Sunday, November 12, 2017

The 100 Best Tom Petty Songs

100.  I’ll Feel a Whole Lot Better (Full Moon Fever)

Petty’s version of this 1965 Byrd’s classic is practically a note-for-note cover. That’s both its weakness and its strength.

 99.  Jefferson Jericho Blues (Mojo)

You don’t hear too many blues songs about Thomas Jefferson, but Petty knows the secrets of the south:  Midnight creepin’ out to the servant’ shack.  It’s a great sounding blues shuffle with killer Campbell guitar.

98.  Think About Me (Let Me Up, I’ve Had Enough)

A straight-forward rocker whose opening chords recall the rhythm of “Bad Moon Rising”. But talk about dated: "Your boyfriend's gotta big red car. He got a compact disc, got a VCR."  Fancy! But Petty is rarely more convincing than when he sings “I can’t do no disco dance!”  On stage, he proves it.   

97.  Flirting With Time (Highway Companion)

An album that frequently gets lost in the shuffle, Highway Companion reunited Petty with Jeff Lynne.  On “Flirting With Time,” they make infectious 60s-style pop seem effortless.

96.  Keeping Me Alive (Playback)

A terrific unreleased track with a bit of a Springsteen vibe.  This was a song that Tom Petty wanted to include on Long After Dark but producer, Jimmy Iovine decided that it didn’t have the right feel.  It feels pretty good to me.  

                    95.  Counting on You (Echo)

“Counting on You” is quintessential 1990s Petty – a moody, mid-tempo groove, a terrific organ part and understated Campbell guitar.  

                    94.   Spike (Southern Accents)

Southern Accents is a concept album that takes us to different places in Petty’s South – and inside his fertile, somewhat twisted mind.  There’s something appealing about Petty’s creepy tale about a confrontation between some good ol' boys and a “man with a dog collar on.”

                   93.   No Second Thoughts (You’re Gonna Get it)

Petty showed strong songwriting chops from early on in his career.  This lovely track sounds even better on the Live Anthology.  

92.  Fault Lines (Hypnotic Eye)

One of the best tracks off of the most recent album, Petty and the Heartbreakers serve up bluesy psychedelia with a terrific groove. 

91.  Anything that’s Rock’n’Roll (Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers)

This simple, delightful pop-rock song, with a great Chuck Berry-style guitar solo, was Tom Petty’s first single and a minor hit in the UK. 

90.  It’ll All Work Out (Let me Up, I’ve Had Enough)

      Let Me Up is one of Petty’s least celebrated albums, but it has a lot to offer, including this beautiful and haunting      track and memorable mandolin sound. 

89.  Accused of Love (Echo)

Echo is another vastly under-appreciated album – it’s subdued and sometimes sad, but it’s never wimpy.  On “Accused of Love”, Petty goes back to the well and borrows from the Byrds and the 1960s pop he knows so well.   

88.  Out in the Cold (Into the Great Wide Open)

A solid rocker with real drive – it’s a bit like “Running Down a Dream” with a variation on the guitar riff.

87.  Crystal River (Mudcrutch)

Petty, reunited with his original bandmates, channels the Grateful Dead and delivers a swirling Southern psychedelic jam.  

86.  Fooled Again (Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers)

The B-side to American Girl. It seems strange now to recall that when Petty and the Heartbreakers broke onto the scene in 1976, they were considered new wave or punk.  Maybe it was the snarl, but Petty really did sound fresh, and full of attitude on this track.

85.  A Thing About You (Hard Promises)

There’s a great version of this raucous rocker on the four disc anthology.   

84.  Time to Move On  (Wildflowers)

A lovely song, both sad and hopeful; its quality sneaks up on you with repeated listens of Wildflowers.  

83.  Deliver Me (Long After Dark)

If this straight-forward rocker sounds a bit formulaic, it’s because it’s a damn good formula.  

82.  Free Girl Now (Echo)

A punchy rocker that sounds especially good when listening to Echo – it surges forth from the more subdued songs on the album.

81.  Century City (Damn the Torpedoes)

One of Petty’s earliest songs about Los Angeles is a surging rocker about the land of glass canyons and entertainment lawyers - otherwise known as the future.  

80.  Hometown Blues (Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers)

This bouncy infectious, old-school R&B rocker should have disabused anyone of the notion that Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers were new wave or punk.  

79.  It’s Good to Be King (Wildflowers)

A fun, spacey mid-tempo rocker from Petty’s “mature” album.   For a real treat, check out the extended version on the Live Anthology.  

78.  All the Wrong Reasons (Into the Great Wide Open)

A sad and beautiful track that sounds a bit like Freefallin’ and delivers some truly memorable lyrics: "She made a vow to have it all.  It became her new religion."

77.  Depending on You (Full Moon Fever)

A nicely crafted pop song and one of the underrated tracks from Full Moon Fever.

76.  Orphan of the Storm (Mudcrutch)

This gem of a song about life post-Katrina manages to sound both topical and timeless.  

75.  American Dream Plan B (Hypnotic Eye)

A great title, a killer riff and a solid opening track from Petty’s latest. Even when Petty was young and optimistic, he knew that dreams aren't easy (“American Girl"). 40 years later, a Petty gives us a heavier sound, and a more jaded perspective.  He has a lot less faith in the world, but in the end, he’s the same guy – he’s full of swagger and he’s not backing down. 

74.  Finding Out (Long After Dark)

The tense, urgent feel with hooks in a minor-key is classic Petty. It’s a solid album track on an overlooked album with many solid album tracks.

73. Jammin’ Me (Let me Up, I’ve Had Enough)

Apparently, the song really pissed off Eddie Murphy (I’m not sure how Joe Piscapo or Vanessa Redgrave felt about it). Petty blamed the mention of Murphy on Bob Dylan, who co-wrote the song.  It’s far from Petty’s best hit, but there’s something wonderful about the way he delivers the line “Let your TV bleeeeeed.”   

72.  Honey Bee (Wildflowers)

This loud bluesy rocker is one of the standout tracks on Petty’s mellowest album. Christopher Walken would be pleased to know that there’s no shortage of cowbell.  Petty infuses classic blues with trademark oddness:

She give me her monkey hand
And a Rambler sedan
I'm the king of Milwaukee
Her juju beads are so nice
She kissed my third cousin twice
I'm the king of Pomona
And I've got something to say

That’s not exactly a Muddy Waters lyric.

71.  Dreamville (Last DJ)

The Last DJ, Petty’s tirade against corporate greed in the music business features Petty at his crankiest, but “Dreamville” is a lovely ballad about the memories and dreams that remain pure.

70.   Waiting for Tonight (Playback)

A catchy track that was originally, written for Full Moon Fever and released on Playback.  Yes, that’s the Bangles on the background vocals.  

69.  Needles and Pins (Pack up the Plantation)

An excellent version of the Searcher’s classic. When Petty duets with Stevie Nicks, the whole is always greater than the sum of the parts. 

68.  Lonesome Sundown (Echo)

A sad ballad drawn from Petty’s own divorce. Benmont Tench’s piano and Mike Campbell’s guitar give the music an aching beauty that matches the lyrics.

            67.  Love is a Long Road (Full Moon Fever)

I especially love the beginning of this song, the way the synth opening gives way to power chords.   

66.  Saving Grace (Highway Companion)

Petty and the Heartbreakers chug along the highway with an irresistible Johnny Lee Hooker shuffle.

65.  Letting You Go  (Hard Promises)

That classic Heartbreakers blend of organ and guitar makes for pop magic.

64. Good Enough (Mojo)

Mojo is the album where the understated Mike Campbell finally cuts loose on guitar – here he wails like Jimmy Page on a slow-burning Zeppelin track.  “Good Enough” also recalls the Beatle’s “I Want You (She’s So Heavy).”

63. The Last DJ (The Last DJ)

The album can be heavy-handed at times, but on the title track Petty captures a basic truth about what we’ve lost.

62.  The Apartment Song (Full Moon Fever)

One of several catchy pop nuggets on the Jeff Lynne produced Full Moon Fever.  There’s a nice country version of this song, sung as a duet with….who else?   Stevie Nicks.

61.  A Higher Place (Wildflowers)

The Heartbreaker’s jangle worked well with Rick Rubin’s production on this overlooked track.

60.  When the Time Comes (You’re Gonna Get it)

For some reason, Tom Petty’s second album doesn't get as much love as his 1976 debut.  It should.  The album’s opening track is quintessential Petty – a tight, tense moody number with a great power pop chorus.  

59.  Two Gunslingers (Into the Great Wide Open)

Leave it to Tom Petty to write an anti-war song that’s powerful and catchy without being preachy.

58.    Zombie Zoo (Full Moon Fever)

Fun, silly, catchy and characteristically odd – it’s an encapsulation of Los Angeles and the perfect closer to Full Moon Fever.

57.  I Should have Known It (Mojo)

The Heartbreakers channel the Yardbirds on this Bluesy track on which Mike Campbell is a guitar hero.

56.  Scare Easy (Mudcrutch)

Probably the standout track on Petty’s 2008 reunion with his original band, Mudcrutch.  

55.  King’s Road (Hard Promises)

A bright rocker that sounds even better live. I’m not going to say that Stan Lynch is a better drummer than Steve Ferrone.  But on tracks such as this one, Stan’s accents and personal drumming style really come through – he inhabits the song.  

54.  Trailer (Playback)

The B-side to "Don't Come Around Here No More," "Trailer" is an evocative country rocker that captures a part of Petty's south.  It would have fit in perfectly on Southern Accents.

53.  Have Love Will Travel (The Last DJ)

A favorite track of mine where the lonely DJ is again the hero “trying to keep the flames from the temple.” It works especially well in concert and on the live anthology (“how ‘bout a cheer for all the bad girls!”)

52.  Swingin’ (Echo)

Great song-writing, a great guitar sound and Petty’s characteristic defiance laced with quirkiness.  Who else could pack Glenn Miller, Sammy Davis Junior and Sonny Liston in the same song? 

51.  Forgotten Man (Hypnotic Eye)

A killer Bo Diddley beat anchors this blues rocker, one of the best of Petty’s recent songs.  

50.  Square One (Highway Companion)

A song about getting back to the basics and coming to terms with the world.  Lovely stuff.  

49.  Magnolia (You’re Gonna Get it)

From his second album, this tightly coiled song of love and loss is both catchy and haunting.  

48.  Angel Dream (#4) (She’s the One)

In case there was any doubt, Tom Petty can write a beautiful love song.

47.  Dark of the Sun (Into the Great Wide Open)

One of his truly underrated tracks. It has the refined Jeff Lynne production, but it's all Heartbreakers.

46.  A One Story Town (Long After Dark)

The opening track off of Long After Dark sets the tone perfectly - dark and weary, yet also burning with urgency.   

45.   So You Want to Be a Rock ‘n’ Roll Star (Pack up the Plantation)

A faithful version of the Byrds classic except the Heartbreakers slow it down just a bit, extend the guitar solos and  Petty’s animated vocals give it renewed energy.

44.  You and Me (Last DJ)

A lovely, hopeful song that breaks through the cynicism of the Last DJ and goes right for the heart.  "All that's left is you and me and the road ahead."  

43.  Ways to Be Wicked (Playback)

Originally written for Damn the Torpedoes, it was recorded by Lone Justice in 1985, before finally appearing on Playback in 1994.

42.  Change the Locks (She’s the One)

My favorite of Tom Petty’s covers, his version of Lucinda William’s number is the perfect kiss-off, especially his delivery of the line “and I’m laughing ALL the time…

41.  You Don’t Know How it Feels (Wildflowers)

Clearly, this song owes some of its popularity to the crowd-pleasing line “Let’s get to the point, let’s smoke another joint.” Not that there’s anything wrong with that.  

40.  Down South (Highway Companion)

Twenty years after his concept album, Southern Accents, Petty returns to the scene on this breezy track with lyrics like these:

Create myself down south
Impress all the women
Pretend I'm Samuel Clemens
Wear seersucker and white linens

Irresistible stuff.  

39.   Echo (Echo)

A beautiful track about the big themes - loss and hope, struggle and life.

38.  Louisiana Rain (Damn the Torpedoes)

Petty’s greatest album closes with this evocative southern rock ballad.  When you listen, close your eyes - you can almost see the credits roll.

37. Learning to Fly (Into the Great Wide Open)

The virtue of Petty’s collaboration with Jeff Lynne is that it resulted in unique and memorable songs that sound so simple in hindsight.  

36.  You Wreck Me (Wildflowers)

Sometimes I think that simple sounding rockers like "You Wreck Me" are throwaways that come too easy to Tom Petty.  But the simplicity is an illusion.  There's nothing simple about making it sound so great - that's Petty's art.  

35.  Yer so Bad (Full Moon Fever)

Some of Petty’s most memorable lyrics (“My sister got lucky, married a Yuppie”) are in this catchy track.

34.  Insider (Hard Promises)

A beautiful break-up song and terrific duet with Stevie Nicks.

33.  Casa Dega (Playback)

This nugget was the B-side of “Don’t Do Me Like That” and released on the 1994 boxed set, Playback.  It starts with a Ben E. King-inspired base line and just gets better from there.

32.    Into the Great Wide Open (Into the Great Wide Open)

Yes, Petty ripped off the “rebel without a clue” lyric from the Replacements (who happened to be the opening act when Petty wrote the song) but he makes up for it.  As far as I know, “he met a girl out there with a tattoo too” is all his own.

31.  Room at the Top (Echo)

At some point in the 1990s, Tom Petty infused his pop hooks and bad-boy attitude with beauty and grace. "Room at the Top" is probably the best song on his most overlooked album.  

30.   Mary Jane’s Last Dance (Greatest Hits)

Yes, Petty borrowed the riff from the Jayhawks  (who happened to be the opening act when Petty wrote the song), but that’s rock’n’ roll.  Oh my my, Oh hell yes!

29.  The Wild One, Forever (Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers)

Anyone who doesn’t think that Tom Petty is a terrific singer should listen to how this 20-something rocker expressed desire and longing on this song about the one that got away.  

28.  Shadow of a Doubt (Damn the Torpedoes)

A quintessential Petty rocker – urgency, harmony, the perfect blend of piano and guitar, and the signature Petty shriek before the guitar solo.

27.   Change of Heart (Long After Dark)

Jeff Lynne was influential before he became a collaborator.  Here is the crunch-guitar sound of ELO.

26.  Stop Draggin' My Heart Around (Bella Donna)

The chemistry with Stevie Nicks is great.  And that vocal delivery:  I know you really want to tell me good-BYE….  

25.  Crawling Back to You (Wildflowers)

One of the great underrated tracks on Wildflowers, the song has a wonderfully moody feel and one of the best bridges of any Tom Petty song. 

24. I Won’t Back Down (Full Moon Fever)

I wasn't crazy about this song when it first came out. I thought the production was perhaps too slick. Of course it eventually burrowed into my brain (that’s probably happened to Sam Smith too). There ain’t no easy way out. 

23.   Don’t Do Me Like That (Damn the Torpedoes)

Petty’s first big hit still sounds great.  I especially love Benmont’s organ sound and Stan Lynch’s drum fill out of the break.

22.  You Got Lucky (Long After Dark)

The Mad Max themed video was the first Tom Petty video I ever saw and one of the first videos I ever liked.  It’s one of the first Petty songs where the synthesizer is emphasized but as with all of Benmont’s playing, it’s seamless – it never gets in the way of the sound or what the song is really about – attitude.

21. Best of Everything (Southern Accents)

The closing track on Southern Accents is a bit sentimental yet somehow perfect, with a rich horn arrangement by Robbie Robertson.  Petty could be singing to the girl on the balcony listening to highway 441. 

20.  Wildflowers (Wildflowers)

When Wildflowers came out in 1994, I was disappointed at first. After two Jeff Lynne produced albums, I was hoping for a return to a Heartbreakers sound that was somehow tougher.  Wildflowers wasn't that.  But with repeated listening, I’ve come to love the album which offers so much depth, texture and quality.  

19.  Runaway Trains (Let me Up I’ve Had Enough)

Runaway Trains gets my vote for Petty’s most underrated song. It’s moody and intense even if it is a bit overproduced.  It chugs along as Petty sings “and I’m depending on time babe, to get you out of mind” and then he howls beautifully at the futility of it all.

18.  I Need to Know (You’re Gonna Get it)

The adrenaline kicks in with the first sound of the guitars and it never lets up.  Petty’s scream before the guitar solo is classic.

17.  Runnin’ Down a Dream (Full Moon Fever)

Is there a better driving song in rock’n’roll history? It especially kicks when played live in concert.    

16.  Dogs on the Run (Southern Accents)

Southern Accents is an ambitious album with lots of experiments and contradictions, but everything works on this anthem, including a nice horn part which underscores Petty’s passionate vocals. 

15.   Straight Into Darkness (Long After Dark)

There was a time when albums mattered. And when they did, it was a real pleasure discovering the song that captured the mood and musical feel of the album. This was that song. 

14.  King’s Highway (Into the Great Wide Open)

A hopeful anthem that works either as a rocker or the stripped down acoustic version released on Playback.

13.  Don’t Come Around Here No More (Southern Accents)

The Alice in Wonderland video comes immediately to mind.  When the song came out in 1985, I remember how strange it sounded and wondered what this collaboration with Dave Stewart was all about. But I quickly warmed to it. The creepiness and sense of foreboding are integral to the south that Petty is singing about. And the way the tension builds and then releases in the coda is classic.

12.  Walls (Circus) (She’s the One)

A pop song worthy of Brian Wilson.  For a treat, check out Glen Campbell’s excellent version

11.   Woman in Love (Hard Promises)

It’s not exactly whisper-to-scream, but it’s the dynamics  and passion that drive this song, which sounds even better live.  And the vocal delivery, “Well alright……DO what you want.  Classic.

10.  Rebels (Southern Accents)

Take “The Night they Drove Old Dixie Down” and turn it into a rock anthem.  On” Rebels”, Petty melds his own defiance with the tortured history of the south and gives us some of his most memorable lyrics.

I can still feel the eyes
Of those blue bellied devils
When I’m walking round tonight
Through the concrete and metal

“Hey Hey Hey!”

9.   Even the Losers (Damn the Torpedoes)

A rock ‘n roll anthem for the ages.  The bridge is pure poetry:

Two cars parked on the overpass
Rocks hit the water like broken glass
I should have known right then it was too good to last
God, it's such a drag when you're livin' in the past

Then there's Mike Campbell's Chuck Berry style guitar solo on a single note.  Perfection.

8. Southern Accents (Southern Accents)

Faulkner famously wrote, “The past is never dead.  It’s not even past.”  Petty explores this truth of the American South on Southern Accents.  Fifteen years later, the Drive-By Truckers would pick up the theme and take on “the duality of the Southern thing” more fully on their excellent Southern Rock Opera. Petty’s album is more impressionistic and also more eclectic. The album cover, featuring Winslow’s Homer’s Veteran in a New Field, is an inspired choice.  It shows a Civil War soldier recently returned to the farm, working the field with a scythe. His soldier’s jacket is on the ground, reminding us of what Petty knows - the past is never far behind.  On the poignant title track, the listener is transported through time and country. The rim clicks sound like the clopping of horses. When Petty played this song live in 1985, he dedicated it to Elvis. 

7.  Listen to Her Heart (You’re Gonna Get it)

Surprisingly, there’s no 12-string guitar on this track. The Heartbreakers achieved the Byrds-style jangle with two six-strings. The musical outro to this song is the Heartbreakers at their finest.  And kudos to Petty for the refusing to change the opening lyric from “cocaine” to “champagne” and for the right reasons:  “What girl would leave a guy for money and champagne?!?” said Petty, “I mean champagne is only $4 a bottle.”  Well not the good stuff, but point taken.

6.   Breakdown (Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers)

According to Petty, the broken beat on the high-hat was inspired by the Beatle’s “All I’ve Got to Do”.  The bluesy guitar riff, the tension and release make this early song a classic. 

5.  Here Comes My Girl (Damn the Torpedoes)

Petty combines Byrds-inspired pop with an R&B feel. The interplay between the guitar and Benmont’s keyboard is magical.  There’s  a great clip on Youtube about the writing and  recording of this track.   

4.  The Waiting (Hard Promises)

“Baby don’t it feel like heaven right now.”  Yes. It does.

3.   Free Fallin (Full Moon Fever)

Say what you will about Jeff Lynne’s production, he got it right here. When I first heard that Petty was doing a solo album, I was bummed because it seemed obvious that the Heartbreakers were such an integral part of the sound.  But I fell in love with this song the first time I heard it.  The layers of guitars, the imagery (vampires trolling the San Fernando Valley), and the soaring vocals.

2.   Refugee (Damn the Torpedoes)

No song better defines Tom Petty – the defiance, the passion, Mike Campbell’s riff (inspired by Albert King) and the Heartbreakers at the height of their powers.   

1.  American Girl (Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers)

I still get goosebumps when I hear the opening chords of “American Girl.” When it kicks in with a surge of adrenaline, a Bo Diddley beat, the signature jangle and poetry of dreams.  Next year, the song will be 40 years old. To me, it sounds timeless.   

*Originally posted May 4, 2015. Revised and reposted in memory of Tom Petty (1950-2017)

Addendum: Honorable Mention:

Damn these are good songs. Here are 14  tracks that missed the cut:

  • Face in the Crowd (Full Moon Fever)
  • Damaged by Love (Highway Companion)
  • Restless (You're Gonna Get it)
  • U Get Me High (Hypnotic Eye)
  • Strangered in the Night (Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers)
  • Wake Up Time (Wildflowers)
  • Asshole (She's the One)
  • How Many More Days (Let Me Up I've Had Enough)
  • You're Gonna Get it (You're Gonna Get it)
  • Rhino Skin (Echo)
  • Big Weekend (Highway Companion)
  • California (She's the One)
  • Something Big (Hard Promises)
  • Make it Better (Southern Accents)

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