On Monday, we lost a legend. Tom Petty, the southern gentleman and Rock & Roll Hall-of-Fame inductee, passed away from cardiac arrest at the age of 66. Certainly, he is gone much too soon.
Before I get into the article, I want to get a little personal for a second. I loved Tom Petty. He wasn’t my favorite classic rock artist; he was my favorite musical artist. Period.
It wasn’t always like that. I didn’t grow up on Tom Petty. Well, actually I did, I just didn’t know it until around the summer of 2014. At the time, I would throw on Pandora or Spotify and turn it to a classic rock playlist or radio station. Over and over again I realized that some of my favorite songs growing up were from Petty. I think a lot of people went through this when Petty died. When they started listing his hits people realized they’ve subconsciously memorized approximately 20 Petty songs over their lifetime.
Anyway, I dove deeper into Petty’s discography and became obsessed. I would listen to full albums while doing homework or writing a paper. Last March, my mom got me tickets to see Petty at Summerfest in Milwaukee, Wis. It was the best birthday gift of my life.
I saw Petty perform for 17,000 people at the Milwaukee Amphitheatre on July 5th. It was incredible.
This is slightly embarrassing story but I’ll tell it anyway. Monday was my first day at my new job. When news broke in the afternoon that Petty died (even though he really didn’t, yet), I was literally sitting at my new desk, surrounded by strangers, fighting back tears. I couldn’t help it. I’m pretty sure everyone at work now thinks I’m insane.
OK, enough sappy stuff. Let’s celebrate the incredible life and music of Tom Petty!
I thought it would be fun to share some of my favorite Tom Petty songs that maybe not a lot of people have heard. Everyone knows Free Fallin’ and American Girl and Runnin’ Down a Dream, but the amazing thing about Petty is his incredibly deep discography.
There are so many great songs that get overshadowed by the other hits. I’m not saying these are all deep, unknown, secret songs. You might’ve heard of some. I just wanted to shed some light on some great music that you’ve probably never heard on the radio. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.
(Please don’t read this as me being snarky and saying that only TRUE Tom Petty fans know these songs. I just want everyone to enjoy Tom Petty as much as I do.)
First up is a track from one of the Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ later albums, Swingin’. Released in 1999, Echo is truly one of Petty’s best albums. By this point, Petty had made his mark on Rock & Roll and American music, but he showed that he’s still got a few punches left. A song about refusing to go down without a fight, Swingin’ is a great example of how some of Petty’s best work came after America thought he was spent.
Casa Dega, Damn the Torpedoes
Now lets jump back a couple decades to Damn the Torpedoes. Petty’s third album was undoubtedly the one that made him a star. With hits like Refugee, Here Comes My Girl, Even the Losers, and Don’t Do Me Like That, Torpedoes is loaded. Casa Dega is probably the fourth best song on the album, but its still great on its own. It doesn’t have the energy of the other hits, but it’s a great example of Petty’s tremendous songwriting.
Southern Accents, Southern Accents
Even though it’s the title song of the album, Don’t Come Around Here No More and Rebels usually overshadow Southern Accents, which is a shame because it’s a beautiful song. Petty reminds you that he’s still just a southern boy from Gainesville, Florida, and will always have that drawl. What’s that saying about how you can take the kid out of the South?
The Apartment Song, Full Moon Fever
Full Moon Fever is almost universally regarded as Petty’s best. Free Fallin’, I Won’t Back Down, and Runnin’ Down A Dream are PEAK Petty. But towards the end of the album is a fun little song that can only be properly referred to as a “ditty”. Petty cuts loose and plays like a teenager still trying to make it out of his parent’s garage. It’s impossible not to smile when listening to it.
The Last DJ, The Last DJ
Like Swingin’, The Last DJ suffers from being released after most people assumed Petty was done making records. It’s probably Petty’s most politically charged song and album, but that doesn’t stop it from being irresistably catchy. It could have easily spiraled into annoying whining from a rock star, but Petty makes it somehow approachable despite its aggressive lyrics.
It’s Good to Be King, Wildflowers
I will officially disclose now that Wildflowers is my favorite Petty album. It’s worth listening to the whole way through in one sitting if you ever find the time. Steering more into an acoustic sound rather than electric, Petty shows he can make soft, comfortable music just as well as badass rock ballads. It’s Good to Be King is maybe the best example of that.
I Should Have Known It, Mojo
Mojo is another album from Petty’s later years. Releasing in 2010, Mojo saw Petty and the Heartbreakers dive back into their blues roots. I Should Have Known It is a simple, undeniably fun blues-rock song. Petty played it when I saw him live and it might have been my favorite song of the night, more than all his classic hits. Its an anthem to classic southern rock and it’s awesome.
American Dream Plan B, Hypnotic Eye
American Dream Plan B is another example of Petty returning to his blues roots. The riffs and lyrics are simple but some of my favorites of his career (“But I’m half-lit, I can’t dance for shit” will always crack me up). Petty’s music is as Americana as it gets, so its only fitting that he would have a song about the American dream.
Crawling Back to You, Wildflowers
I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but lost love is a common theme throughout Petty’s music. Crawling Back to You doesn’t have the raw, emotional energy of Free Fallin’ or Learning to Fly, but it tugs on the heart strings as good as any. Would not recommend listening to after a breakup.
BONUS: Friend of the Devil (Grateful Dead cover)
OK, so I’m cheating by adding a 10th song that’s not even a Tom Petty original. BUT. It IS Tom Petty covering the Grateful Dead! Its classic rock gold.
That’s it. I hope you like Tom Petty a little bit more now. RIP Tom.