In May, 1995, Rox & I saw Wilco do an epic, incendiary show at Slim’s in San Francisco. They were touring their first album, A.M., and one of the highlights among the expected Wilco and Uncle Tupelo songs was a heartfelt cover of “Listen to Her Heart,” which completely fit in with their sound, as well as being one of two cover songs they did that night — the other being Doug Sahm’s “Give Back The Key To My Heart” — with the word “heart” in the title that also mention someone else’s (of course) cocaine.
Of course, the circumstances were different in each song. In “Give Back The Key To My Heart,” the coke reference is in the last verse; not so much in “Listen to Her Heart.”
A few years ago, Noel Murray wrote an AV Club Inventory called “14 Classic Tom Petty Opening Lines,” reminding us of the fact that one of Tom Petty’s superpowers was the ability to immediately bring you into whatever situation he was singing about.
Which is true: as you read various tributes to his songs on the web over the next few weeks / months / years — including right here, of course! — you’ll note how many of them will quote the opening lines of whichever song they’re feting.
And that said, I would argue that no Tom Petty song had a better opening verse than “Listen to Her Heart,” which starts off with Petty & Mike Campbell ringing their guitars like bells as Stan Lynch struts the song down the center of the street so they can make sure everybody is listening as Petty confronts the douchebag who’s after his chick:
You think you’re gonna take her away
With your money and your cocaine
You keep thinkin’ that her mind is gonna change
But I know everything is okay
And with Campbell’s lead guitar arcing towards the heavens while Petty sings a melody that’s at once fresh and timeless, he explains why:
She’s gonna listen to her heart
It’s gonna tell her what to do
She might need a lot of loving
But she don’t need you
The last of Petty’s unbeatable early trio of Power Pop singles, “Listen To Her Heart” follows the classic verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-solo-chorus-coda structure and even better, when it comes time for the guitar solo, like George Harrison before him and Kurt Cobain after him, Mike Campbell just plays the melody line.
I love that so so much. Give me a guitar solo that just plays the melody line every single day of the fucking week.
After the last verse, Benmont Tench finally sneaks into the mix, playing his piano off of the guitars and marching beat until “Listen to Her Heart” closes with a big, stop-time ending that I had Sedan Delivery steal for at least one of our songs.
Sadly, because Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers didn’t quite fit into any slot, and were still too new to be fully understood as their own thing, “Listen to Her Heart” was basically a stiff as a single, only making 59 on the Billboard charts — and in fact, of all of his early singles, only “Breakdown” made the top 40. And that was at #40.
Of course, part of this was that Petty was still on quasi-indie Shelter records instead of a full-blown major — a fact that people forget these days — was kind of keeping him down. What he clearly needed was a bigger sound as well as a label push that would bring his band in front as many people as possible.
And that was just around the corner, and would slam the door shut on the indie phase of Tom Petty’s career once and for all.
“Listen to Her Heart”
“Listen to Her Heart” performed live on the Old Grey Whistle Test, 1977
“Listen to Her Heart” performed live in 2006
“Listen to Her Heart” covered by Wilco, 1995 (not the show we saw)
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