The loss of a great music artist makes us turn to their songs…for comfort, to remember them, and to immerse ourselves in their art.
In looking at the iTunes sales chart the day after Tom Petty died, the top 4 albums, and 7 of the top 10, were his. The top single was “Free Falling”, and four more of his songs were in the top 10…”I Won’t Back Down”, “Mary Jane’s Last Dance”, “You Don’t Know How It Feels”, and “American Girl”.
Over the last 40 years, my wife and I bought almost everything Tom Petty released, including all his albums, the Playback box set, and some of his videos.
People who liked Tom Petty, but hadn’t necessarily purchased his music are looking for some guidance on what to buy, or maybe listen to on streaming services.
Here are some recommendations. You can start with Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers Greatest Hits. It’s a very well-chosen selection of most of his earlier popular recordings. However, that will only take you to 1993, so you’d be missing a lot. Eventually, they’ll probably release a volume 2 of greatest hits, or a 2-disc set that covers his entire career. (They have….See the new article: Tom Petty…The Best Of Everything.) There is an Anthology: Through The Years that goes a little deeper, but don’t be fooled into thinking it covers more years than the Greatest Hits, because it doesn’t.
Greatest Hits songs: 1. American Girl, 2. Breakdown, 3. Listen To Her Heart, 4. I Need To Know, 5. Refugee, 6. Don’t Do Me Like That, 7. Even The Losers, 8. Here Comes My Girl, 9. The Waiting, 10. You Got Lucky, 11. Don’t Come Around Here No More, 12. I Won’t Back Down, 13. Runnin’ Down A Dream, 14. Free Fallin’, 15. Learning To Fly, 16. Into The Great Wide Open, 17. Mary Jane’s Last Dance, 18. Something In The Air.
Once you have Greatest Hits, you might want to purchase or stream Wildflowers, because it’s his best album after 1993. Or, you may want to select the best songs individually from the part of his career that was 1994 to 2016. Here are my recommendations for songs (in chronological order):
- Wildflowers (first 4 songs are from Wildflowers)
- You Don’t Know How It Feels
- You Wreck Me
- It’s Good To Be King
- Walls (#3) [from She’s The One]
- Angel Dream (#2) [from She’s The One]
- The Last DJ (from The Last DJ)
- Square One (from Highway Companion)
- Saving Grace (from Highway Companion)
- Crystal River (from Mudcrutch)
- American Dream Plan B (from Hypnotic Eye)
- Shadow People (from Hypnotic Eye)
- Trailer (from Mudcrutch 2)
- Dreams Of Flying (from Mudcrutch 2)
- I Forgive It All (from Mudcrutch 2)
Other songs you might want to add include “Waiting For Tonight” (It’s a good uptempo song with background vocals by The Bangles, from the Playback box set), and The Traveling Wilburys’ songs “End Of The Line” and “Last Night”. These three are actually from the 1980’s.
There are many other songs that could be on this list, but these along with the Greatest Hits album will give you a good overview of his career. Some people may not be familiar with many of the above songs, but that’s because music trends changed and radio formats splintered so much that most people were not exposed to his later recordings.
Update: The new release of Tom Petty: The Best Of Everything is an excellent collection. You’ll find an article about it on this site.
I find that I listen to songs from the latter part of his career as much, and probably more, than the earlier songs. Tom Petty maintained the ability to write great songs throughout his long career. He never lost that elusive “muse” for writing.
One more thing. While we remember Tom Petty, we should also appreciate how much Mike Campbell (lead guitar & sometimes co-songwriter) and Benmont Tench (keyboards) added to all those great songs. Those two were on most of the recordings, even the albums that were considered Tom’s solo records. They’re brilliant musicians who’ve also worked on many projects with other artists.
It’s sad to think we won’t be getting any new songs from Tom Petty, but his treasure of songs will be enjoyed for generations to come.