S9E6 The Dark of the Sun

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Length: 23:51 - Release Date: November 29, 2023

In 2004/2005 when Paul Zollo is interviewing Tom for his seminal book, Conversations With Tom Petty. Tom bemoans to Paul that The Dark of the Sun was never played live. He says “It got lost in the shuffle of that album. There were so many songs on it. I thought it was a good little song.”

This is another one of those tracks that I sometimes forget about and then when I hear it think, “man, that’s a great song!” and then when I hear Mike’s solo, I think “Man, that’s a REALLY good song!” It’s slick, it’s short, and it’s an upbeat ray of sunshine.

Today’s episode covers "The Dark of the Sun", the penultimate track on side one of "Into The Great Wide Open".

You can listen to the song here:https://youtu.be/tr_LGFe7XeU

Album 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 six of season nine 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. 

Lots of action on social media this week! And mainly it was lots of love for last week’s song Two Gunslingers! Between Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Threads, the votes came back overwhelmingly gold. 27 of you ranked the song a straight 10, nine people put it in the 7-9 range, and 2 people rated it in the 1-6 bracket. Mary Beth Donnolly gives us a peek at her origins story on Facebook, saying “I randomly bought the Anthology a few years ago at a CD store when I was just a middling fan. This was the song that stopped me in my tracks and made me want to dig deeper. That says it all…)” It’s definitely a song that I latched onto the first time I heard this album and was immediately added to my playlist. Paul Roberts commented “A great Petty song. Not sure I rate as high as you but 9 is good for me. Enjoyed your dissection and detailed interpretation of the lyrics/meaning. TBH I got the anti war sentiment but my take away has always been "I'm takin' control of my life".” and this will be a recurring theme through the comments here, this song has lots of angles to view it from and there are all sorts of solid interpretations one can make about the lyrics, which just amplifies the fact that this is a very well written song! In fact Gill Lucas made this point, commenting “Definite golden 10 for the phrasing alone (just brilliant) and another 10 because you can take this song on so many levels - personal,spiritual and global. I love that Tom said he liked people to see their own images in his songs. (or something along those lines)”. Couldn’t agree more Gill. @tenbenches over on Instagram posted “I always heard it as a story of two people who were either made fun of or shunned by others. They find each other in those situations and decide to move on to a better place/group of people. Very much like how I’ve left toxic relationships and friend groups behind” which is yet another angle that I hadn’t considered and makes just as much sense to me as any other. I’d mentioned during the episode that my final rating surprised me as I imagined it would probably have been an eight. On Twitter, Stephen Ursell commented that he “Didn't know it until very recently but this really is a great song. Powerful and inspirational, but also effortlessly cool. Which is not an easy combination to achieve. 9/10 but I expect this will become a 10/10 for me over time.” So again, there’s this strange quality to this song where it reveals itself to you the more your listen to it. This is why I think I bumped my rating to put this one at the very top table; it’s just a catchy hook and a fun lyric, it’s a song that you can lose yourself in quite easily. 

This past weekend I also picked up a copy of The Last DJ on vinyl. I was down at my local record store shopping for something else and was delighted to see they had that one in the rack. I now only have Songs and Music From She’s The One, Echo, Highway Companion, and Hypnotic Eye to buy on vinyl and I’ll have the entire collection. I do want to pick up an original pressing of Wildflowers too, but I have the Wildflowers & All The Rest boxset to keep me going on that front. I’d posted a photo of it spinning on my turntable to social media and tagged in Jim Ladd’s accounts and, to my surprise, he liked the post, so maybe I can reach out and get him onto the show some time. That would be pretty darned cool! And for those of you who aren’t aware, Jim Ladd is the radio DJ who The Last DJ was mostly based on and is basically the last of the freeform rock DJs still operating in the US and someone who, like Tom, is a beacon of integrity in an increasingly closed system of an industry.   

Today’s episode looks at the fifth song from side one of Into The Great Wide Open, “The Dark Of The Sun”. There’s a link to the song in the episode notes if you want to listen to the song before we dig into it as I don’t play clips from the song itself in the episode. This is to avoid things like copyright issues or getting on the wrong side of the Tom Petty estate. 

“We will stand together. Yeah, we will stand as one.”

After I’d written, recorded, and published last week’s episode covering Two Gunslingers, I spent a lot of time thinking about the nature of the relationship between those two central characters. It only occurred to me later that they may not have been adversaries at all, but two men at arms on the same side and making a unified stand against whatever violence they were being confronted with. In that context, you could almost think of The Dark Of The Sun as a continuation and possibly the conclusion of their story. 

But, more on that later. Let’s rewind to 2004/2005 when Paul Zollo is interviewing Tom for his seminal book, Conversations With Tom Petty. Tom bemoans to Paul that The Dark of the Sun was never played live. He says “It got lost in the shuffle of that album. There were so many songs on it. I thought it was a good little song.” He closes by saying “I haven’t heard it in years, but I bet I would like it if I heard it.” and Paul suggests that Tom should have Dana (his wife) put the album on for him again some time, to which Tom recalls that the “Last time I heard that album, we were on one of our getaways and the room had a CD set-up and they have a few CDs which are standard with the room. Mantovani, or Johnny Mathis, And then there was me, and it was Into The Great Wide Open.” When Paul asks “Did you enjoy it?” Tom says “I remember enjoying The Dark Of The Sun. I always get pretty critical. But I was pleasantly surprised.” 

As mentioned, the song was surprisingly never played live. On the tour to support Into The Great Wide Open, they band would typically play six or seven songs from the record and when you look down the track listing, you do see Tom’s point about the heavyweights it was up against. Apart from Two Gunslingers and The Dark Of The Sun, all the other tracks on side one were released as singles in various markets. In a burgeoning set of killer live tracks, you can see how it would have been hard to slide either of those songs into the lineup. I mean, what do you take out? If Tom had stopped recording after Full Moon Fever and toured just the hits from the albums up to that point he would still have had a set list that would have disappointed people simply because he couldn’t fit their favourite song into the set list that night.

When this song starts, you could absolutely be forgiven for thinking “Hang on, we’ve heard this before haven’t we?” The opening bar of this one sounds almost identical to the opening of Kings Highway. Same key, same immediate opening with the whole band coming in on the one. The only slight difference is the tempo, which is around 133 beats per minute on Kings Highway and around 138 on this song. We also get a similar bright guitar lead tone that leads through a very simply chord progression, this time for eight bars instead of four. But it feels familiar. It feels like this album. Again we have at least three guitar parts, with the acoustic strumming out the progression and an electric rhythm part that accentuates the changes and adds in some additional fill notes. And if I had to guess - and hey it’s my podcast so guess I shall! - I would say there’s also a 12 string acoustic mixed a little lower, really padding out that sound. And over top of that dense wall of guitars, you get Mike Campbell’s beautiful lead part. 

After eight bars of this intro, we get the familiar drop out of the lead guitar while those rhythm guitars continue their lush, layered accompaniment to the track. We get a similar bass cadence to Two Gunslingers  - that one… one-two pattern and Stan Lynch is simply keeping that driving backbeat pushing the song forward. It all feels pretty safe and familiar to here.

The chord progression is one of those see-saw affairs that goes from the root G, down to the 5th, which is C, to the major 4th which is D, back to the major 5th and finally back to that root. The bass line under this is playing those root G-C-D-C notes twice through but then adds in a nice little twist by stepping down from G to F# to E to F# back to G on the third time through - on the line “Give me hope, give me comfort”. This just adds a little colour leading into the last four bars of the verse, which drop back to C again before coming up to D. The last two changes over two bars are followed by a four bar repeat of the main chord progression. So the verse has either 14 bars or 18 bars depending on how want to treat that last four bar transition part. In that four bars that transitions into the next verse, you hear that lead part again, but it’s bounced between the left and right channels and sounds like a call and response between the two different guitar parts on those channels. It’s also not brought up in the mix, so it just swims about in those layers of guitar. 

The lead guitars on this track sound as much like The Byrds as anything the Heartbreakers ever recorded and we’re going to talk about that especially in the solo section. But the rest of the guitars are just this beautifully balanced stew of acoustic and electric guitars playing the chord progressions in different inversions to get this richness of tone that fills out the whole sonic spectrum. 

The second verse is basically a carbon copy of the first musically until those last four bars, where we hold the C for two bars and then the D for two bars to build into the chorus where we get that big “hey yeah yeah”, ending on the first beat of the first bar of that B section. There’s a nice change here to the rhythm of the song, as we come off the straight back beat, with that quick Em-D-G descending progression starting on the second beat of the bar rather than the first. I’ve used the phrase “push” before and this is main motif of the chorus. So again, because that chord change doesn’t come in exactly where you expect it and the bass plays its notes on the 2, 3, and the 4-and (remember, 1-and-2-and-3-and-4-and) you get this sense of the rhythm being “pushed”, Now, a push, actually comes ahead of the beat and this is coming behind the beat, so very technically, this is a pull rather than a push, but the effect is the same and if you talk about a push to a musician they’d know exactly which part you’re talking about. The bass and that three chord change follow that push timing but Stan Lynch doesn’t follow exactly. And quite often, especially in rock songs, it's the drums that do the pushing. The snare stays exactly on the twos and fours and kick stays on the 1s and 3s, but adds a kick on the two, before pushing on the 4-and again into the next bar. Stan also switches from the hi-hat to the cowbell, played straight through on each beat of each bar. It’s a nice little change up to just give this chorus section a different feel and mood. The addition of that Em at the top of the progression also gives the section a momentary darker feeling. It’s the dark in the dark of the sun. But this isn’t a dark song, so it resolves down always to that G major root. The last addition in the chorus is the harmony vocals on the stand of “we will stand together”. After the line “we will stand together” we get a slight alteration to that three chord progression which changes to C - Em - D. before again returning to G. The chorus ends with that four bar core chord progression, with some harmonized oohs, and Tom repeating “In the dark of the sun”, with that last word landing on the first beat of the next bar, which is when Mike Campbell’s fantastic guitar solo comes in.

I don’t know if you’re sick of me banging on and on about how much I love MIke Campbell, but c’mon, if you don’t love the guy, how can you be a Tom Petty fan? The notes he chooses and those slides he uses remind me so much of George Harrison, but it sounds tonally like Roger McGuinn. I  was trying to remember which song specifically it was that Mike reminds me of here and it’s the Beatles’ cover of Buddy Holly’s words of love (play a little). The phrasing Mike is using on these slides just really has the same feel. He’s moving his hand slowly into the different positions so you really hear the frets sounding out the interval notes between and I just love that so much.  I’m also not sure if he’s playing two notes at a time there or has double tracked that solo. I suspect it’s the latter, because the slight delay between the attack of the higher and lower notes in the fifths seems to be more accentuated than it would be if he was playing it at the same time. Also, those bends would be near impossible to play that accurately so I’m fairly positive it’s double tracked. Hey, if I get to talk to Mike sometime, that will be something I can ask him, since I can’t watch him play it due to the lack of any live footage. My favourite part of the solo though is when it moves to that Em chord at the 1:47 mark and Mike starts that absolutely beautiful syncopated downward arpeggio. It’s one of those musical moments that just fills up my heart with joy! And we get a little trademark Heartbreakers turnaround again here as the solo goes on one bar more than you expect with Mike double-timing that final descending run so cleanly. It’s just another note perfect part to the song and you have to think everyone was pretty pleased with it!

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

Your question from last week was this: In which of the following states did the Heartbreakers play the most often? Is it a) Indiana 27, b) Ohio 52, c) Michigan 31, or d) Georgia 23 ? First of all, I think I should have clarified that I wasn’t asking which State Tom played the most gigs in of all the shows he played, because that would have been California, unsurprisingly. But of the four options I gave you, the Heartbreakers played Indiana 27 times between the first gig there in 1978 and their last in 2017. The Heartbreakers first played Georgia on the 30th of November, 1976, which according to Setlist.fm was only their fourth even gig, and returned to the Peach State a further 22 times, for a grand total of 23. In Michigan, the band played the Pine Knob Theatre in Clarkston 13 times and a total of 18 times in venues in other cities for a grand Michigan total of 31. This means that with a grand total of 52 shows, the answer is….. Ohio. If setlist.fm is correct the Buckeye state first welcomed the Heartbreakers on July 19, 1976, 3 years and 9 days after I was born! As far as I can see, the band returned to Ohio every time they went on tour and had a soft spot for the Blossom Music Center in Cuyahoga Falls where they played nine times.

Your question for this week is this: In 1980, Into The Great Wide Open producer Jeff Lynne with his band the Electric Light Orchestra, wrote and recorded the songs one side two of the worldwide hit album Xanadu. But which female star, who has a tangential link back to Tom, sang all the songs on side one? Was it a) Stevie Nicks, b) Annie Lennox, c) Olivia Newton John, or d) Debbie Harry?

OK, back to the song. Mike’s solo leads straight into the last verse, with Tom coming in over the top and landing word “Days” on the first beat of the bar as he has done in each of the previous two verses. The only difference in this verse is that we get those ooohs that we heard leading into the chorus at the start of the second half of the verse, when Tom sings “Would I sail into the heavens”. The following chorus adds more vocal harmonies and a call and response on the line “dark of the sun”. The outro plays a couple of nice little tricks here with the first pass through the chorus ending on “We will stand as one” before the “hey yeah yeah” brings us straight back into the chorus once more, where we land on the “In the dark of the sun” as expected. In the outro we then get some more of those melodic sliding guitar licks and Tom throwing in a “hey yeah yeah” out of place before the song ends on that Em-D-G push.

There’s a distinct lack of Benmont Tench on this song and I think that my brain was playing tricks on me and there actually aren’t any keyboards on this song, but, why would you need them? Jeff Lynne’s penchant for caring more about the song than the band maybe came to bear here, but I’m sure Benmont would have found exactly the right complementary part to play, maybe some tasteful, restrained piano would have worked. And like Two Gunslingers, you can absolutely hear this song being really good in a stripped back half time type arrangement.

Vocally, the versus mirror the style that Tom has used on the previous two tracks, Into The Great Wide Open and Two Gunslingers, where he’s sitting in that very natural mid-range, until it gets to those “Hey yeah yeah” when he cracks that vocal a little, just to give that a slightly more plaintive texture, to match that Em chord. There are a couple of nice little Tomisms in here too of course. The way he sings “Saw you sail”... at the start of the second verse you almost hear him really open up his vocal, but he’s just teasing it as he drops back into that comfortable mid-range. Then there’s that little bend he does on the word “never” in the line “I had never known before”. We’ve talked before about much attention he paid to every syllable he ever sang and this song is a great exercise in vocal restraint and picking your moments to add in a little colour. The last little Tom thing is that drawl on “In my eyes” - which basically becomes one word as Tom takes advantage of the soft consonants. Beautifully done. 

So, onto the lyrics. I mentioned right at the top that, if you’re of a mind, maybe this is the follow up to Two Gunslingers in more than just album sequencing. Where that song is about taking back control over one’s own destiny against a backdrop of violence and oppression, this song is about finding another person to complete oneself and become part of a greater whole. Could that have a spiritual connotation, sure. Could it be a really simple love song written to show someone that you’ll be together forever? Absolutely. But as with Two Gunslingers, I think this is a lyric that you can approach from any number of angles. Heck, if we allow the premise that the gunslingers were bonded by trauma in the first song, after went ridin’ out of town, maybe they fell love with one another and peace became what bonded them. The lyrics in this one are again, I think, deliberately vague. Kinda of like things you see in your peripheral vision or a dream you can only half remember on waking. There are unambiguous exhortations or declarations, like “Give me hope, give me comfort” and “We will stand together”, but then there are also muc more nebulous lines like “In your eyes there was a freedom I had never known before” and “Would I sail into the heavens, constellations in my eyes?” These are more feelings than actions. More ideas than gestures. And we have that clever callback in the “constellations in my eyes” line in the last verse which references “Orion’s sword” in the second. “Saw you sail across a river underneath Orion’s sword.” There’s such a tranquility that you get from the idea of water and sky. Orion’s sword is part of the Orion constellation and when Paul Zollo mentions this line to Tom in Conversations, Tom says “Orion is one of the few that I can easily pick out when I look up there. That was another song that came from a staring-at-the-sky kind of thing.” Which leads us to the title line in the song. The Dark of the Sun. It’s such a clever inversion on what we all know the sun to be. What does it mean? An eclipse would a darkening of the sun. Is the dark of the sun a reference to the singer feeling that the connection they have with this other person is so bright that the sun becomes darker by comparison? Is it Tom playfully subverting the idea of the dark side of the moon? Does it matter? I don’t think it does. And I don’t know whether it actually meant anything to Tom when he wrote it, but it’s an impactful line exactly because of the juxtaposition between the words dark and sun. Light and shade. Hope and despair. Violence and love. Two gunslingers finally finding peace. 

OK PettyHeads, that’s it for this week! The Dark of the Sun is another one of those songs that I sometimes forget about and then when I hear it think, “man, that’s a great song!” and then when I hear Mike’s solo, I think “Man, that’s a REALLY good song!” It’s slick, it’s short, and it’s an upbeat ray of sunshine. It’s a song that do believe was sequenced after Two Gunslingers very deliberately, and though my idea of them being connected narratively is a product of me recognizing patterns that aren’t there, I think those two songs sit so wonderfully together on side one of this album and provide a different dynamic to Side A. I don’t think this one is as strong as Two Gunslingers, but Mike Campbell’s guitar solo, and that great push in the chorus alone make it worth listening to again and again. So I’m going to give The Dark of the Sun a confident 8 out of 10.


Petty Trivia

QUESTION: In 1980, Into The Great Wide Open producer Jeff Lynne with his band the Electric Light Orchestra, wrote and recorded the songs one side two of the worldwide hit album Xanadu. But which female star, who has a tangential link back to Tom, sang all the songs on side one? Was it a) Stevie Nicks, b) Annie Lennox, c) Olivia Newton John, or d) Debbie Harry?

ANSWER: The answer of course, is … Olivia Newton John. In his superb memoir, Tom Petty and Me, author and PR man Jon Scott tells the story of traveling from Memphis to Nashville with a very young Olivia Newton John. Here’s what he told me when I interviewed him back in October of 2021. [play clip of Jon talking about the car journey and Mudcrutch]. Tom’s link to Stevie Nicks is of course far less than tangential. As the Heartbreakers’ little sister, the artistic connection between Tom and Stevie was front and center for the world to see, but the connection between Stevie and Tom’s first wife Jane was also a close one. In fact the title of Nick’s signature hit Edge of Seventeen came from her mishearing Jane Petty telling her that she met Tom at the “age of Seventeen”, but that North Florida accent caused Nicks to mishear. Debbie Harry played her debut LA gig at the Whisky on February 9th, 1977 on a bill listed as “Blondie with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers”, which was also Tom’s LA debut with the Heartbreakers. Tom had played at the legendary venue as early as 1974 with Mudcrutch and would grace its stage for the last time on the 19th of September, 1982. Annie Lennox was a Malibu neighbour and friend of Tom’s in 1987 when an arsonist burned down Tom’s home. In Warren Zanes biography, he writes that that the legendary Eurythmics singer “went out and bought clothes for the Petty, bringing them to the hotel that would be the family’s home for the next few days, before the Rock n Roll Caravan tour would begin.” Lennox also joined Tom and Bob Dylan on stage for a cameo performance of Knockin on Heaven’s Door. Take a listen to Tom, Bob, and Annie singing the famous refrain.


Two gunslingers walked out in the street
And one said, "I don't want to fight no more"
And the other gunslinger thought about it
And he said, "Yeah, what are we fighting for?"

I'm takin' control of my life
I'm takin' control of my life
I'm takin' control of my life now
Right now, oh yeah

Well, the crowd that assembled for the gunfight were let down
Everyone hissed and booed and a stranger told his missus
"That's the last one of these gunfights
You're ever gonna drag me to"

I'm takin' control of my life
I'm takin' control of my life
I'm takin' control of my life now
Right now, oh yeah

Well, the two gunslingers went ridin' out of town
And were never heard from no more
And there ain't been a gunfight for a long time
Maybe never, but nobody knows for sure

I'm takin' control of my life
I'm takin' control of my life
I'm takin' control of my life now
Right now, oh yeah
Now, right now, oh yeah
Now, right now, oh yeah