Ruminations on TV Shows, Comics, And Music
Every year, more and more people on my various social media feeds post links to the Mountain Goats' "This Year". Some of them have never heard another Mountain Goats song, some of them have every album (even the cassettes) that John Darnielle ever even contemplated recording.
I'm not at all an expert on the band. I have dated and lived with a variety of people who played their songs since the late 90s. I have enjoyed the music, dismissed the music, been frustrated by songs put on repeat, and occasionally wished for an alternate universe where The Mountain Goats didn't exist (through no fault of the actual band).
2020 was the year a series of communities were forced to move from in-person to online, and that included a poetry community I'm a part of. Every week we do a themed event where people might write about birds, water, wearing a bunny suit, their personal hells, whatever mood strikes the sadistic organizer (who is me). About 1/3rd of the weeks, someone submits a poem that references The Mountain Goats. It's not always the same person, either. Some of the rest of the group scratches their facial hair and says something akin to "I guess I'll have to look up these Mountainous Sheep" (many in the group are comfortably unhip) "and give their music a listen."
Well, here you are ye ancient poets. A primer discography for The Mountain Goats. Their actual output is stunningly dense with more songs that anyone should have to listen to in a year. I've cut and pasted their EPs and their full albums together, leaving almost no corner of their output untouched. The exception? The cassette albums. Ispent a majority of the mid to late nineties messing around with other peoples' four or eight track recorders trying to help them edit their concept album about cars or their whiney, accidentally misogynist songs about how nobody loved them. The unprofessional lofi hiss (there are some that rise to professional levels) just brings back too many boring memories, so I just can't endure the cassette output. But I am combing through everything else.
We're going to start with the lowest-fidelity I can handle. The early EPs leading up to their first full-length adventure: Zopilote Machine, as well as tracks from said album. It's one of the shorter albums I've ever done for one of these discographies, but 1.) The early Mountain Goats songs tend to blend together and cause me to lose interest after a while, and 2.) It feels wrong to make this longer. Tape is expensive!
Everybody ready? Sinaloan Milk Snake Song pretty much encapsulates the early sound of The Mountain Goats for me. Strummy guitar, a seemingly stream of consciousness set of lyrics, nasally lead vocals. It's musically upbeat (partially due to the background vocals from The Casual Girls and the la la la la la la la la refrains) while the lyrics are fairly downerish. It's a contrast that seems inherent in almost all of Darnielle's music. It just *sounds* like everything is going to be okay, even as he sings about how awful everything is.
We have a staticy interlude before the percussive guitar moves in for the near-Christmas song (holly and mistletoe?), Night Of The Mules. Clip-clop clip-clop.
I bury the hum from the beginning of Pure Honey beneath the percussion of the previous track. I just enjoyed the way they flowed together. Like many of the songs on this mix, the track clocks in at under two minutes. It's just this weird little misdirect song, where you think it's going to have some sort of existential meaning, but it just plops in a random phrase and stops. They have a more famous version of this trick called "Monkey Song" but I much prefer this song, as the lyrics end almost as soon as it reaches the weirdness, and it just repeats the song instrumentally.
Azo The Nelli In Tlalticpac is quite the mouthful. And it sounds like pretty much every track where one dude plays a guiatar and sings a serious and repetitive song into a four track recorder. I'm not sure I'd like this song if it weren't so lo-fi. The lyrics are fine. The guitar is adequate. It just seems to be one of the prime listenable examples of this kind of recording.
Drum machines and keyboards? On this album? Yeup. If Song For Tura Santana wasn't recorded in a basement or a windowless one-room studio apartment, then it is a musical crime. It's so basic.
Then beneath the basic fade out, Barbara Streisand gets all melodramatic, and then Quetzacoatl Is Born rises in nasally, strumming glory. It makes me want to break out the Saddle Creek catalogue, put on an unnecessary winter hat, and smoke some American Spirits. Into the fire you go!
We Have Seen The Enemy is one of those lovely Dude Talks Over Guitar Until Oh Shit! He's Singing Now Because This Is A Song. It's a trope I often enjoy, and this track is no exception. I also like that you get One Verse of the song, and then it's over.
On Tuesday nights for a few years, a few friends and writers would meet up for drinks at a bar called Grendel's Den. It's pretty much my only positive association with the Beowulf villain, apart from Grendel's Mother, which at least one of my former roommates used to sit in his bedroom and play for hours at a time.
Going To Lebanon seems like a musical continuation of the previous track. Like Grendel's mom has nowhere to run to / nowhere to go except Lebanon. And why not? We also have the return of The Casual Girls, who aren't always on-pitch, or even well-harmonized, and yet I enjoy them every time they show up in this discography.
I guess Lebanon didn't work out for the narrator beause now he's Going To Maryland, and he didn't even take The Casual Girls with him! He's just focused on water. Which, ok. Why not?
Another song that bubbles in under the previous track is Pure Love which is a lovely keyboard-belltone song about how someone plots to steal the narrator's heart, even though he never mentions his heart or does more than hint that a crime has been committed. Also, it won't be necessary. He keeps telling you that.
The Mountain Goats has a series of songs from 1991-1995 called "Standard Bitter Love Song"s. They're fine. But my favorite bitter love song of his is Orange Ball Of Hate, which is also a counterpart to "Orange Ball Of Love", which is a fine song, but didn't quite make the cut for me, even though it would have been a neat callback.
Pure Heat keeps mentioning the weather from the last track. We're nearing the end of this very short album, and this feels like just the track to tow us there.
In fact, here we are at the end, and, what's that? We have another journey to take? Ok, I guess we're Going To Georgia. This song just sounds like something twenty-somethings in the mid-nineties would yell loudly along with the band. The club was way past capacity because the fire codes wouldn't be taken seriously for another five or six years. The club reeks of cheap cigarettes, sweat, and probably a bit of patchouli. The bartenders are pissed because there is almost nobody over twenty at this show. And then the song stops, and the kids cheer, but they don't Go anywhere (not even Georgia or Maryland or Lebanon) because there's nothing else to do in this town but go to small indie shows and talk about leaving. "If I don't make it," the audience thinks, "I hope this band does."
As I've previously mentioned, I'm not a Neil Young expert. I'm coming to this discography from ap lace of ignorance. I know those influenced by him more than I know why he influenced them. Yes, I'm familiar with his 70s hits, and his 90s resurgence but I had no idea who he was in the 80s.
There's a reason.
Neil Young went through some shit in the 80s. He was given a contract with "complete artistic freedom" and he took advantage of that. And his albums tanked. Most of them aren't awful, they just aren't traditional Neil Young albums. It's like if U2 went direct from Joshua Tree to Zooropa. It's jarring. So jarring that his label tried to sue him for breach of contract, claiming his 80s output was "musically uncharacteristic of (his) previous albums". They lost. They even apologized for the lawsuit, after the fact.
The albums that make up this reimagined album are Re-ac-tor, Trans, Everybody's Rockin', and Landing On Water. Apart from Everybody's Rockin', none of them are bad albums. They're just neither excellent, nor Neil Youngish. But they're creative, and each of them has at least a couple of good songs. Everybody's Rockin' has one fun song and one good song, but its Hey Remember The 50s Rockabilly Sound was stale forty years ago, and hasn't aged any better.
But there's something charming about the combination of these styles into one eclectic, hard to pin down album.
It's definitely the 80s in NeilYoungland. Check out the synth beats on People On The Street. This ain't your guitar strumming champion of the people. Oh, wait, here comes that reedy voice, and he is trying to get you to help the homeless. Ok, so this is the familiar Neil Young, and while this is the band Crazy Horse, which have played with him before, they sure do sound different. The background vocals on the chorus sound very soft rock/r&b 80s, though I couldn't name a band that they sound precisely like.
We continue with the Computer Age sound. Though this song also has Young's guitar fingerprints alongside the synth chords. I can't decide if the main vocals on this track have been hit with a little echo but the background vocals have absolutely been vocoded to the stratosphere. Why is Neil Young suddenly on vocoder? According to Young, he was having trying to reconcile the fact that his son, who has cerebal palsy, couldn't speak, and so he was toying with making his own communication more complicated.
Touch The Night hits us with some heavy guitar at the beginning before tossing in a boys' choir and synth. But then, there it is, the unmistakable Neil Young vocals that could have come from any point in his discography. This song follows the metaphoric trajectory of "Computer Age", as we've got a bunch of traffic and highways scattered throughout the lyrics of both songs. Apart from the synth touches, this absolutely could have come out of his late 70s output and not confused any of his fans, or his record label.
That's also true of the next song, Ra-pid Tran-sit, which is all guitars. He pitches his voice a bit lower for some of the vocals, and includes a stutter to the beginning of each non-chorus line but it's, otherwise, classic Neil Young, and comes before the Geffen records debacle, but it fits nicely on this album.
Most of the albums that Geffen records didn't like, I quite enjoy. They definitely aren't hits, and I prefer them as background music than albums that I'm going to give my full focus. The exception is 1983's Everybody's Rockin', which is, at its core, a terrible record. A nostalgic for the 1950s "rockabilly" album. I'm glad Young had fun recording it, and touring behind it, but it is a slog to listen to. Wonderin' is one of the two tracks on the album that I don't mind, as it really sounds more like a Neil Young song in the style of the 1950s, rather than Neil Young trying to recreate a 1950s sound. As an anomoly on this eclectic album, I think it's great.
There's a nice little clanging bell that brings us back from the 1950s to the 1970s/80s guitar rock of Southern Pacific. The lyrics, about a rail worker being let go because of his advancing age, is vintage Young.
Like An Inca is just enjoyable Neil Young guitar rock. He doesn't strain his voice up, the way he does on many of his tracks, which gives the song a much more relaxed vibe. Especially with the background vocals.
Writing the descriptions of this album, has me realizing how much I do enjoy his more traditional work to the experimental phase. A majority of the songs on this Musically Uncharacteristic Of (His) Previous Albums, really aren't that uncharacteristic. They're musically satisfying, and include alterations to the 1960s/1970s Neil Young formula, but I don't find them all that jarring. I'm surprised more of them weren't hits for him.
Ok, I know why Kinda Fonda Wanda, another of his 1950s style songs wasn't a hit, but it's a ridiculous and fun song. I've trimmed the second verse off because the lyrics are novelty-style and thematically repetetive, but I enjoy the core joke of the song. Young isn't often known for his sense of humor. But it's clearly there. This is also a nice breather, as it's about a minute and a half, while the previous song was nearly ten minutes long. Twiddly-dee!
I Got A Problem gives us heavy guitars, and a drum beat that would make Phil Collins's heart flutter. This is another song about having problems communicating. Yet the song, itself, from lyrics to the limited instrumentation, is crystal clear in its meaning.
The synth is back for Bad News Beat. So are generic love lyrics. But they're catchy, and very, very, very New Age 80s. You could definitely imagine this as a Cars song with Neil Young on vocals. It's not the same kind of fun as "Kinda Fonda Wonda" but it is light, and just sounds warm, like it could be in the background of a beach montage scene in an 80s action film. Right up until the breakdown, which is remarkably spare.
You can hear Kraftwerk's fingerprints all over We R In Control. Young's conspiracy theorist's wet dream theme song. All the lyrics are vocoded. Instead of a beach scene, this is an all-night scene where you flash across a city stopping at the inordinate amount of sinister looking, suit and sunglassed government employees, spying on the general public with no moral qualms.
We close out the album with a piano nostalgia song. Get Back On It is somewhere on the border of the Everybody's Rockin' album, and Young's 70s output. It does transition to an electric guitar ending, and will bring us into the next evolution of Young's music.
I was inspired to do a reimagined Tom Petty discography by the release of Wildflowers And All The Rest a few weeks ago. Wildflowers has consistently been my favorite Petty album since it came out. Before the new version of the album was released, my own personal mix had the original album, the two new cuts from Greatest Hits and "Walls" from the She's The One Soundtrack. Many of the cuts released from the new album are from the recording sessions for those two albums, as well as the original Wildflowers album. I had debated just making my versoin of Wildflowers and then tacking on a new album's worth of material, but (and it's a big but) the additional songs are great for enhancing the feel of the album, but I don't know how often I'd listen to just the non-album tracks, even if I attached them to the Greatest Hits and She's The One Soundrack songs. So I've integrated them into a double album, which is what Petty originally intended Wildflowers to be.
Unlike most of my reimagined albums, this isn't relentless tracks that flow into each other and crossfade. Petty's music doesn't really lend itself to that. So, unlike the other albums, this you could just take this playlist, listen to it in the same order, and your listening experience would be the same as mine.
Embarrassing aside to start this off: I thought I finished this project a couple of weeks ago, but I forgot to upload the post before my computer shut down. No big deal. I came back to the project a few days later and it didn't feel right, and I couldn't put my finger on it. I eventually gave up trying to figure out what was wrong, and appreciated the reimagined album. Then I realized, I think what's missing is the song that led me to buy the album. I mean, sure, I already loved Full Moon Fever and Into The Great Wide Open but I was also starting to expand my musical horizons, and was tossing away artists I'd loved in middle school. Billy Joel, gone. Michael Jackswho? I have no idea where those Mariah Carey CDs even came from. But then I saw the video for You Don't Know How It Feels, and there was something about that drum beat. The relaxed guitar solo near the end. The clearly stoned harmonica. And the other people in the dorm I lived in seemed to also like it. Petty was cool. Ok.
I was living in an all-boys dorm in high school, watching MTV when the video for Mary Jane's Last Dance came on. I wasn't the sort of music fan who bought a Greatest Hits album if I liked a band. I wanted the experience of their albums. But I figured I was going to have to have to buy this particular album if just for this song. That opening riff is one of Petty's absolute best.The background woo-ooo-ooohs are delicious icing on Petty's pot brownie. It's a perfect hint at what Wildflowers was to be, and just sounds crunchier and more fun than anything from Into The Great Wide Open.
If there's a Tom Petty song that sounds like it could have been a part of The Beatles discography, it's Keep Crawling Back To You. It's vaguely orchestral sounding opening with extra flute. The piano's ascension and then camoflauge within the melody is not the sort of expected melding of instruments you get on a Heartbreakers album. I love it.
The title track, Wildflowers is a happy-go-lucky song that sounds like it was written for a guitarist sitting by a campfire, trying to impress everyone with how cool and retro he is. It shouldn't work. It's pretty hokey. But it's also pretty, and the bounciness between verses just makes me want to smile and bop my head like a muppet.
The first of the non-album tracks is There Goes Angela (Dream Away), a straight-forward narrative. It definitely has the breezy acoustic feel of many of the ballads from the original Wildflowers. Petty has a dreamy harmonica solo between verses. It's the sort of song I wouldn't want to hear in a stadium, but would love to hear in a private concert setting with less than fifty people.
It's Good To Be King was one of the reasons that I bought this on cassette. I already owned the album on CD but I was staying with my grandparents for a week or so, and I had record/cassette deck there to transfer my favorite musicals from their collection but no CD player. From the opening piano chords to the haunting background oooooohs and the Hammond organ barely audible during the transition from bridge to chorus. Plus the sincerely delivered lyrics about how great rock stardom is are so hilariously self-effacing. I doubt I picked up on that the first fifty or so times I listened to this, being in the prime of teenage angst as I was. It also has a killer string outro.
How many millions of pop singers and folk singers and rock and roll lyricists have made a song about being sad that includes "the rain". So. So. So so many. There's A Break In The Rain embraces its triteness. Yea, it's another acoustic ballad, this one reprising a lyric from "You Don't Know How It Feels". (This is actually how I realized that I had somehow forgotten the opening track to this disc.)
There's an impassioned piano chord jamming throughout Hungup And Overdue. A halfhearted guitar strums over it. The lyrics float breezily over the song. This is somewhere between The Beatles and The Hives for Lazy Rock. It sounds great, but it sounds effortless, and I don't mean Effortlessly Genius, I mean it sounds like people just happened to be playing instruments and singing these songs when there as a microphone and a sound engineer around. In no way does the song blow my mind, but I like it. It's an open window threatening to scatter papers but never following through.
At one of my previous jobs, we had The Last CD player. Oh, I'm sure they're still making a small amount of CD players somewhere in the world. But in a few hundred years after we've blown ourselves to smithereens, an alien race will find some CD players and try to recreate them. They'll be sort of successful but it will be all kinds of quirky, and they'll get so angry that they'll zap it back into the past, where my boss, in the mid-90s will find it and bring it into the store. It will mainly be used to play James Brown, Bruce Springsteen, and some fantastic funk records. But one day, I will show up, and I'll start making mixes of my favorite songs. I'll give the albums goofy names. And the first track on the first album of family friendly rock and R&B will be Honey Bee by Tom Petty. I know this because, of course, it's already happened. Time travel is complex, yo. This song is pure silly fuzzy blues riff. It sounds more bumble bee than honey bee to me. But what do I know?
"Honey Bee" fades out directly into Climb That Hill, a rarity for this album. This is an inspirational song with a beat and a basic guitar scale exercise that makes me forget the inspiration. Like, okay Tom, we didn't back down already, what else do you want from us? That hill doesn't even look that tall, I'm just not into climbing this morning.
Back in high school again, and my junior year, we were all trying to figure out what Beck was singing in "Loser" because none of our dumb asses spoke Spanish. We loved the song, and some of us went back and bought the two previous Beck albums and were Very Confused. It wasn't electric now music, it was folky indie rock. For the most part, I couldn't get into it, but I did love Asshole. So when I put in the She's The One Soundtrack, and realized that Petty was covering the song, I smiled. He really doesn't do anything exceptionally exciting about it. It definitely sounds like he got stoned and thought "What if I covered this song, but, like, added some piano to it. Would that be funny? Oh shit, I think I'm supposed to turn in that sountrack album, uhhh, I'm short a few tracks. Should I? Hmmm. Hehehe. Yeeea. I'm so subversive."
The most surprising thing about It's Only A Broken Heart is that it took Petty twenty years to write and release it. It's the gentlest of the gentle ballads on this album. You can definitely hear George Harrison on the song. I mean, he's not actually involved in it, other than his incredible influence on this phase of Petty's career. It's gorgeous. I believe "lilting" would probably show up in a professional's review. Spare use of piano. Wire brush on the drums. Acoustic guitar solo that sounds like it came off of Eric Clapton's Unplugged. It was made for soft rock radio.
Walls, on the other hand, crashes out of the She's The One Soundtrack. I adore this song. It's in my top ten Petty songs. Probably much higher than it should be. I love 50s style background woahs, I love the really stupid lyrics. It's the most Mad Hatter Petty since "Don't Come Around Here No More". The picadilly resurgence at the end is gorgeous and unexpected.
More expected is the sad, introspective breakup ballad, Hard On Me. Like the best Petty songs, it's catchy as all hell, even though it's not doing anything terribly original, and isn't as great as the other songs on the album, but it's still so damned catchy.
Closing off the first side is another non-album acoustic ballad. Harry Green, a rare narrative song about someone who isn't one of Petty's exes. It comes to a perfect dwindling close to taper off Disc One.
Tom Petty's follow-up to Full Moon Fever, Into The Great Wide Open, was one of the last cassette tapes I bought, and I played it until it sounded warped. I loved it. I learned all the lyrics. Because I had bought it when it was new, as opposed to When I Heard It An Adult's House, it felt more like My Tom Petty Album than Full Moon Fever. But after the back to back releases of Greatest Hits and Wildflowers, I hardly ever went back to it.
It's a solid album, but, looking back through all of Petty's discography, it does feel like a really Safe version of Full Moon Fever. There are no weird tracks on this album, they all sound like radio friendly single attempts. I love the title track, and a few other songs, but it's not as magic. I didn't cut anything, though, because there aren't any Bad Songs. I even added the final Traveling Wilburys track for this discography. And, with its new order, I like it a bit better as I've tried my best to space out the songs that sounded too similar. As an album, I think it's more solid than my Southern Accents (which, again, is a pre-Full Moon Fever Greatest Hits collection) but I'd file it with 21st century Petty, albums I love from beginning to end, but am rarely compelled to listen to.
Much like the frequently mentioned, Full Moon Fever, this album was formatted to highlight the singles. The first two tracks were the first two singles. They're good songs. They're not really openers, though. Makin' Some Noise is a declaration (that the rest of the album doesn't live up to) that this is going to be more rock than adult contemporary. The lyrics are completely forgettable. It's all about the guitar riff and the occasional Petty screech. It also follows the trend of laying down some interesting rockabilly piano that it fades out on far too quickly.
Into The Great Wide Open was the first Petty single that I was into at the same time that it was getting major radio play. I love its narrative flow, and the open strumming before the chorus hits. The final verse flow from jingle to mingle to single is probably my favorite verse he ever wrote. I love that the story ends there.
It's time to say goodbye to the Traveling Wilburys with The Devil's Been Busy, a takedown of rich, entitled White people (which is probably not quite how they would have described it in 1990, but that is what it's about). It's not their greatest track, but I do love the chorus and the unmistakable George Harrison sitar.
Another actual rock riff screams out of All Or Nothin', which sees raw Petty emerge in the chorus breaking up Mature Petty's verses. My skin is thicker / my heart is tougher / I don't mind working / but I'm scared to suffer has always seemed super relatable to me, even if it is Incredibly Trite. There's also hella wammy bar in the solo.
Too Good To Be True is the quintissential sound of this album. It's very strummy. The background harmonies are very basic but work well. The lyrics are bumper sticker philosophy (as are the lyrics in "All Or Nothin'"). It's a good song, in that it seems like a song you already know all the words to. Even the fake ending before the almost soft jazz electric guitars seem like Oh Yea, I Remember This.
Continuing the trend of the strummy familiar songs is For All The Wrong Reasons. The lyrics are a step up from the previous two, even if I wouldn't exactly call it challenging. It's the kind of song that if you heard it at a concert, you wouldn't feel bad about singing along with it, as everyone at the show likes it, but nobody was super psyched and waiting for This Song to experience live.
King's Highway is almost a Cars song with Tom Petty on vocals. I think it's the drums that just scream Early 80s, even though this is an early 90s song. Part of me thought about plucking this song off this album and dropping it on to Highway Companion, it would have sounded instrumentally out of place, but lyrically perfect. My favorite part of the entire song is the exhausted drum finale.
For the second album in a row, I've pulled the first track, also the first single out of its place because it didn't sound like an opener, and placed it where I felt it naturally belonged. Both times, I've ended up placing it at what would be the first track of Side Two for records or tapes. Learning To Fly is a perfectly great Tom Petty song. But I loved it So Much when it came out, and now I wouldn't put it in my top twenty-five Petty songs.
Out In The Cold attempts to bring back the rock a bit. The drums do most of the work. Though the lower octaved guitars help give it a more menacing feel than most of the tracks on this album. It also has a spare narrative that evokes all sorts of Feeling Lost Because I Don't Know Where I'm At In My Relationship, even though it never really addresses that that's what's happening.
I spent more time than should have been necessary to find a logical place for You And I Will Meet Again. Its opening strum sounds like it's already the middle of a song but not in such a way that I wanted to try and fade into it. Instead I placed the "What's In Here? / Ohhhh" skit just before it. I like the idea of the Petty that was wondering around in the snow during the last poem, opening a door and a monster...not just any monster but a big, fuzzy Muppet monster that represented his failed relationship...begins singing him this song. For the fourth or fifth time in the discography we fade out on rockabilly piano that I wish was more present in the song.
The Dark Of The Sun could have been the closing track of the album. It's low-key but not quite a ballad, and there's a hint of optimism in the lyrics.
I think I liked Two Gunslingers so much when it came out because I was reading The Waste Land by Stephen King at the time. And I always pictured the A stranger / told his missus / that's the last one / of these gunfights / you're ever going to drag me to taking place in Lud.
Closing out the album is the actual closer from Into The Great Wide Open. Built To Last is a literal banger, if the bass drum is to be believed. It's a cheesy love song with some cool background effects, 50s harmonies, and it's a nice farewell to this familiar Petty, as the next album brings the last Interesting Change to Petty's repertoire.
If you are not a diehard Tom Petty fan (and I'm not, I fall somewhere between casual and formal fandom) than you usually skip a bunch of tracks on Petty albums, and just listen to your favorites. With two exceptions: Full Moon Fever and Wildflowers.
The new release of the updated Wildflowers is the reason I'm doing this discography now, but that doesn't detract from the joy of toying with Full Moon Fever. I have not removed any songs, and have, in fact, added a couple of Travelling Wilburys songs to it.
The original album was mostly designed to showcasr singles. It starts hella strong and slowly fades in quality until the Obvious Closer for the album, and then it comes back and smacks you with the weirdest song on the album.
I appreciate that method, but have aimed for a more cohesive album, letting the singles pop up occasionally rather than throwing them all at you at once.
I don't care if it's sacrilege not to start with those five breezy strums that signal the opening of "Free Fallin'". This album has several songs that serve as great openers. For my money, I love the folk silliness of Yer So Bad. It's a signal that this album isn't like any previous Petty album. The production is cleaner. The jangle is still present but no longer the focus of songs. Jeff Lynne (the guy from ELO, and a fellow Traveling Wilbury) has pushed Petty's vocals to the front, and the whole album is better for it. Instead of rebellious Southern Rock with a screeching Petty, this is going to be a bright, shiny, happy Petty. It's a joy to listen to.
The first single comes crashing through with an incredible riffy opening. Runnin' Down A Dream is such a summer song, perhaps the second most summer song on this Very summer album. I love how they fade the rhythm guitars to the front for the silly strumming, and then push it back to the background. The woo-ooohs that swallow the ending of the song, as the sinister guitar riff is subdued by a Mike Campbell solo is also a new and welcome addition for a Heartbreakers song (it's true that this is Petty's first "solo" album, but many of the Heartbreakers and The Traveling Wilburys play on it).
This is silly. "Runnin' Down A Dream" was the final song from Side A of the original cassette, and Petty does a little skit about it being the end of Side A. I like keeping it at the end of the second track. Just because it's fun, and because it makes the fact that the next song, End Of The Line, starts with Roy Orbison vocals before Petty joins in. Yeup, it's a Traveling Wilburys song. Still summery. I just see the sun coming down while people do watersports (like kayaking and diving into a lake, pervs).
We slow things down a bit with A Face In The Crowd. I think it's a mandolin that strums throughout the song that helps this song stand out. It's only the second excellent ballad Petty has recorded (after "Southern Accents").
Fading in at the end of the previous track is a Very 80s synth beat that's soon overwhelmed by Very Tom Petty drums and guitars. Love Is A Long Road is the first track that would have fit on an early Petty album. Its production may be cleaner but it's a classic Petty song, and it's hard not to imagine this is just a really good regular Heartbreaker track. It has more of a late 70s than a late 80s feel, apart from those synths. Lord, those synths.
Zombie Zoo is such a ridiculous Petty song. The brief piano riffs. The floating background vocals (which include Roy Orbison). The lyrics you shaved off all your hair / you look like Boris Karloff / and you don't even care. The chorus uses the phrase painted in the corner and, for reasons I can't explain, it always finishes in my head with like you was Pointdexter from Young MC's "Bust A Move", which came out the same year. I don't know why I've always had this association.
Another light, fun song is Cool Dry Place, a Traveling Wilburys song with Petty completely at the forefront. Unlike the previous Wilbury tracks, this one keeps the other Wilburys in the background, rather than have them trade verses. So it really does sound like a Petty song. But with Orbinson, Bob Dylan, George Harrison, and Jeff Lynne as background singers. There's also a great low sax croaking, and some horn ribbits rounding out the bright instrumentation.
After a breath of silence, it finally comes in. Free Fallin'. I enjoy it as a change of pace, rather than the intro. I think it gives the song more weight on the album. Although, if this were a cassette or record, this would come at exactly the beginning of Side B.
I also want a cooldown after "Free Fallin'". The original album followed it up with "I Won't Back Down". I prefer putting The Apartment Song here. It's a solid song. A less weird "Yer So Bad" with more of a 1970s Heartbreakers vibe. And it has a great drum breakdown in the middle for a Southern Rock jam. I actualy wish there was more of the rockabilly piano before the song faded out.
Twanging out of the piano is A Mind With A Heart Of Its Own. Another strange set of lyrics (where on Earth does I slept in your treehouse / my middle name of Earl come from in this song?) but a more radio-friendly instrumentation. I like the slide guitar twang, and the weird rising background vocals that don't actually go anywhere after the false stop.
I Won't Back Down is the obvious second favorite song on this album. It's got the rebellious spirit of early Petty but with the more subdued delivery of the newly maturing Petty. It's catchy as all hell.
Jangle jangle jangle in the foreground. Sing-along-background vocals. Feel A Whole Lot Better is a great breakup song with 100% less misogyny than previous Petty breakup songs. The mandolin has it feeling somewhere between a country song and something off of REM's Out Of Time. I debated having this as the final track but I'm a sucker for ending an album with a ballad.
Probably the song I'm least familiar with on the album (though I know all the words) is Depending On You. It's another throwback to the earlier Heartbreakers sound, the ones where Petty sing-talks before falling back into the melody. If I had to lose a song on the album, it would be this. But I don't want to lose it, even if it structurally weakens the close of the album a bit with its reliance on someone else, which stands in start contrast with the message of every other song.
There's a false start to the wonderfully sleepy lullaby, Alright For Now. This song would have fit right in on Wildflowers. In fact, "Wake Up Time" is almost a response to this track. And, okay, this also has a bit of co-dependent feel that clashes with the album's overall theme. But it's such a perfect summer lullaby.