. . .
Especially in the CD era, where the simple act of having to turn over or even switch a record would let you lose your focus, you might not realize how great of a song as the understated “To Find a Friend” actually is. And then maybe when you notice it, you don’t know until you look at the liner notes that the understatedly perfect drum part is played by none other than Ringo Starr.
Because Tom Petty could just, you know, think “oh I know who would be perfect for this song” and then say “Ringo Starr! Ringo Starr! Ringo Starr!” and poof! Ringo would appear and play the song perfectly without having even heard it, having traveled in time and space directly from the “I Won’t Back Down” video shoot like a genius genie drummer.
That, of course, only works for Tom Petty. Not so much you or I. Go ahead and try it. And for fun, don’t explain to anybody around you why you just said “Ringo Starr” three times in a row. Anyways, the reason it doesn’t work for people like us is that we can’t write gorgeous story songs like “To Find a Friend.”
In the middle of his life
He left his wife
And ran off to be bad
Boy, it was sad
But he bought a new car
He found a new bar
And went under another name
Created a whole new game
The bulk of the song is just Ringo Starr playing along with Mike Campbell’s bass and Petty’s acoustic, with some overdubs added later, like Petty’s double-tracked vocals on the lovely chorus.
And the days went by like paper in the wind
Everything changed then changed again
It’s hard to find a friend
It’s hard to find a friend
As it goes on, “To Find A Friend” gets darker and sadder, to the point where — SPOILER ALERT! — it doesn’t have any kind of happy ending whatsoever, as the consequences from the guy in the song’s initial action continue to reverberate. Not even Ringo’s eternal font of good cheer could cheer them up.
His wife’s boyfriend
Moved in and took over the house
Everybody was quiet as a mouse
And it changed their lives
Changed their plans
Slowly they grew apart
Boy, it woulda broke your heart
However, there is a piece of light in “To Find a Friend,” shining in the form of a fantastic and jaunty piano solo that so totally comes from nowhere, you’d be excused for thinking the Petty chanted “Benmont Tench! Benmont Tench! Benmont Tench!” before realizing that Benmont was probably right there in the studio watching Ringo play the drums. Cos that’s where anybody would be, right?
At the end of his solo Tench glissandos directly in to the chorus, which is then repeated three times to seal everybody’s fate.
Lesson: it’s definitely hard to find a friend. Unless you’re Tom Petty looking for a friend to play on your song about how hard it is to find a friend.
“To Find a Friend”
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