Monday, November 28, 2011

Dylan Cover # 32 Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers "License To Kill"

In this ongoing Monday Series we will be exploring various artists versions of Bob Dylan song's. Today's tune is a live cover by Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers,"License To Kill"

This is RtBE first part of a "Best Of" for Dylan Covers, so strap on in. 
Thoughts on Dylan Original:
On one of Dylan's more intriguing albums Infidels we find "License to Kill" a song that seems to be spiritual, longing, environmentally concerned, and scientifically fearful, all in a 3+ minute pop tune.  The man has many traits but having his words play on the mind is easily his greatest and what starts out simple very rarely remains that way.  Is Dylan really thinking our Doom has now been instigated by walking on the moon?  Is this a hold over from his evangelical feelings?  One is never sure just what he is exactly thinking (which is all the fun) but I get a sense of real fear for change and particularly corruption of the environment in this one without sounding like a hippy at all.

The original Mark Knopfler produced album cut is solid, but I have always had a soft spot for this song live, and his stripped down almost punk-ish version that he played on Letterman is the version I often go back to and you can watch it here. There is an urgency in that performance that I think captures the mood perfectly.  The Real Live version also has that edge-y feel to it (and a cool drum break) while backed with Mick Taylor's fluid live playing, like on the studio LP.      


Thoughts on Cover Artist:
Years ago friends of mine talked about doing a break down of our version of the Greatest 100 Albums, it was around the time when Rolling Stone was doing one of their argument filled lists.  Anyway I went through and started doing some research on my time off and the artist who I was probably most surprised at was Tom Petty.  At the time I was considering 4 or 5 of his albums for inclusion, and I am not a massive Petty fan either, but he is a great pop-rock and roller with a dynamite collection of tunes.  He is an all-time great whose album Wildflowers stills holds a special place in my heart (I can argue it's his best) not to mention all of the great sing along classic greatest hits.  All that said, one of my favorite performance of his isn't on any album, it is today's cover. 

Thoughts on Cover:
I am not going to front the whole 30th Anniversary Concert is a winner, there is not a dud in the bunch, yet every time I go back to it this is the track that stays with me the most after the final notes ring out.  "License To Kill" however was never an obvious choice for a cover, let alone one for The Heartbreakers to pull off and there in lies the glory.  The simplicity and grace with which they handle things is softly run through and perfectly paced, the pauses and breaks elevate the material before Mike Campbell brings things to a bluesy level with a fantastic slide solo.  It can not be over stated how perfect Petty's vocals on this live track are, he hits every note, makes the nooks and cranny's brighter, and adds a strained sense of longing that haunts.

This version has over taken the studio cut and is the live take that feels the most complete that I have heard.  A perfect cover on a night full of good ones, "License To Kill" shines brightest.        

Grade: A+

Wilson's Take:
"Man has invented his doom, first step was touchin' the moon."
At first listen, License to Kill is the finest Luddite Anthem ever written; yet  it's also a sympathy card to mankind's sense of his own lost heroism...the existential curiosity that preceded our obsession with technology.  Bob Dylan witnessed the moon landing with a scowl. Norman Mailer shared his dismay in his novel Of A Fire On The Moon. Both looked beyond the short term jubilation following the successful moonshot and offered us a glimpse into what humanity was really losing. Yes, walking on the moon was a triumph, a major acheivement for mankind. A young president said our country would send a man to the moon (and bring him back) by the end of the 1960s - and we did. And we've done nothing so technologically grand since - because the technocrats won. The imagination of Kennedy was quickly replaced by technologies geared toward consumer appetites.
The thing about the moonshot is that today - it would never happen. Nobody knows how to conceive of anything that big with a straight face. That is, in part, the fault of being enamored with the very technologies the moonshot made possible. Our imagination has paid the bill for our technological advancements. Today, our pursuits are all geared toward things being made smaller. The smaller, the godlier. Everything's gotta be on pintip. Everything's gotta be in your hand. Everything's gotta be micro - be it a chip or software - and our imagination and sense of self has followed in lock-step. No one's looking up at the stars.
Today, we no longer have a space program. We instead have the ability to bark a question into our iPhone and get an answer. You don't even need a question - a statement implying need will suffice. "I'm hungry," you might say into your iPhone 4S, and it replies, "There is a restaurant right in front of you."
We need a law in which the iPhone 4S adds, "...dipshit" to the end of every answer.
If you need your phone to remind you where you parked, you should also be reminded of what you've become.
"Where did I park?"

"Lex and 43rd...dipshit."
We digress...
The space race was a beautiful thing - but all the derivative technologies it spawned - Compact Discs, GPS systems, microchips - neutered the mind of man. He's been removed from the full reality of his own life. And that is why we will never have another moonshot, or anything of such imagination.  And that's the point that Norman Mailer and, in License to Kill, Bob Dylan convey.
The very imagination that once put us on the moon, has been put out of business as a result. And Dylan on License to Kill gives us yet another beautiful question - in the spirit of Blowin in the Wind - that your iPhone 4S cannot answer...these ruminations belong solely to the human mind.
Dylan was wrong on one count. Man "invented his doom" not by "touching the moon," but by coming back and leaving the most noble part of himself up there. Maybe someday we'll go up, go farther, and get it back...but until then we've got YouTube - and on it we can watch Tom Petty do a medicore rendition of Dylan's gem.
Janasie's Take:
I really like Infidels.  In addition to Mark Knopfler and Mick Taylor lending their chops to the effort, let us not forget that Dylan's rhythm section was Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare, one of the greatest production teams in reggae history.  What an ensemble!
"License to Kill" is one of those Dylan tunes that really isn't a great Dylan tune but probably would be a great tune by someone else's standards, yet it feels kinda like Dylan got four-fifths of the way to an all-time classic and then got bored.  Does that make sense?  I think so.  Does that mean I don't like it?  Hell, no.  I particularly enjoy the tension between the masculine and the feminine in the song.
Petty's cover is on point, which is unsurprising, because if I needed someone to cover a bunch of Dylan tunes, Petty would be on the very short list.  Mike Campbell is a bad man.  The Heartbreakers have brought it, bring it today, and will likely continue to do so a ways into the future.  I raise my thumbs to this one.  Crank it.

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