Tom Petty’s death came as a shock to many. He’s been around for decades and has always stayed relevant. It almost seemed as if he was immortal. Whether it was by himself, with The Heartbreakers or with the supergroup Traveling Wilburys, Petty always managed to deliver great singles or albums due to his easily distinguishable voice, his knack for a hook, and his quotable lyrics.
Here is my take on the 10 greatest songs of his career:
“The Waiting” (Hard Promises, 1981)
“Hard Promises” might not be one of Petty and The Heartbreakers most renowned albums, but it does contain the instant classic “The Waiting.” A singalong in every sense of the word, this song shows that you don’t need to break new ground to write a great song. The line “The waiting is the hardest part” is probably Tom Petty’s most quotable line.
“Don’t Do Me Like That” (Damn The Torpedoes, 1979)
“Damn The Torpedoes” is stacked with classics, the best of which is this catchy and relatively brief song which was almost offered to the J Geils Band. Thankfully, Petty decided to keep it and it became his first Top 10 hit in the US.
“Anything That’s Rock N Roll” (Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, 1977)
This song is seldom talked about. This is surprising considering the main hook is the line “anything that’s rock n roll’s fine.” The harmonies on this song are very nice too.
4. “American Girl” (Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, 1977)
This is the song that put Tom Petty on the map. Chances are you’ve heard this song before unless you happen to live under a rock in the middle of nowhere. The fast pace and jangling guitars, similar to those of the Byrds years prior, are what made this song so infectious. The song was used in the films “Fast Times At Ridgemont High” and “Silence of the Lambs” as well as serving as an influence on The Strokes’ song “Last Night.”
5. “You Don’t Know How It Feels” (Wildflowers, 1994)
One of Tom Petty’s last songs to crossover onto the pop charts, this song, oddly enough, features a few harmonica solos which fit perfectly with the laid-back feel of the song. It’s one of the best songs of the later part of his career.
6. “Free Fallin” (Full Moon Fever, 1989)
This is “THE” Tom Petty song. It is also one of the best songs about the San Fernando Valley. The great production on the song is thanks to Jeff Lynne of the Electric Light Orchestra. It was also one of four songs he performed at the Super Bowl in ‘08.
7. “Here Comes My Girl” (Damn The Torpedoes, 1980)
The reason this song is so great has to do with the way Tom Petty uses his voice. During the verses, he narrates, and then during the chorus he basically sings his heart out. Another classic off of “Damn The Torpedoes”
8. “Insider” (Hard Promises, 1981)
The less famous of two duets performed with Stevie Nicks of Fleetwood Mac, album track “Insider” is actually much better than the smash hit “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around.” The beautiful harmonies are part of the reason why.
9. “Runnin’ Down A Dream” (Full Moon Fever, 1989)
The riff is the reason why this song is so good. It’s one of his most famous songs and features a long guitar solo at the end of it.
10. “Wildflowers” (Wildflowers, 1994)
The title track to his best late-career album, “Wildflowers” is one of his most folksy, rootsy songs.