“Oh baby don’t it feel like heaven tonight, don’t it feel like something from a dream” (The Waiting). The world lost a authentic All-American rock and roll star with the passing of Tom Petty last night. A brilliant songwriter, live performer, and class act, Petty never changed for the trends of the moment but held true to his standards and his deep love of the power of music. You can make an argument that Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers are THE essential American rock band with over 40 years of hits, a consistent stable lineup, and a style that influenced countless artists for the past four decades. Simply put, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers provided the soundtrack for so many memories in all of our lives.
Today, we’re spotlighting the brilliant career of Tom Petty in just six essential songs. It’s a monumental task since just his Greatest Hits album alone is loaded with 18 killer songs. Ask me tomorrow and I’ll have a completely different list for you. Would love to include a track from his brilliant recent “Hypnotic Eye” CD or a track from his underrated “She’s The One” movie soundtrack, but we’re sticking to the essentials here. We’ll save the deeper cuts for a future Tom Petty day!
“AMERICAN GIRL” (1976)
From his days with Mudcrutch to the self-titled debut album with the Heartbreakers, Tom consistently held true to his back-to-basics pure rock and roll style. A perfect song opening with jangling guitars, Petty sharing another epic story about a girl starting life on her own, and a killer jam session to end the single. Team this song up with “Breakdown” (my all-time Tom Petty song) and you’ve already got a great music career and it was just the beginning…..Here’s footage from Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
“THE WAITING” (1981)
The entire “Damn The Torpedoes” album was a defiant, gritty take no prisoners collection of songs. Petty was mad at his record label for sticking outrageous prices on his albums and his snarly attitude came to the surface on “Refugee”. This is a spotlight song for the Heartbreakers with Benmont Trench bringing back the organ and sharing Petty’s love of 60s Soul and his fascination with the Byrds. Team this one up with “Woman In Love” (a Top 5 favorite!) and “The Waiting” and you’ve got Petty at his peak. “The Waiting” is such a testament to Tom’s unique phrasing in his songwriting and the intrinsic ability to paint a vivid picture.
“STOP DRAGGIN’ MY HEART AROUND” – (1981)
Hard to believe this song was cut from the Hard Promises album! When Jimmy Iovine produced Stevie Nicks debut album, Bella Donna, he asked Tom if he had any songs to contribute and he offered up this outtake. “Stop Draggin” was originally recorded with just the Heartbreakers but the pairing with Stevie Nicks launched her solo career into overdrive and gave Petty his biggest chart hit at this point of his career. Tom and Stevie have teamed up a few times over the years and you’ve got to check out “I Will Run To You”, a lost classic duet.
“REBELS” – (1985)
“Southern Accents” remains one of the most underappreciated classic rock albums of all-time. A throwback collection of deeply personal songs including the strings-driven title track, “Make It Better” featuring an explosive horn section. MTV jumped on his monster hit “Don’t Come Around Here No More” that created the Mad Hatter persona Petty adopted. The preeminent cut, “Rebels” is a concert favorite with a “Me against the world” attitude that works as a hard driving rocker and was turned into a pensive ballad on Petty’s last tour this year. Here’s footage from Live Aid 1985.
“FREE FALLIN” (1989)
Why would anyone with a band as incredible as the Heartbreakers want to make a solo album without them? When you’re Tom Petty, you’ve got so many friends in music it was a chance to explore some new sounds. During this era, Petty was touring with Bob Dylan, hanging out with a Beatle (George Harrison), and spending endless hours jamming with Jeff Lynne (E.L.O.). This re-energized his career. “Full Moon Fever” featured the glorious masterpiece, “Free Fallin”, the cheekiness of “Yer So Bad”, and the defiant masterpiece, “I Won’t Back Down”. You can’t forget about his superstar collaborations including songs like “End Of The Line” with the Traveling Wilburys that took Petty to another level, MTV superstar. He teamed up with Axl Rose on a live performance of this song which originally was written as a inside joke with Lynne.
“ROOM AT THE TOP” (1999)
From the Echo album, Petty opens with a soft contemplative lyric about life passing by and what’s coming next. As the song progresses Petty shares his hopeful spirit that epitomized his career. Tom remained faithful to his fans and band for his entire career. A music superstar who was always willing to give back and if a tragedy happened around the world, they were the first band signed up to come to their aid. “Room At The Top” is also just a kickass rocker with lyrics that convey different meaning to each listener.