says of that last chord that he can’t figure it out, Tom replies “Yeah that’s one of my mystery chords, of which Jeff says “I didn’t even know that chord existed”. He goes on to mention that “I use a LOT of variations on chords on the guitar. I’ve got my own way of doing it and playing and voicing the chords. I think I just hit that chord and it’s probably not a proper chord, but it made the right sound. I’m sure that’s what that chord was, just a happy accident.” When Paul asks Tom whether Benmont would know that the chord is, Tom replies “Oh yeah. There’s nothing he couldn’t figure out.” I do find it interesting that Tom would regard what he played as “not a proper chord” because really, I don’t know if there’s any such thing. You can basically play any combination of notes and it’s a chord of some description. Now, whether it’s pleasing, or right for the song, is entirely a different matter. In this song, that F7sus4, which is what the chord chart I found says it is, and when I play it, it sounds right.

The lyrics in this one fall into that category of very loosely narrated story songs for me. We just know that this is a female lead in this short story. We get the feeling that she is right on the edge of realized a long-held dream that finally looks to be coming true. If you read the lyrics in the verses in isolation, they do tell a story of quiet confidence and hope “Her imagination ran wild. Could this really happen to me? She could barely hold back the tears” and they would be tears of joy. “Everything that she'd waited for. Everything that she'd dared to dream Suddenly was outside her door” and finally, “Morning on the outskirts of town Sitting in the traffic alone. You don't know what it means to be free” and that last line seems telling in that it insinuates that the character did not feel free up to this point. Whether that was a relationship, a job, or a more physical sort of malady, the build towards that last line really sets up the story very nicely. If we treat this as a movie, or a play, the bridge almost acts as a flashback to a point before the clean break has happened “There was no talk of giving in, And just as hope was wearing thin Her eyes were like a child again. Too good to be true”. The addition of “too good to be true” here are really clever, because you can read them as being descriptive of the child’s eyes, ore metaphorical her aspirations. The lyrics in the chorus undercut this hopefulness I think. “It was too good to be true”. As the old saying goes, “if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is”. So maybe if this was a screenplay, we’d see the protagonist’s POV being increasingly positive while we also know that there’s a freight train heading their way that they haven’t yet seen. It could also be a more subconscious inner monologue playing out in the main character’s mind. That little voice saying that this can’t possibly be realistic and that maybe she doesn’t believe that she deserves whatever good fortune is coming her way. Maybe she’s the girl who is gonna be picked up in King’s Highway. Maybe the thing she’s finally managed to break free from is a relationship with a self-obsessed movie star who has been pulled into a world of glamour and glitz. Maybe, just maybe, I’m massively overthinking this, but it sure is fun to connect dots and build out the narrative in your own mind!

OK PettyHeads, that’s it for this week! Too Good To Be True is, again, very simple for the most part. It’s a broody minor chord progression that, following All The Wrong Reasons, really changes the mood of the album. It’s another song that feels like California to me, always. Another road song. You can again see the Pacific Coast Highway at dusk in your mind’s eye and the protagonist of the song driving through the warm summer air to the outskirts of LA. I don’t think this is the strongest song on this album, but it has a charm to it that always makes me enjoy and again, I think it really works where it’s sequenced on the album. I’m still not 100% convinced about that false ending, or more specifically, the just about a minute of repetition that follows it, but it’s not enough to really knock this song down the ladder for me. I do think it’s arguably the weakest track on the album, but it definitely isn’t a dud, so I’m going to give Too Good To Be True an uncertain, wavering 7 out of 10 because I think it’s a strong lyric and I do like the slightly unusual bar counts in the verse and chorus.


Petty Trivia

QUESTION: Other than Learning to fly, which single from Into The Great Wide Open reached number 1 on the US Rock chart? Was it a) Into The Great Wide Open, b) Out In The Cold, c) Kings Highway, or d) Makin’ Some Noise?

ANSWER: As we’ve already said, today’s track hit #1 on the US rock chart despite not being released as a single. The fact that this song and Makin’ Some Noise both did well on the US rock chart irked Tom a little at the time. In Conversations With Tom Petty, he tells Paul Zollo, “I was kind of irritated with it. I thought they were going after it because it had the big beat. I think I wanted people to hear the versatility on the album.” but he goes on to say that years later, when rehearsing the song, he found that he liked it more than he remembered.


Her imagination ran wild
Could this really happen to me?
She could barely hold back the tears

It was too good to be true
It was too good to be true
It was too good to be true

Everything that she'd waited for
Everything that she'd dared to dream
Suddenly was outside her door

It was too good to be true
It was too good to be true
It was too good to be true

There was no talk of giving in
And just as hope was wearing thin
Her eyes were like a child again

Too good to be true

Morning on the outskirts of town
Sitting in the traffic alone
You don't know what it means to be free

And it was too good to be true
It was too good to be true
It was too good to be true
Too good to be true