Tom Petty – I Was So Much Older Then (final of 4)

I hope you get a chance to listen to my Spotify playlist. I dug deep, consulted some lists, etc. Kudos to fellow blogger Tony at Mumbling About for turning me on to “Room at the Top” and the gorgeous “Angel Dream.” Also to the original excitable boy Christian who turned me on to Petty’s live versions of “Green Onions” and “I Just Want to Make Love to You.” I also managed to squeeze in some Wilburys and Mudcrutch.

It’s sad that he’s gone,” said his old cruising pal, Bruce Springsteen, “but it was nice to be alive in his lifetime. Good songs stay written. Good records stay made. They are always filled with the promise and hope and life essence of their creator. Tom made a lot of great music. Enough to carry people forward.”

By the early 80’s, the lifestyle of Tom and the Heartbreakers was pretty much set – hit the road, record, come home for some quality time with the family (Tom had two daughters – Adria and Annakim), hit the road, record, Rinse. Repeat. As you can imagine – and as we already know about the rock and roll lifestyle – that takes its toll. Tom stayed married to his wife for 14 more years but even at this point wanted out.

The other thing that was happening in this time period was that MTV was in full swing. For its first couple of years it was massively popular. The Heartbreakers took full advantage of this and came up with some pretty good videos.

The Petty composition, “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” with its video of Kim Basinger as a dead woman got mucho air play. Kim was a massive Petty fan so she was happy to do it and loved playing dead. (Actors!)

Spotify link

It was around the time of making the Southern Accents album that Petty’s frustration began to grow. Jimmy Iovine had moved on and Tom could not get a mix better than the demo he had done. So in frustration, at his home studio, he punched the wall, shattering the bones. It took him eight months to heal.

While Petty was, of course, the band’s main songwriter, Mike Campbell was also writing tunes. One day he presented a song to Petty and Iovine (who came back to help) and the song was pronounced “too jazzy.”

Hearing that Don Henley was looking for a collaborator, Mike brought the song to him. They worked on it together and lo and behold, instead of “The Boys of Summer” being a smash for the Heartbreakers it became one for Henley. To Petty’s lasting regret.

In 1985, due to a chance remark from Bob Dylan, a regular event called Farm Aid was started to help farmers. Dylan had met Petty, liked his stuff and asked the Heartbreakers to back him which they did. He also asked them to go on the road but Tom was torn between home life and the road. He agreed then told his buddy Stevie Nicks he was not going to go.

“Oh yes, you are going,” said Stevie.” You can’t cancel on Bob fucking Dylan.” (Tell it, Stevie!) She then acted as the go-between with Tom and his wife so Jane would go on the road with him. She wouldn’t do it so Stevie did. (A lotta trust there, folks. Stevie was hot.) While the band enjoyed playing with Dylan, they felt somewhat disconnected from his music.

Back from the tour, Petty, George Harrison, and Jeff Lynne kept bumping into each other in LA. Not only did Petty and Harrison become good friends, so did their wives and kids. Somehow this Scouse-speaking Liverpudlian and the drawling Floridian struck up a genuine relationship.

Harrison had already been hanging around with Jeff Lynne who produced his 1987 album Cloud Nine. It was inevitable that Tom would get to know Lynne through the Harrison connection. One day Petty picked up his guitar and started strumming. Hearing the changes, Lynne said “Free Fallin’.”

Petty liked it, they took it and ran with it and it became the kickoff to Petty’s Full Moon Fever, co-produced by Lynne. (I have a random memory of being in San Francisco around this time waiting for a cable car. Some dude was strumming his guitar and singing this to a bunch of German tourists who were lustily singing along.)

Spotify link

The world loved this song but the other Heartbreakers (Campbell played on Full Moon) were less than thrilled with Tom making a solo album while they were expecting to make a Heartbreakers record. “Full Moon Fever,” said Tom, “was about having a little fun on my own, a break from the pressure of thinking about where the Heartbreakers should go next.” Lynne managed to get both Del Shannon and Roy Orbison to sing backup on this album. (You know where this is going, right?)

Petty and Lynne convinced Dylan to start a band. One night they went to see Roy Orbison perform and pretty much begged him to be in the band. (Orbison, for the record, is worshipped by singers for his great emotive songs and his three-or-four octave range.) Harrison: “What I’d really like to do next is … to do an album with me and some of my mates … It’s this new group I got [in mind]: it’s called the Traveling Wilburys, I’d like to do an album with them and then later we can all do our own albums again.”

Their debut album, Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1 (co-produced by Otis Wilbury and Nelson Wilbury) was released in late 1988. “Handle With Care” had started out as a Harrison B-side but quickly became adopted by the Wilburys and became a hit. They recorded a second album but alas, Orbison died a few months after Vol. 1 was released.

Spotify link

All of this didn’t sit well with the tight unit that was the Heartbreakers, especially Stan Lynch who comes across as an “us against them” guy, us being the band and them being Tom and his collaborators. (Or as often as not, just Tom.) Sometimes Tom would sit in the back of the bus by himself. But the guys managed to pull it together for an album called Into the Great Wide Open. “Learning to Fly” was a big hit but I’ve also always really dug the title tune:

Spotify link

Petty had by now hooked up with uber-producer Rick Rubin who LOVED Full Moon Fever. In working with the band on their Greatest Hits package, he somehow managed to rub Stan Lynch the wrong way. Or maybe things had just come to an end.

Whatever, Lynch had had it, felt that Rubin was pushing him in the wrong direction. And walked out. He was replaced by Brit drummer Steve Ferrone whom Campbell had met at a Harrison gig. Ferrone was the drummer till the band’s end.

Wildflowers, said Petty, was his divorce album. He wrote the title song initially not even realizing it was about him till a shrink pointed it out:

You belong among the wildflowers
You belong in a boat out at sea
Sail away, kill off the hours
You belong somewhere you feel free
Run away, find you a lover
Go away somewhere all bright and new
I have seen no other
Who compares with you

Spotify link

Petty moved out and took up with a woman named Dana York whom he’d met at some of their shows. And meanwhile, the mental illness that Jane had been suffering from made itself more manifest. (She’d been known to threaten suicide.) When Dana wasn’t there, he felt the pain of separation from his band and his wife. And with not much to protect him, in the early ’90’s he slipped into using heroin.

Realizing he was sinking like a stone, Tom managed to clean up his act by going to rehab and detoxing. “I probably spent a month not getting out of bed, just waking up and going, ‘Oh, fuck.’ The only thing that stopped the pain was drugs. But it was stupid. I’d never come up against anything that was bigger than me, something that I couldn’t control.”

Bassist Howie Epstein wasn’t so lucky. “He was just degenerating on us to the point where we thought keeping Howie in the band was actually doing him more harm than getting rid of him,” said Petty. “His personal problems were vast and serious.” The cover of the band’s 1999 album Echo doesn’t have Epstein in the shot as he could not make it to the session. That was Howie’s last album with the band. He died in 2003 at the age of 47.

I should mention that in 1992, Tom was one of the performers at Dylan’s 30th Anniversary Concert at Madison Square Garden, a show that by all rights I should have been at. There are some smashing performances on the album. (Clapton’s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright” is one of the most thrilling blues numbers I have ever heard.)

But I happened to hear guest DJ (on the Sirius Petty channel) Stewart Copeland play “My Back Pages” and totally dug it. Performers on this are Dylan, Roger McGuinn, Petty, Neil Young, Eric Clapton and George Harrison, G.E. Smith and Steve Cropper. Beat THAT with a stick.

Spotify link

Earl Petty died in 1999. (Tom’s mother Katherine had died in the late ’70’s.) Tom went back for the funeral. In a “if it wasn’t so fucking sad it’d be funny” story, Earl’s twin sister Pearl showed up and tried to get Tom to sign a bunch of stuff so she could cash in. (Earl was no prize either. He used his name as Tom’s father to get laid all the time but I don’t know why women would give a shit about that.) George Harrison died of cancer in 2001. He was weakened after some fucking nutjob broke into his house and stabbed him.

And by 2001, the world of music was changing. Tom and the guys were still touring but they weren’t churning out hits. And rock was no longer the dominant force having given way to hip-hop and whatever else was on Top 40. It wasn’t Tom’s time anymore and he knew it.

Mike Campbell had kept in touch with original bassist Ron Blair over the years. He invited Ron down to jam in some workshops at his house. When Tom found out about it, he asked Ron to join the band on tour. And just like that, Blair – after a twenty-year hiatus – rejoined the band, replacing his own replacement. This turned out to be just the tonic that the band needed to keep it together.

In 2007, For their 30th anniversary, Petty allowed director Peter Bogdanovich to make a four-hour documentary of the band called Running Down a Dream. It’s pretty good but doesn’t cover Tom’s heroin addiction as he wasn’t yet ready to talk about it. And while thinking back on the past, he got the perhaps crazy idea of putting Mudcrutch back together as a side project. The band did, in fact, re-form, release a couple of albums and even did a small tour.

Mudcrutch (l-r) Benmont Tench, Randall Marsh, Mike Campbell, Tom Petty, Tom Leadon

Meanwhile, Tom and the Heartbreakers kept doing their thang, touring and recording. It was all about the records for Tom.

And speaking of that, I just wanted to post a couple of tunes you may or may not have heard that I really dig. In 2010, they released what Tom called a blues-based album, fittingly enough entitled Mojo. Here’s a great, ballsy track called “I Should Have Known It.”

Spotify link

And from the band’s final album, 2014’s Hypnotic Eye, another hot track from the band. It seems like in their later years the band just said ‘fuck it’ and put the pedal down. Sounds good to me. Here’s “Playing Dumb.” (Not on Spotify as it was a bonus track or something.)

I think you know the rest of the incredibly sad story. On September 25, 2017, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers finished a three-night run at the Hollywood Bowl. On October 1st, the world first started receiving reports that Tom had gone into cardiac arrest. You probably recall that no one initially knew if he had passed away or was recovering. We were shocked, We hoped. We prayed.

Alas, his death came on October 2nd, 2017 at the age of 66.

An autopsy showed that Petty had any number of narcotics in him and the official cause of death was listed as cardiac arrest caused by an accidental prescription drug overdose. Tom had fractured his hip and by all measures should have been home recuperating. But in, I guess, the best “show-must-go-on” style, he refused to stop touring and kept taking painkillers. Had he stopped touring, as likely as not he’d still be with us. Or maybe not. Maybe it was just his time.

As mentioned previously, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2002. He sold more than 80 million records worldwide, making him one of the best-selling music artists of all time.

In April 1996, Petty received the George Gershwin and Ira Gershwin Award for Lifetime Musical Achievement. The next month, Petty won the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers’ Golden Note Award.

In September 2006, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers received the keys to the city of Gainesville, Florida. Petty was honored as MusiCares Person of the Year in February 2017 for his contributions to music and for his philanthropy. Mike Campbell is #79 on Rolling Stone’s Top 100 Guitarists.

You can still hear Tom’s music and his Southern drawl any day of the week on the Tom Petty channel on SiriusXM.

RIP, Tom Petty. We loved ya, man. You were a famous rocker but by all accounts, you were a regular guy. You always reminded me of that that cool guy in high school who was always just hanging around. “Hey, man,” he’d say. “What’s up? Got any weed?”

Stay cool, Tom. Don’t back down.

46 thoughts on “Tom Petty – I Was So Much Older Then (final of 4)

  1. Great wrap-up and series, old boy. Petty was a one-off as I’m sure has been pointed out plenty of times. There were some gems in his later years but, as you point out, time seemed to have moved on and left their sound behind. I don’t see that as a bad thing as what TP & co produced was such a strong catalogue of tunes it’s like a perfectly preserved slab of gold. I’m now thinking of my own Top 20 Petty tunes as this series has had me revisiting his music after a long pause following his passing


    1. Glad you dug it. I feel like I’ve been writing it for a year but one wants to get it right for someone as esteemed as Petty. And as much as I like him, man did I underestimate him. What a catalogue! Thanks again for the ‘Angel’ tune. What a great song. Easily missed as it was part of a soundtrack to what was apparently a mediocre movie.


  2. “Tom made a lot of great music”. Yup. That kind of says it all. Dylan doesn’t fool around when he gathers a backing band CB could pull if off with the Heartbreakers behind him). ‘Mojo’ is a really good record. I find myself listening to ‘Echo’ a lot. ‘Swingin’ has made it’s way into the replay in my head. Love that tune. I’m going to take Tom and his “great music” for a walk in a bit (cigar in my face.

    Out of all the people in the world to stab. I Never met George but he kind of struck me as a gentle soul. I could think of a few better choices than that. I had no idea about that incident (get out of the cave CB).

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    1. Dylan had the Heartbreakers, The Band, The Grateful Dead, most of the Butterfield Blues Band as backers. In fact, some guy has gone to the trouble of listing all of Dylan’s “live” backing musicians through 2013.

      I hope that CB takes the Spotify list for a walk at some point. There are several walks here. I believe that the music will bring a smile to his face, provide a few chuckles, some surprises and, why, perhaps a wistful tear or two.

      As to Harrison, yeah that was a pretty big story. Now, that in itself wasn’t what killed him. He was a pretty big smoker and had lung cancer. But the guy was certifiable, hearing voices that told him to kill George. They got into a big tussle. If there’s anything humorous in this at all, it’s that George kept saying “Hare Krishna” and the guy said if he’d only talked normally to him, he would have stopped. George’s wife had to beat the guy over the head with a lamp and some other shit to get the guy to stop wailing on George.

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      1. CB is hearing a voice to kick the shit out of that guy. Brutal.

        Anyways I took ‘Mojo’ for a walk. It was a perfect day and the music made it that much better. I’m just going to put the set on now. I forgot to say that the Doc did a fine job with this series. Tom is up there with all those American rockers I like. Seger, Bruce, Fogerty, The Band, Mellencamp……


        1. There was a Yank in the mix. Hey CB just might have some red/white and blue in his blood. In fact he does if you guys still count North Dakota as a State. How about North American music then?


        2. I actually heard a Rush instrumental and I liked it. I might have told you this before but Dylan went to Young’s home town (Winnipeg) and asked the people who were living in Neils childhood house if he could stroll around and pick up Neils vibe.


        3. Best way to hear Rush. Not a big fan of Geddy Lee’s singing.

          I wonder how the Neil vibe thing worked out for ’em. I’d let people visit ME’s childhood home to absorb his essence but I’d have to charge ’em.

          The Neil vibe thing is way better than the Dylan garbage thing. A guy named A. J. Weberman used to go through Dylan’s garbage when he lived in New York! Looking for evidence? Truth? A pack of cigarettes? I was never really sure. But it’s true. He called himself a garbagologist.

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        4. I’m with you on the vocals. Lots of bands do that to me. Just doesn’t appeal.

          Old A.J. isn’t tracking right. Smoking a little too much dope. Just working on a take where there’s a story of all these folkies that slept on Dave Van Ronk’s couch in Greenwich Village. Dylan slept there and this guy was hoping to find a song that maybe fell between the cushions like lose change.

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  3. Thanks for the shoutout and congrats to this nice series! Tom Petty was a one-of-a-kind artist, who was all the about the music and took no shit from nobody. I hate to sound cliche, but they generally don’t make ‘em like this any longer!

    But while Tom may be gone, his music is here to stay. I have no doubt it will stand the test of time. And unlike most of today’s mainstream music, people will still listen to and enjoy his work in 20 years.


    1. Yeah, thank. I find that good music – regardless of genre – holds up literally forever. Beethoven, Gershwin, Porter, etc. If it’s good, it’s good. Much of the rock I listen to still sounds fucking great, 50 -60 years later. The best ones sound like they were recorded yesterday .

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  4. Great series. I really enjoyed it. Sad to see it end. I could read up on Petty all the time. Such a great catalog and a very interesting man. Thanks for the journey down memory lane.


    1. Thanks. I generally keep the series to 3 or 4 posts, figuring it might try some people’s patience. That book I mentioned in the series is good, kind of an insider view from a guy who had also been in a band. I think Uncut or some other mag came out with a Petty album-by-album retrospective. I didn’t pick it up because I had plenty. Maybe I’ll order a back issue one fine day.

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  5. Excellent series, Jim… I thoroughly enjoyed it and learned a bit from it, too. My introduction to Tom Petty was a live recording of GNR covering Free Fallin’. I liked it enough to check out the original (via a hits, I believe). He was a prolific chap and appeared to be a regular dude. Which, to me, is part of the appeal. I still have a bunch of albums to explore, such is the nature of his catalogue.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks. Everything I read and know about him says, yeah, no star trip. Well, maybe a star trip but he still managed to balance it with “guy from Gainesville.” He does have a lot of stuff. Give my Spotify list a spin and you’ll get a taste of a good cross-section.

      Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks. Not a rock enthusiast! Alas. That’s so much a part of my DNA I cannot imagine it. Give a few of these tunes a spin. Maybe, just maybe …: 🙂

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  6. Thanks for the tribute, Jim. I’m not a big Tom Petty fan. Although it’s hard to “dislike” him, and you’ll probably disagree, but I put him in the same category as Steve Miller, John Mellencamp, Bob Seger and others: a safe, reliable, mainstream rocker with one ear on the marketplace. I like my rock ‘n’ rollers a bit more edgy. But there’s no denying his appeal to a lot of people.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I don’t know that I disagree that Tom has one eye on the market. Sure. But I think that artists – from any discipline – have to decide how commercial they want or need to be. Sometimes they’re way outside (Zappa comes to mind) but still manage to sell enough to please the record company AND make a living.

      I’ll say this too- Ever since “Breakdown,” I’ve enjoyed Petty’s stuff. I guess I didn’t really realize how important he was to me (if not the world of rock and roll) till he was gone. And in compiling the Spotify list I was pleasantly surprised with how much good stuff he has even in the deep tracks. And boy if I had to go with just edgy stuff, well, I’d be throwing out half my collection. 🙂

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Maybe a dip into Petty’s “deep tracks” might help me appreciate him more. But you mentioned “Breakdown”: it’s a good song, yes. Catchy. So is “Refugee” and “Here Comes My Girl.” But all very conventional. He plowed that middle-of-the-road rock turf well. I’ll take Zappa, who was often difficult and messy, but not afraid to push the envelope, take chances, and piss off the record companies. Albums like “Freak Out,” “Hot Rats,” and “Joe’s Garage” are way more satisfying to me. Like Dylan’s work, they stand repeated listening. Petty’s stuff is fine for a keg party, but I’ll never listen to him alone, late at night, with headphones on.

        My younger brother and I had a friendly argument a few weeks ago, at a family get-together, after I told him I thought Petty should have opened for Steve Winwood, instead of vice-versa. He didn’t agree!

        Liked by 2 people

        1. See now you have an excuse for a keg party! 🙂 I would take the Petty/Winwood combo either way. (Although that said, I’d rather see Winwood/Clapton.) I regret not going to see Tom last year when I had the chance. Alas. I personally tend to overlook Petty’s ballads for his rockers. But Tony turned me on to “Angel Dream” which I now love. You never know.

          BTW, Zappa? We are on same page there. I saw him once many moons ago (somewhere around ‘Apostrophe’) and then Dweezil a couple years ago. If Frank hadn’t existed it would have been necessary to invent him.

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        2. Rest in peace, Frank (and Tom). We need Zappa now more than ever. He’d have more than a few things to say about Trump.

          “Music is more important than religion because it delivers the goods…All the good music has already been written by people with wigs and stuff” – Francesco Zappa

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        3. Good back and forth by you and the Doc. Kinda sounds like you two are on the same page. I would agree that the gems are to be found under the mainstream stuff. Guys like Tom helped make mainstream radio listenable. I do miss that Frank guy. He is a regular on my music spins.

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  7. Gimme the secret shit! I’m stubborn, but still open to change. I remember hating Todd Rundgren in college, then heard “Something/Anything” and was blown away. Disliked punk rock, then had my head turned with the Clash’s first LP.

    “This is Joe Public speaking,
    I’m controlled in the body,
    And controlled in the mind!”

    Liked by 2 people

      1. I have a pretty long list of bands and musicians I opened my mind to (CB had a real bad attitude at one time). In the end the music sold me despite my prejudices. Dylan and Young to mention a couple. I still have a long shit list that I don’t see changing unless I have to prostitute myself.

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        1. I try to keep my mind more open these days. I had a hip-hop station on my car pre-set for several months. I always ask myself the question – What am I missing? The answer – not much. I can think real hard, and strain my brain but it’s like trying to make yourself fall in love with someone. Either it happens or it doesn’t. But you can’f force it.

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        2. Real simple Doc, if it moves you that’s all you need. Personal tastes. Give it a listen, if it doesn’t do it move onto some Zappa or Petty. There are certain popular artists that hit me like nails on a chalkboard. I can’t get it off fast enough.

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      2. I remember “London Calling” (3rd album) well. It was their American breakthrough, as I recall. Didn’t like the 2nd album, the production was really muffled. Their eponymous first album was very punk and very British, but knocked me for a loop. It’s in my Top 25, though at my age, it’s tough to swallow!

        After “London Calling,” there were moments, but the early excitement had waned. Will have to read your 3-part series.


        1. Point being, of course, that I went from punk-not interested, to punk-somewhat interested to, well, at best being a Clash lover. Much punk I didn’t care for. Ramones I kinda dug. I also did a post on punk-rock called The Filth and the Fury.


        2. I thought punk served a purpose…things were getting too bloated, with prog and arena rock…but I can count on one hand the bands I really liked: Clash, Sex Pistols, Ramones, Jam. The “proto-punkers” I loved: Stooges, MC5, NY Dolls, Modern Lovers. And Velvet Underground was the spiritual godfather of all of it. Some new wave I liked, such as Elvis Costello, Talking Heads, and a few others. But my heart’s always been in the late ’60s and early ’70s.

          Neat anecdote: I was in London in December ’79 on a student trip, and punk was still popular. I met a guy in a pub and we started talking music. I named some of my faves at the time, such as Velvets, the Doors, and Roxy Music, thinking he’d be impressed. He said “Yeah, mate, they’re good, but they’re out of touch with what’s going on.” Then I found out he was a school friend of Mick Jones. I was the one who ended up being impressed!


        3. I loved Costello, Talking Heads, Police- all that stuff. Rock was going in the direction of greater musicianship which I loved and against which punk was a total reaction. So that’s why I had a hard time with it initially and gravitated toward the above bands who had the punk feel while still having chops.

          Your story would be funny even if it hadn’t been Mick Jones’ mate. Pop music’s shelf life is so ephemeral. I remember some guys in Cambridge in the early ’80’s starting an underground music rag. And in one of their opening articles they went out of their way to say how this was NOT for Talking Heads fans. And the band were still together! But they were so last week!

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        4. Those underground music rags were fun. Some very good music got profiled. I lived in Chicago in ’83 and met a college gal who started one, only because she was convinced that R.E.M. was the next Beatles! She was a total groupie and knew all four member personally. I wrote a (very bad) review of Donald Fagen’s “The Nightfly” for her rag, and she never printed it. Not because it was poorly written, but because it was “so last week!”


        5. Love REM. Speaking of Steely Dan, one of the biggest odd moments at the Grammys is when they got one years and years after their prime when it “should” have been Eminem or somebody. The new “hip” crowd neither had interest nor time for them.

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    1. Glad you dug it. I’ve been listening to the Spotify list whilst driving around. There’s a bunch of not only, for me, rediscovered gems but also a few I hadn’t heard.

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