I think I speak for the majority of rock and roll fans when I say, I’m just not over the loss of Tom Petty. I don’t know if I ever will get over it (RIP Tom Petty, 1950 – 2017, A Devastating Loss: The Composer of the Soundtrack to My Life Is Gone). His music and concerts were so ingrained as a part of my life it just feels weird that he’s gone. One thing I’ve been hoping for, nay, praying for, is that his estate and the Heartbreakers would release some of the material that Petty had compiled in his vaults. For a couple of years prior to his passing, Petty himself spoke about revisiting the Wildflowers album and doing a reissue. His original concept had been for that to be a double-album. The re-release would have restored Wildflowers to his original concept and he and the Heartbreakers were going to tour and play the whole thing. Oh, how I wish we all could have seen that.
As far as I know, the Wildflowers project is still in the works. I started seeing on Petty’s Instagram and Twitter accounts, much like McCartney did lately, pictures of boxes of tape reels and other hints that something was coming. I thought fleetingly that it would be the Wildflowers project finally seeing the light of day. Well, it’s not the Wildflowers project I’d been anticipating, instead my prayers have been answered and the Petty camp has announced they’re releasing a box-set (4-CDs or 6 vinyl LPs) entitled perfectly, An American Treasure. The project was curated by longtime band members Mike Campbell (guitar and recent addition to Fleetwood Mac), Ben Tench (keyboards extraordinaire) and members of Petty’s family. The Rock Chick would probably like me to wait until Christmas to snap this box up… I have bad news for her. The release date is set for September 27th.
I have seen, in several publications, the album’s song list. There is a lot to get excited about. First and foremost, he’s releasing the three song set he recorded at Capitol Studios that contains, for those of us who grew up listening to KY102, the definitive version of “Breakdown.” It’s the only version we knew…(Playlist: The B&V Best Tom Petty Album/Deep Tracks). There are B-sides and additional live tracks, not only from Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers but from Mudcrutch too. Oddly, they do throw in a few “deep cuts” or as they call them, “album cuts” from some of the lesser known albums of Petty’s career like the soundtrack for She’s the One and The Last DJ. Overall, I’d have to say this is a fitting box-set to celebrate Tom Petty’s long career. Each CD is organized around a certain decade of Petty’s career. My only complaint is that I don’t see “Sweet William,” a rollicking, bluesy B-side from the Echo sessions. But, I’m sure we’ll see that in due time. Also absent is much of the Wildflowers stuff, like “Girl On LSD” which I’m sure means the expanded edition will come out sometime in the future.
To commemorate the announcement of the new box, a single has been released, “Keep A Little Soul,” a track recorded in 1982 for the Long After Dark sessions. I have to say, and this may be a little sentimental on my part, I love this song. Long After Dark is a bit of an overlooked album in the Petty canon. It came after the two triumphs, Damn The Torpedoes and Hard Promises. Petty and the Heartbreakers had been on the road almost non stop and released an album almost every year and a half. Long After Dark had a bit of darker undertone, despite some of the more modern touches like the synth on “You Got Lucky.” They sound, well, a little tired on this record. I think they were burning out a little bit. I still love the album but it just didn’t do as well as the two previous records.
To put it in perspective, Long After Dark came out a mere three years after Torpedoes, a pace of an album a year, plus a tour. It had been six years since the first album came out. Five albums and constant touring can take it’s toll on a band. It was no surprise that it took three years for the follow up, 1985’s Southern Accents to come out. Of course, in the interim, Petty had smashed his hand when punching a wall in a fit of anger… They couldn’t get a guitar part to sound right. I think we’ve all been there. Looking back at Long After Dark, the most notable thing about it might that it was Howie Epstein’s first album with the band on bass and exquisite harmony/backing vocals.
When I first heard “Keep A Little Soul,” I couldn’t help but think, how did this not make the album? How in the world did Petty keep this in the can for all these years. “Keeping Me Alive” was another outtake from the Long After Dark sessions but it finally came out on the box-set Playback in 1995. But upon further listens you start to realize, this song really didn’t fit the darker tone of the album… This track isn’t a song that would have fit in with “Change of Heart,” or “Straight Into Darkness.”
This song is a great midtempo, upbeat message track. It’s one of those, everything is going to be alright lyrics. “It doesn’t matter, when you keep a little soul, nothing really matters any more.” The sound is classic Petty and the Heartbreakers. If anybody shines here it’s Benmont Tench’s keyboards. Howie Epstein can be heard singing the background vocal. Petty is engaged and sounds happy. This song doesn’t have that world-weary feel that many of the other tracks on the album have. The track starts with only Petty’s voice counting it in and ends, in a bittersweet moment, with Petty saying, “That was fun…”
I think “Keep A Little Soul” is an essential track in what will turn out to be an essential addition to the Petty catalog. I have to mention, if you haven’t already, go out to YouTube and check out the video for it. It has never before seen footage of the band on the road and on stage. Although I was an early Petty fan, I didn’t get to see them live until the Southern Accents tour. It was fun to see Petty, with the different hair cuts – with that Long After Dark era mullet (full confession, I, your intrepid blogger rocked a mullet in the 80s) – on stage and going crazy, dancing, running around. God, I could kick myself for not going to see him earlier… I’ll be the first to admit, I smiled through the entire video and when it was over there was a tear in my eye… It was a bit like looking at an old photo of a friend or a fallen comrade and being taken back to the moment of the photo… and just for a second, feeling that same youthful joy…
Keep a little soul out there folks! We all need it. Cheers!