Towed Out of the Ditch: Tom Petty’s “Trailer”

mudcrutch-trailerSometimes lost songs find their way back, even if it takes years.

The summer of 1985 was the summer of Tom Petty for me – Southern Accents was released that year and you really couldn’t escape it, not that I wanted to. It set me on a path to buying all his older albums (on cassette, of course, as per the times) and that July my first rock concert would be Petty and the Heartbreakers when they rolled through Tampa. I recall the electrifying feeling when those first chords of “American Girl” rang through the cavernous USF Sundome.

Southern Accents was a concept album of sorts – albeit a flawed one (as Petty himself has admitted since). A collection of songs about the south, it got a bit sidetracked via the involvement of Eurythmics’ Dave Stewart and band tensions, not to mention the long and reportedly arduous recording sessions. Arguably, Petty lost sight of the big picture, and, while it’s still an exemplary album, it might have been more cohesive had it included songs such as “Trailer”, which was relegated to the b-side of the “Don’t Come Around Here No More” single. In the liner notes to the Playback box set, Bill Flanagan writes “everyone now agrees ‘Trailer’ should have been on Southern Accents. Written about the south he left behind, the song is one of the best examples of Petty’s ability to speak in the voice of a character who gives away things about himself that he does not even recognize.” Petty adds that the song was “something that we really lived and understood very well. It was where we all came from.”

31 years later, “Trailer” is finally being towed out into the light and given a wax and wash, to roll down the road once again. This time it’s the lead track on the second album by Petty’s side project Mudcrutch, due out in May.  Which works out well, too, as Mudcrutch is the reunited band that preceded Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers. A ragtag but talented band of kids growing up in oak-treed and Spanish-mossed Gainesville, FL. A town that, even now, seems to have more in common with the down-home American south than the state’s beaches and palms image.  Mudcrutch was the the living embodiment of the feeling Petty was trying to evoke on Southern Accents.

The new recording is pretty faithful to the original, though there’s an additional end verse and a different guitar solo.  I’m not sure if the new verse really adds much, beyond furthering the nostalgia and emphasizing the distance the narrator now has from the “trailer days”. The extra verse feels a bit forced to me, but that could be because I’ve been listening to the original version for so long.

One thing I miss on the Mudcrutch “Trailer” is the staccato muted guitar picking (I think that’s what it is) that’s in the background of the choruses –  behind the “I guess I gave it all for you, babe / All for you and your trailer too”. The light and airy percussive feel adds an unusual element to the track, elevating it just that little bit higher.

Part of me – the music nerd part – is a little sad that a song I’ve always sort of thought of as “my little secret” (of course, not really that secret) is now getting wider attention. But, then, it’s all about great songs getting heard  – Tom Petty realized that, and it’s a good feeling to know new people will hear one of his best songs, too.



3 Comments Add yours

  1. Real good article.
    It’s kind of amazing that Petty has spent quite a bit of time the last few years with a band that had dissolved decades ago.

  2. Rob says:

    Thanks. Yeah, I can only guess that he wants to push himself outside his comfort zone after all those years with the Heartbreakers (even though 2 of the Mudcrutch guys are also Heartbreakers). Maybe a bit of guilt mixed in as to how Mudcrutch fell apart in the early 70s, too. I think he always felt bad about firing Tom Leadon.

  3. Jeff Elbel says:

    Catching up with this story five years later. Nicely done. I’m glad I got to see and hear “Trailer” performed by Mudcrutch at the Riviera in Chicago during the 2016 tour.

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