The news early this morning confirming the death of rock legend Tom Petty is still a shock. Petty, just 66, had completed a major tour this summer and was active on his Twitter account as recently as Saturday.
I alluded in yesterday’s post to a long-lost mixtape of all Petty songs being a staple in my car for many years. The tape is long gone, and I thought about trying to re-create it, and then got to thinking about assembling one of those “argument-starter” type lists as to just what was the best work that he did. Your mileage may vary, and that’s fine. On this list I include some LP tracks as well as work done with other artists. Here we go:
40. Band Of the Hand (with Bob Dylan) – Had my car not caught fire, I’m sure that I would have seen this song performed live at the Alpine Valley show in ’86, since that’s when it was experiencing its limited chart run.
39. Something In the Air – This is a fantastic cover of the Thunderclap Newman original that likely introduced the song to a whole new audience.
38. A Woman In Love (It’s Not Me) – This was the second track off of Hard Promises. It was released as a single, stalling at #79 but getting a lot of AOR airplay.
37. Into the Great Wide Open – The title track from Tom’s 1991 LP – again, it was a staple of rock radio but didn’t do much on the singles chart, making only #91. (Perhaps the A&R man didn’t hear a single?)
36. You Wreck Me – This is just a lot of fun to play loud. It’s a track from Wildflowers.
35. It Ain’t Nothin To Me – From side 1 of Southern Accents, it was one of the songs they did the first time I saw him live (on the Southern Accents tour), so I probably rank it higher than I should.
34. Yer So Bad – This is a track from Full Moon Fever that you cannot help but sing along with.
33. Needles and Pins – From the Pack Up the Plantation live LP, Tom brings Stevie Nicks out to sing with him. It doesn’t have the same magic as their other collaboration (see #21), but it’s still a solid version of the Jackie DeShannon classic.
32. Last Night (Traveling Wilburys) – The whole Volume 1 Wilburys album could have made this list. It’s one of the few times I bought an album, listened to it, and then immediately re-started it so I could hear it again. Such amazing talent all the way around.
31. Feel a Whole Lot Better – If there was ever a doubt that Petty was influenced by The Byrds, listen to him cover them and see for yourself.
30. Mary Jane’s Last Dance – Generally I’m not a fan of including a new release on a greatest hits compilation, but there’s no arguing the popularity of this one. The single hit #14 and the video, with a submerged Kim Basinger, was memorable.
29. The Last DJ – The radio guy in me is probably boosting this one up higher than you would, but it’s a neat little protest record about the state of radio in the 2000s.
28. So You Want To Be a Rock and Roll Star – Another live track capturing the fun of a Petty show, another Byrds cover, another bit of magic.
27. Heading For the Light (Traveling Wilburys) – Sure, this is more Jeff Lynne and George Harrison than TP, but it’s still a fantastic Wilburys track.
26. Learning to Fly – Perhaps the big hit from Into the Great Wide Open. I was in rock radio for all of 1991 and most of 1992 and can’t tell you how many times I played this record.
25. You Don’t Know How It Feels – The “roll another joint” version or it doesn’t count. It’s from 1994’s Wildflowers.
24. Handle With Care (Traveling Wilburys) – If for no other reason this song that put the Wilburys on everyone’s radar also single-handedly resurrected the career of Roy Orbison, introducing his soaring vocals to a new generation of listeners.
23. I Need To Know – It’s easy to forget that in the early days the Heartbreakers had a little punk edge. This one screams and sounds fantastic in the car.
22. Runnin’ Down a Dream – I have to admit: when I first heard this song I did not care for it. After repeated listens, it grew on me.
21. Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around – Ironically, this was the highest-charting single that Petty ever had with his name on the label. It’s really a Stevie Nicks record, though.
20. Jammin’ Me – A cool video for a cool song that sounds just a bit dated now, given some of the name-checking that’s going on. At some point I’ll have to explain Joe Piscopo to students. When I got the chance to be a VJ in college, this was one of the videos I chose for my first show.
18. Free Fallin’ – There’s a large contingent of people who think of Petty and think of this song. I had to put it on the list, and I had to put it higher than I wanted to. It’s not a favorite, but it’s really well known.
17. Wilbury Twist (Traveling Wilburys) – I would much rather hear THIS than “Free Fallin'” any day. This is a jam. Trust me.
16. All Mixed Up – I alluded to this one in yesterday’s piece. It’s from Let Me Up (I’ve Had Enough) and got airplay in college, at least on my show.
15. I Won’t Back Down – It made #12, it was #1 in rock radio for a while, and it motivated millions. I can’t hear this song and not imagine a giant globe being pushed around.
14. End of the Line (Traveling Wilburys) – See what I mean about that Volume 1 LP? Solid. Fun fact: this was the last song that John Landecker played on WLS in Chicago, just before the station lost its music programming for talk a few days later.
13. Rebels – In later years Petty walked back the use of the Confederate imagery connected to Southern Accents (the stage on tour was done up in stars-and-bars). This song, though, seemed intensely personal for him, and at a time where I was finding my place it spoke to me a bit. “With one foot in the grave and one foot on the pedal I was born a rebel” is a fantastic lyric. (I have to admit, though, when I hear the intro to this I expect to hear the voice of Dean Richards saying “Participating advertisers in Cubs baseball include…” as WGN used this as a bumper for a while.)
12. Listen To Her Heart – Another great track off of You’re Gonna Get It. We bumped this up in rotation at WXLP after I loaned my CD copy of the album (which was supposedly hard to find) to the station.
11. Here Comes My Girl – Now we start to get into the tracks from Damn the Torpedoes, which might have been Petty’s best album. It’s as close to a love song as you’re going to find on that album, and it’s still a solid piece of rock.
10. Even The Losers – “It’s just the normal noises in here!” An album track from DtT that WLUP in Chicago played quite a bit, so I started to play it. Sometimes you have to go away from the charts. I’ve always loved the sentiment of this record.
9. Make It Better (Forget About Me) – For my money, this was a song that should have been huge. It’s also from Southern Accents, and only got as high as #54 on the pop chart. Any collection of Petty songs I made featured it prominently – usually as the first song on the second side of the tape. The video also illustrates the concept of “earworm.”
8. You Got Lucky – This song represents my earliest introduction to Petty through the futuristic video that MTV, in its “we’re an AOR station” days, played often.
7. The Waiting – Another song that is fantastic live and a fantastic homage to the Byrds.
6. Don’t Do Me Like That – At this point in the list it’s really hard to sort these in order. They’re all so good. I like this one here because even a casual Petty fan knows it and can probably sing along to it.
5. Change of Heart – I was so disappointed when this was left off of the Greatest Hits collection. The copy I dubbed into the computers at WERV/Aurora came from my own vinyl, complete with a little snap, crackle, and pop. Another record that I have always loved.
4. Don’t Come Around Here No More – The jewel of the Southern Accents LP and an amazing video. TP had production help from Dave Stewart of the Eurythmics on this one, and you can see him in the video as well.
3. Refugee – “You do NOT have to live like a refugee. A public service reminder from your friends at WLRA.” Quintessential classic rock.
2. Breakdown – I could have put this one on here twice – both for the studio version and for the various live recordings that have surfaced over the years. Look for the one on Pack Up the Plantation where the crowd sings the whole first verse (breaking into the two part harmony on their own), leaving Petty to remark “You’re all gonna put me out of a job.”
And, at Number One… American Girl. Which movie do you think of? Fast Times at Ridgemont High? Silence of the Lambs? This was a song that guys with guitars wanted to learn how to play and guys like me wanted to learn how to sing. I will always turn this song up and leave it there from the first chords to the screamin’ guitar solo at the end. At the first show I attended, in Wisconsin in 1985, this was how he opened the show. Hands down, it’s my favorite Petty track, and the one that I’ll be playing on the way to campus today.
Did I miss your favorite? Feel free to add it in the comments below.