S9E4 Into The Great Wide Open

Kings Highway« PREVIOUS EPISODE   Two GunslingersNEXT EPISODE »


Length: 36:08 - Release Date: November 15, 2023

Where Tom’s vocal on a song like Refugee or Rebels is like a sharpened steel, his voice here sits more in that butterscotch place that he could employ when he wanted to dial the energy back. Even in the chorus, he doesn’t lean into any vibrato, doesn’t crack or pinch his voice and just lets the melody wash over you. And it’s a song that doesn’t need vocal pyrotechnics because all the explosions in this song come from that wonderful turnaround, the tonal shift in the chorus, and one of the best narrative lyrics Tom, or anyone, ever wrote. Whereas songs like "Something Big" or "Dogs on the Run" have a loose narrative that leave plenty to the listener’s imagination, this one is a much more fully realized and theatrical lyric. It’s Tom following the flow and seeing where the story takes him.

Today’s episode covers the title track from "Into The Great Wide Open". There is one piece of profanity in the episode when Tom is telling a story.

You can listen to the song here:https://youtu.be/tOQ-h-2pDDU  

If you want to see the official video, you can check that out here: https://youtu.be/xqmFxgEGKH0

For the brilliant live version from Take The Highway, look here: https://youtu.be/VB1IJKrhAP8?t=211

Album version

Official video version

Live version from Take The Highway


(* 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 fourth episode 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. 

A quick thanks to the steadfast Paul Roberts who reminded me that I haven’t been posting polls asking for your ratings of the songs! If I had a budget for it, I’d definitely hire him as an associate producer! Some quick social media following last week’s episode on Kings Highway. Starting with Mr. Roberts, he says “Top song but only rated as ok in the Petty collection. Has the misfortune to be positioned between two belters on the album. Listening to live versions I have to take my hat off to Stan - he gives the tune a new dynamic. I know the music became more reflective but Stan always delivered the goods live... I just wish things could have worked out differently - nothing against Steve who is also great but in a different way.” And this is something that we’re going to be talking about starting from next season; the way the Heartbreakers sound changed when Stan left the band. I’m a huge fan of both Stan and Steve Ferrone, so it’s going to be fun to start to contrast and compare their styles. 

Regular listener and all round lovely person Mary Beth Donnolly commented “I grew up in Brooklyn, and two of my siblings have relocated to Connecticut. But as much as I really want to make that connection with the so-called “tri-state area”, I agree, that’s not what Tom meant. At all. Instead, I think a theme running through many Tom songs is the idea (ideal) of haven, sanctuary… a place that’s devoid of worry or troubles, whether it’s “A Higher Place”, “Room at the Top”, “Wildflowers”, I can hear in his music that he was a worrier, but he was enough of an optimist to imagine a place he could go to escape that anxiety. I think “Kings Highway” fits in with that recurring theme beautifully. And as an optimistic worrier myself, I can really appreciate the message of hope this song—and so many of his others—conveys. It’s a beautiful song.” So that was in response to my comment that my belief is that the Kings Highway in the song is purely metaphorical rather than a literal place. There definitely are multiple recurring themes in Tom’s music and “hope” is one that crops up again and again, sometimes in unexpected places. And not the kind of schmaltzy, insincere hope that many writers build into their lyrics. It’s never forced or done for show when Tom imbues his songs with it.

Bob Reidy rates the song a 12 out of 10 and says “Part of the King’s Highway is in Connecticut and I have driven on that too and of course thought of Tom. Tom’s imagined King’s Highway is probably a magical one. I am sure he realized that this was his second song in a decade about a mode of transportation and a kings. King’s Road is a great song too.” And it’s definitely comment worthy that this is the second upbeat song based around a Kings Road/Highway but sometimes those coincidences are just going to happen! I know this is one of Bob’s very favourite songs and it’s definitely become one of my top tier deep cuts that I’d give to any non-Pettyhead alongside any of the hits. 

Mark Lindsey from Sight & Sound comments “Heard this one live at Red Rocks on the Mojo Tour. Between the excitement of the crowd’s anticipation, the lights going out, and then “Boom” the songs erupts into a rocking start to a great night. Perfectly captures the classic Rickenbacker sound, the Byrds legacy, the bands perfect accompaniment by enhancing the song and Tom’s optimism in three minutes and one second. Another standout was "I should have known". How was that riff not already done? Joe Cocker opened that night as well. What an evening at a legendary venue.” I’ve commented before - and I think I maybe talked to my guest Janet Lovell about this - Red Rocks is one of my very top bucket list venues to see a show at. I can only imagine how cool that was to see. As a quick shout out to Mark too, he runs a fabulous eyecare program that is dedicated to Tom’s memory. I’m going to be chatting to him about it later this month and I’m looking forward to sharing that with you!

The votes on this song are coming back overwhelmingly positive, which is no surprise and I’m expecting to see lots more tens before this episode is released!

Anyway, that’s probably enough social media for now.Today’s episode looks at the title from Into The Great Wide Open. There’s a link to the song in the episode notes and if this is your first time listening to the podcast, I don’t play the song, or clips from the song, in the episode itself in order to avoid things like copyright issues or getting on the wrong side of the Petty estate.

When author Paul Zollo asks Tom about the origins of the song in Conversations With Tom Petty, Tom says “I just kind of fell into it. You don’t know where those things come from. I was just playing those chords, and this little story started to appear. I carried it around in my head for a while, and refined it a little bit. I had it pretty well written and then I played it for Jeff (that’s Jeff Lynne, the producer of both Into The Great Wide Open and Full Moon Fever) and he helped me.”

Into The Great Wide Open would be the second single released from the album but inexplicably, only reached #94 in the US while failing to chart at all in the UK, despite the album peaking at a market-high #3. The song did hit #4 on the US rock chart, but expectations coming off the back of Full Moon Fever were much higher. When you look at the charts back in 1991, you can almost see where Into The Great Wide Open was competing in a strange space. Paula Abdul, Boyz II Men, C+C Music Factory, Color Me Badd, and Seal were all in the top ten the week that the single was released. On the other hand, Bryan Adams topped the chart that week with his mega-ballad Everything I Do, I Do It For You, and Rod Stewart, Roxette, and future collaborator Lenny Kravitz were playing guitars in the top twenty. So it’s not just a stylistic issue that was at play. In Warren Zanes biography, Petty, Tom’s manager Tony Dimitriadis says that Al Teller, at MCA records, was a huge fan of the album and to his amazement, told Tom outright “This is going to sell six million albums”. So when the label is telling you that this album is going to double the sales of Full Moon Fever, you can see why expectations are raised to the roof. Petty’s manager would go on to say “Why say that to your artist? Now if you sell four million, you’ve failed. He could have saud that he’d do everything he could for the album, that he’s fully behind it. But no, he said it’s going to sell six million. And it did well, but it didn’t do that.”. For those of you who are stats nerds, the album is certified double platinum in the US, Canada, and Sweden, and Gold in Germany, Switzerland, and the UK, so we know that it has sold at almost 3 million copies worldwide at the very least. Full Moon Fever was certified Five times platinum in the US alone, which eclipses the worldwide impact of its follow up. 

Now, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking “this could all be saved for the album wrap episode couldn’t it?”, but I bring it up to highlight that there’s a supreme irony in the subject matter of this song and the narrative that was playing out behind the scenes during the album’s promotion. Especially in the line “The sky was the limit”. Even in the context of an artist who is coming off the back of a five times platinum record.  Art is art. But business is business.

The song begins with the full band coming in right on the one. Mike Campbell immediately takes the spotlight with that searing-yet-simple slide guitar. Two phrases which lead us through the four bar intro and into the first verse. After Paul Zollo comments that that part is very George Harrison-esque, Tom responds “Well, it might have been. George really liked Mike’s playing as well. They had a mutual admiration for each other on slide guitar.” That slide is laid over top of dead-straight backbeat kick snare pattern from Stan Lynch on drums and a descending E minor chord progression that is played on both acoustic guitar, most likely twelve string, and an Benmont Tench organ that I would guess is playing just the Root E and the descending note. The progression itself is an easy step down of the fifth note in each change. The chords are Em, EmMaj7, Em7, Em6. So if you’re playing that on piano, you play E and G, which is the first and minor 3rd, then you play E again an octave above and step that note down from E, to Eb, to D, Db. Again nothing earth shattering or pioneering, but as always very effective. That chord progression immediately sets up tension. The bass guitar is playing eighth notes, sitting on the root E note I did find a bass tutorial online where the guitarist is hitting those descending notes on the change each time before moving back to that E root, but I don’t think that Howie is doing that on the recording. 

So another really short, sweet four bar intro to the song. The first verse begins with that same chord progression repeated twice through those first four bars. I think I was using the terms front half and back half for the verses and chorus in last week’s episode and it’s as useful a structure to talk about this song also. The front half of the verse is that Em, EmMaj7, Em7, Em6 repeated twice over four bars. A simple crash cymbal signals the transition into that first verse and immediately we’re introduced to Eddie, the song’s protagonist. Without that slide guitar, you can really hear the acoustic here and again, there’s something about that tone that screams twelve string acoustic to me. The kick and snare drums sound great in this section too - the snare really cracks and is mixed fairly high while the kick is a little more subdued and a little flatter. You also hear the bass guitar more clearly here and maybe it’s just that the ear is drawn forcefully toward the slide guitar in the intro as I suspect the level on that bass hasn’t changed one decibel from the intro!

In the second half of the verse, we have a change to Am and a slightly different descending progression with full chords being played. At this point, you can hear what I believe is a Fender Rhodes piano, which is a semi-acoustic eclectic piano. You might not think you know what it sounds like but if you think about the solo on Get Back by the Beatles [add a snippet], that’s Billy Preston tearing it up on a Rhodes piano, and you hear it much more clearly later on in the song as Benmont adds a really tasty little lick. This Am progression resolves down to the major key for the song, on the line “The future was wide open”. These second four bars are then capped off by what really is the signature hook of the song. That big changgy GG-C-GgG. Here, it lasts for one bar before heading into the second verse. In Conversations With Tom Petty, when Tom tells Paul Zollo about Jeff’s help with the song, one of the things he specifically mentions is this section. He says “He added a few ideas too. Like that chord turnaround. Jeff’s idea.” You can think of a turnaround as a transition between two sections of a song. Something that sits outside the verse or the chorus in some way. And this one is very dramatic. 

The second verse sees the addition of an electric guitar playing the chord progression in a nice loose arpeggio. I’ve used the word arpeggio lots and maybe I haven’t explained what that is for the non-musicians, but what it basically means is that rather than playing all the notes in the chord at the same time, as you would if you were just strumming a guitar, you play each note in the chord individually. So you can hear Mike playing E-G-B-G Eb-G-B-G etc. which matches that descending pattern. At the end of the second pass of this progression (after the line “he found a nightclub he could work at the door”) you hear that gorgeous Rhodes piano that I was talking about. I was talking to an upcoming guest on the show and we were talking about the Heartbreakers as a band and Benmont in particular as a keyboard player and the fact that they were all technically superb musicians who could play really complex music any time you wanted them to, but all served the song spectacularly well. That little lick from Benmont is one of the most glorious examples of that. It sounds like a really simple little blues lick, but he’s adding in a couple expertly played grace notes in that lick that make it way, way harder to play than it might sound. And if you think “yeh but it’s the studio, so he had a bunch of takes to get that right” go listen to this song live, as in the Take The Highway Live show, he nails that little lick every single time. So tasty and cool. 

At the end of this verse, Mike’s guitar part that was playing those broken chords really chimes out to lead us into that turnaround, which this time is extended to two bars and ends the second time around on the major 5th instead of the root, which is so incredibly satisfying. It’s the first time in just about a minute, where we really go full major key and you can just feel that the chorus is coming, even if you have never heard the song before. Because the first bar lands on the root note, it’s a really logical transition back to the verse, but that major fifth, in this case D major, builds and pushes you only into the chorus. There’s a super little bit of production here that I’d never noticed either. I always thought that there was a snare fill here from Stan on the 3-and, but that only happens the second time we get this change. In the first instance, it’s actually the bass guitar that plays those sixteenth notes on that major, higher up the fretboard. So, as always, there’s something new I’ve learned about a song I would have told you I knew pretty well before writing this episode! 

The chorus is such an interesting chord progression too because it doesn’t go where you’d expect Petty to go. After Full Moon Fever, Learning to Fly, and Kings Highway, we’ve been used to hearing very simple, yet incredibly subtly impactful three, four chord songs. The progression in this chorus is G, C, DSus4, G, Em, D, Am, followed by G, C, DSus4, G, F, Em, A. So the inversion of the last two chords from major-minor, to minor-major in each half of the chorus is really unexpected and gives this section of this song a really distinct personality. The arpeggiated lead guitar part comes back in, we hear the addition of some shakers, which add a little bit of swing to this section, and of course, we get those nice warm harmonies on “wide open” and “skies of blue”. I was thinking about the vocal style on this song too and particularly these harmonies. They’re really they’re as texture rather than being big or bombastic. On one of my other podcasts, I cover Queen, who are famous for those huge theatrical harmonies. I’ve also fall in love again with Van Halen in the last couple years, in large part thanks to the amazing “And The Podcast Will Rock”. Both of those bands utilize harmonies in a much different way and the lead vocal almost becomes part of the ensemble at times rather than a distinct voice. Think Somebody To Love by Queen or Hear About It Later by Van Halen. With this song and with the Heartbreakers in most cases, the harmonies are placed in order to fill out the sound, rather than lead or take the spotlight. You know, I always ask guests to describe Tom Petty in three words and maybe a great triplet would be “serve the song”, because that’s what the harmonies are always doing.  

Tom wrote a ton of great choruses, or if you wanna get all latin about things, chori! Just on this album, we’ve already had two killer B sections in Learning to Fly and Kings Highway. We’ve also had songs like Refugee, Rebels, The Waiting, and on and on. But there’s something about this chorus that elevates this song to a completely different level. The story is great, but I think without this major key lift in this section of the song, sonically, it would just be less effective as a piece. That pensive minor key progression through the verses builds that tension and that Jeff Lynne turnaround provinces respite, but the chorus really lifts you and punches home the message of the song, which essentially is one of hope; a sentiment that permeates this entire album. 

In the two bar turnaround into the solo, we get another variation. We get that same G-C-G progression for a bar, but then rather than landing on the major fifth in the second bar, it simply repeats. So we get that root note resolution twice where we might be expecting a repeat of that transition into the chorus. 

This solo is only two bars and it acts as again as a little transition into the third and fourth verses. But yet again, it’s Mike Campbell playing the only notes you could possibly play in this part of this song. Every track I cover makes me more and more of a fan of his work and I’ve definitely come around to the prevailing opinion that not only is Mike underappreciate, broadly speaking, but that he’s easily one of the greatest rock n roll guitarists of all time. He’s not playing the pyrotechnics of Randy Rhoads, or the blues licks of Clapton, but he occupies a space in the rock n roll canon that few do; you wouldn’t always notice him unless he wasn’t there, and the chasm that he’d leave in every Heartbreakers song would be immense. There’s a reason that he was as heavily involved in all of Tom’s solo projects as well as the Heartbreakers and Mudcrutch. If you’re friends with Mike Campell, you want him on your record. It’s as simple as that. 

The third verse sees that arpeggiated guitar joined by a single slide note and we have the addition of some backing vocals, so the changes are very slight and not moving the song melodically, at all, but bolstering what’s already there. This is something that Jeff Lynne brings to the table and Tom picks up and runs with for the rest of his career. Sure, there were examples of these types of subtle builds peppered throughout the catalogue, but I do believe that in working with Jeff, Tom really added some new tools to his toolbelt that he could pull out and utilize far more readily from this point on.

Rather brilliantly, those backing vocals are dropped back out for the fourth verse, again to just keep the song shifting and not settling too comfortably into one mode. There’s also a wonderful drum fill after the line “partied and mingled” that only Stan Lynch would play. It’s just a four note du-Dut du-Dut, but it’s so swung and sloppy-in-the-good-way that I always wait for that a little accent to the song. We’ll get into the lyrics later on but I wanted to highlight a spectacularly misheard lyric here that I had no idea about for the longest time, which is idiotic when you consider I definitely had access to the internet when I really started to listen to Tom’s music carefully. “Their A&R man said I don’t hear a single” I always thought was “Theret and Armand said I don’t hear a single.” Now, I don’t think that “Theret” is a French name but it sure made sense to me that it could be given that Tom was definitely singing about a previously unknown character named Armand! Man, oh man. In my defense, I don’t think I’d ever heard the term “A&R man” before so you can perhaps forgive my mistake!

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

Your question from last week was this: When The Heartbreakers played Kings Highway on Saturday Night Live on October 12, 1991, who was the host? Was it a) Kirstie Allie, b) Christian Slater, c) Kiefer Sutherland, or d) Sharon Stone?

Well, all four people hosted during SNL’s seventeenth season. Christian Slater introduced Bonnie Raitt the week after the Heartbreakers’ appearance, with the legendary blues musician performing Something to Talk About and “I Can’t Make You Love Me”. The week after that, after being introduced by Kiefer Sutherland, hair metal turned hard rock band Skid Row appeared to promote their second album, Slave To The Grind. Petty fan Eddie Vedder and Pearl Jam appeared toward the end of the season and performed Alive and Porch after being introduced by Sharon Stone. So your answer is a) Kirstie Allie. Allie, then starring as Rebecca in Cheers, appeared, hosted the third episode of that season and introduced the Heartbreakers, who played Into The Great Wide Open and, of course, Kings Highway.

Your question for this week is this:  In which country did Into The Great Wide Open NOT reach the top ten? Is it a) United Kingdom b) Germany, c) New Zealand, d) Canada

OK, back to the song. Coming out of this last verse and into the chorus again, we now get that snare fill from Stan that is always in my mind in that first transition from verse to chorus. The last two choruses proceed without any real change. Only a couple of simple drum fills from Stan Lynch differentiate them and the song ends on that repeated two bar turnaround that is used to transition from the first chorus to the solo.

Where Tom’s vocal on a song like Refugee or Rebels is like a sharpened steel, his voice here sits more in that butterscotch place that he could employ when he wanted to dial the energy back. Even in the chorus, he doesn’t lean into any vibrato, doesn’t crack or pinch his voice and just lets the melody wash over you. And it’s a song that doesn’t need vocal pyrotechnics because all the explosions in this song come from that wonderful turnaround, the tonal shift in the chorus, and one of the best narrative lyrics Tom, or anyone, ever wrote. Whereas songs like Something Big or Dogs on the Run have a loose narrative that leave plenty to the listener’s imagination, this one is a much more fully realized and theatrical lyric. It’s Tom following the flow and seeing where the story takes him. I’d love to know how long it took him to nail down the final lyric for this one and if there are pages of discarded ideas. 

The story follows Eddie as he dreams of moving out to Hollywood to see what opportunity or chance might bring. Pretty quickly, he meets “a girl out there with a tattoo too” - and I love that deliberate alliteration as it’s something that would sound awkward or silly in the hands and mouth of a lesser songwriter, but as it’s Tom, you know it’s being done deliberately as a cheeky little bit of levity. Eddie and his girl move into, well let’s say its affordable accommodation and Eddie starts to work as a bouncer at a nightclub. “She” teaches him guitar and at this point, we sense that Eddie’s story is going to be a rock n roll one. The chorus really gives you that scale of ambition and possibility that California and LA specifically has held for millions of aspiring artists for decades. “Into the great wide open, under them skies of blue, out in the great wide open, a rebel without a clue”. I talk a fair bit about word choice on this podcast and the very careful way Tom made sure that not only the words themselves made sense, but also flowed well lyrically when sung. So that choice of “under THEM skies” rather than “under THOSE” or “under THE” delights me always. It’s awkward and an English teacher would probably tell you “wrong” to use “them”, but in the same way “You can’t always have what you want” doesn’t punch the same way “You can’t always get what you want”, lyrics don’t need to conform strictly to grammatical exactitude. Petty took the line "a rebel without a clue" from the 1989 single "I'll Be You" by Minneapolis rock band the Replacements, with whom he toured. The term was coined by Jim Steinman, who wrote "Rebel Without a Clue" for Bonnie Tyler on her 1986 release Secret Dreams and Forbidden Fire.

I’ve already talked about one misheard lyric that comes up shortly, but there’s another one here that amazes me. “The papers said Ed always played from the heart”. I’d always sung “The papers said he’d always played the heart. But it makes sense to restate the protagonist's name at this point, especially as the following line uses “He”. Specifically, “He got an agent and a roadie named Bart.” Now, here’s a question for all you folks and maybe you can leave me your interpretation in the comments. I think that at this point, Ed may be getting a little big for his boots and I think “she” might be out of the picture now. The line “They both met movie stars, partied and mingled.” seems to refer to Bart, not “she”. “She” isn’t mentioned in the third and fourth verses, so I suspect that young Eddie is enjoying the stereotypical rock star life. Such a great too “His leather jacket had chains that would jingle”. It’s such a specific visual detail. It’s like “The room was painted blue and gray. All my meals were served on a silver tray” from Dogs on the Run. It’s closer to what a screenwriter would pen than what a rock n roll songwriter would. And it adds to the theatricality and charm of the scene and the character. 

The misheard line that I quote earlier, “Their A&R man said, "I don't hear a single" is, as most Pettyheads know, a direct nod back to the fact that the suits at MCA literally told Tom that they didn’t want to release Full Moon Fever because they didn’t hear a single. On an album that has Free Fallin, I Won’t Back Down, and Runnin Down a Dream ON SIDE ONE ALONE, they didn’t hear a single. Astonishing. And a good reminder that the people who control popular music, what is released, which artists are signed, and what songs are going to be played on the radio, have no clue about music itself. There’s that great story that Tom tells at the 2016 Musiccares show about him and George Harrison playing Free Fallin for Mo Austen and Lenny Waronker of Warner Bros and the latter saying “That’s a hit!” Then when Tom says “well, my record company won’t put it out”, Mo Ostin replies “I’ll fucking put it out!” I laugh every time I watch that speech. [ add tom’s speech]

To bolster my argument that Eddie’s love interest is no longer on the scene after the chorus is the fact that she’s only ever referred to as “a girl”, or “she” rather than given a name. While Mellencamp sang about Jack and Diane, because Diane was an integral part of the story, “she” in this song is most definitely secondary to Eddie’s central narrative, in much the same way Bart and his leather jacket are. They’re markers in the story of the rise of this young man pursuing his dreams. Let me know what you think of this hairbrained theory. I’d love to hear your interpretation of this element of the song. It’s obviously a well-known lyric in the Petty canon but regardless of how many times you’ve heard it, it’s a fantastic story. When Paul Zollo reminds Tom that he’s referred to as a “very funny song and a very true song”, Tom replies “It’s a narrative. It’s a story. And I think it has some truth in it. It’s light-hearted in a way. With a kind of black humour to it.” 

This album, though it’s a Heartbreakers record, still has that anchor back to the writing process that Tom went through with Full Moon Fever, and you can see how that was always going to cause friction within the band. The album previous to Full Moon Fever, Let Me Up (I’ve Had Enough) was largely written in the room with the other guys and recorded as close to live as the band would come up until Mojo in 2010. There’s a segment in 1994’s Going Home TV documentary where Tom is talking about the album, which was released about 18 months before the time of recording, and he says “We were never there all at the same time.” When the interviewer asks “Why?” he says “Well, we were just, we were being a little moody at the time” at which point, Mike Campbell sitting next to him cracks up laughing and leans back in his chair.

There’s a definite feel on this album of the songs being carefully constructed, in a way that you don’t feel was the case during the much lighter Full Moon Fever sessions. But one of the more organic-feeling songs on the record, for me, is definitely the title track. Because of the looseness of the performance and the gentle swing the song has in places, it feels like one that could have been jammed out by the five Heartbreakers and Jeff Lynne. I realize that this almost certainly not the case, but it’s one of the songs on the album that has that more natural feel to me. 

Now, I said earlier that I wanted to add a quick production note. I’ve said repeatedly that I’m a huge fan of Jeff Lynne. I’ve also said that I completely understand why some people aren’t. 

My friend Pete Nestor, from the Honest and Unmerciful podcast mentioned on Facebook that “in a parallel universe, Jeff Lynne instead was producing Duran Duran’s comeback album.” when I responded and mentioned that I usually like Jeff’s style, he responded “Sometimes it works for me, and sometimes it doesn’t. I really like Cloud 9. But on the whole, while he may have been good for Tom’s career and given him confidence and collaboration when he most needed it, I am not a fan of his production work on these albums.” He’s obviously talking about Full Moon Fever and this season’s album. Pete will be coming on the show at some point and this is something we can definitely dig into because he’s a fantastic musician and musical brain and I know it will be a great conversation. And to extend an olive branch, let me say this. This is one of the few songs from these back to back Jeff Lynne collaborations that I do think would be elevated by a different production aesthetic. Imagine if this song sounded like Mary Jane’s Last Dance. It would be even better I think. And when you listen to live bootlegs, there’s a different energy to it that really drives home the rock n roll wannabe story in a different way. All that said, I still love the album version and I’ll be taking Mr. Nestor to task over his comments!!! (just kidding of course)

I know this episode has been a long one and if you’ve stuck around this long, maybe you’ll stick around a little longer because really, we have to talk about the video. In a 2020 Rolling Stone article, they quote Tom as saying “I even had people coming to me wanting to make it into a movie” and you can see why! 

First of all, the video version of the song clocks in at 6 minutes 33 as opposed to the 3 minutes 45 for the album version. This is because Julien Temple, who directed the movie, had almost 20 minutes of footage and it was all so good that the Heartbreakers went back into the studio to fill out some of the parts to accompany the video. I can’t think of too many instances of that happening in rock n roll! The first major change is that you have a three bar organ solo following MIke’s guitar solo, that is then followed by the last bar of Mike’s solo added in again. At around 3 and a half minutes, we get another organ solo from Benmont as Eddie is walking down the red carpet. This is followed by the turnaround again and then more soloing from Mike and Benmont. The chord progression for the chorus is then repeated with no vocals before the song leads back into the full chorus. 

The video itself is fantastic, as Tom noted, with a Johnny Depp still fairly freshly famous off the back of Edward Scissorhands starring as Eddie. Tom plays the tattoo artist who inks up Eddie in an early scene, while Hollywood legend Faye Dunaway plays Eddie’s manager and, unbeknownst to him, a fairy godmother figure who tries to steer him away from rock n roll excess and his eventual demise. All the heartbreakers pop up in the video; Stan as the doorman who refuses to let Eddie’s manager into the red carpet event, Benmont Tench as Eddie’s producer, Howie Epstein as a bike dealer, and Mike Campbell as the celebrity who presents Eddie with his award. As well as playing Eddie’s tattoo artist, Tom is also Bart the roadie, and the narrator of the tale, harkening back to the Don’t Come Around Here No More video, which also sees the rest of the Heartbreakers performing in a miniaturized set, with Stan playing upturned paper coffee cups with oversized drumsticks. Things don’t turn out well for Eddie as success goes to his head, his girlfriend leaves and the record company drops him. In the final scene we see Eddie looking in on the tattoo parlour and seeing the next wannabe superstar, played, for about 3 seconds, by Matt Leblanc. The tattoo artist being playing by… Johnny Depp. An excellent piece of filmography to go with an excellent piece of music, even extended and deliberately drawn out.

The story in the video isn’t necessarily congruent with the lyrics, as Eddie’s future is never resolved in the song. Indeed the parting line in the last verse “The future was wide open.” So who knows, after Eddie’s girlfriend hurled his music awards into the pool, as she does in the video, maybe he got cleaned up and back on the right path. The song is deliberately open-ended I think to make the exact point that no matter your past and present, the future is the great wide open that Tom is singing about.

OK PettyHeads, that’s it for this week! Into The Great Wide Open is one of Tom’s more memorable songs and the last of the original songs to appear on 1993’s Greatest Hits. I know that John Paulsen will want to talk about its inclusion over Jammin’ Me, which went to 18 on the Billboard chart, when we cover the Greatest Hits album. But to me, it’s a no-brainer. As fun and catchy as Jammin Me is, it’s nowhere the quality of songwriting that this song is. It was only played 136 times but was included in tours throughout Tom’s career, including being almost ever present on the Hypnotic Eye Tour. A great lyric, a great turnaround, and some nice work by both Benmont and Mike. Should be a 10/10 right? I just can’t help thinking that a cleaner production approach would have elevated this song to an even greater height, so I’m going to, possibly controversially, hold a point back and rate this one a 9/10.


Petty Trivia

QUESTION: In which country did Into The Great Wide Open NOT reach the top ten? Is it a) United Kingdom b) Germany, c) New Zealand, d) Canada

ANSWER: The album was released on July 2nd, 1992, 8 days before my 19th birthday! In the UK, it was the band’s highest charting album, reaching #3 on the British chart. In Canada, the album made it up to #4 and in Germany, the album reached #8. So the answer was… New Zealand. The album just fell outside the top ten there, reaching a peak of #12. I do sometimes wonder whether album sales were lower outside the US because the band rarely traveled beyond North America. I was looking on setlist.fm and of the 1307 shows they have catalogued, only 138, or 10.6% of the shows the band played were outside Tom’s home continent. I think I’ve read somewhere that Tom didn’t enjoy flying and if I ever get to speak to Dana Petty, which I’m really hoping to do some time, that’s one thing I definitely want to ask about!


Eddie waited til he finished high school
He went to Hollywood, got a tattoo
He met a girl out there with a tattoo too
The future was wide open

They moved into a place they both could afford
He found a night club he could work at the door
She had a guitar and she taught him some chords
The sky was the limit

Into the great wide open
Under them skies of blue
Out in the great wide open
A rebel without a clue

The papers said Ed always played from the heart
He got an agent and a roadie named Bart
They made a record and it went in the chart
The sky was the limit

His leather jacket had chains that would jingle
They both met movie stars, partied and mingled
Their A&are man said, "I don't hear a single."
The future was wide open

Into the great wide open
Under them skies of blue
Out in the great wide open
A rebel without a clue

Into the great wide open
Under them skies of blue
Out in the great wide open
A rebel without a clue