Like so many others, I was really saddened
to hear of the passing of Tom Petty a few days ago. It was only a day or two earlier that I came
across footage from the 40th Anniversary shows of Tom Petty and The
Heartbreakers at The Hollywood Bowl and remember thinking that I cant wait
until he next tours Australia. Id seen Dylan and Neil Young a few times
before, but alongside Tom Waits, Tom Petty was one of those still active
artists that I had atop my list to see live before they stopped playing. When I was 10 or 11 years old I remember my
Dad introducing me to all the music he was into: Dylan, Young, The Band and Tom
Petty. I didnt really get the others until a few years later, but there was an
immediacy to Tom Petty that grabbed me straight away. As I grew older and my
tastes evolved, certain music that grabbed me when I was younger I outgrew, yet
my admiration for Tom Pettys songwriting only seemed to grow stronger. Theres
an economy to his songwriting that very few can do so effectively. His songs
were always direct but seemed to float above you effortlessly. I remember I
bought my Dad the Runnin Down a Dream documentary for Christmas one year. For
the next few years when I would go to visit him I would always watch it. All
four hours of it. Every time forgetting how many classics he penned. He was a
masterful songwriter with too many classics to count and the world is a much
better place for having heard them. His influence is surely eternal but it
doesnt discount the fact that he will be sorely missed. Heres a 20 song
playlist of some of his best.
The opening track from his second solo record of the same name. So perfect in it’s simplicity and almost like a lullaby to ease you into one of Petty’s best records.
Petty’s love letter to the south.
Starting out as a leftover from the Full Moon Fever sessions. Rick Rubin picked this one out to be reworked for his greatest hits release in ’93 during the Wildflower sessions. A new chorus later and the bonus track become an accidental hit that stands up with some of his best.
Lead single from ‘You’re Gonna Get It!’. This track might be Tom Petty at his most quintessential 70’s.
Always the underdog, Petty took MCA records to court in a much publicised David vs Goliath style of case throughout the making of Damn The Torpedoes. This is his anthem for the underdogs.
The first single from Stevie Nicks debut solo record. When Stevie didn’t have a single for her record, producer Jimmy Iovine arranged for Stevie to take one of Tom’s and The Heartbreakers acted as her backing band on the recording. Monster single from the ‘honorary Heartbreaker’.
The inspiration for this song lies in a story told by Petty’s wife about being at a party hosted by Ike Turner. As the party raged on into the night, Turner locked all the doors to the house so no one could leave. Where most singers tend to hide their drug references in metaphor, that was never Petty’s style. The directness of his lyrics would always allow you to immediately visualize the locale and characters in his songs. In this instance the cocaine reference allows us to know the exact kind of power hungry LA type that would use that power to prey on women.
The third single from ‘Damn the Torpedoes’ and second track co-written with guitarist Mike Campbell. Inspired equally by Blondie, The Shangri-La’s and The Byrds for one of Petty’s early career classics.
Another track co-written with Mike Campbell off a highly underrated album in the Petty cannon. ‘You Wreck Me’ seems to just play itself, it’s vintage Heartbreakers on a later career solo record and one of his best.
For an artist that built his career on economical songwriting, ‘Learning To Fly’ might be his most simple in terms of initial song ideas. The trademark production of Jeff Lynne really sticks out on this track with the layers and layers of acoustic guitars and super dry vocals but it’s the perfect execution of the songwriting that allow it float above.
After stating that he didn’t want to be a part of the new wave and punk rock scene and that Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers were a rock n roll band, this song is ironically where Petty sounds his most like Tom Verlaine. Allegedly they went through about 200 takes in the recording of this track, with producer Jimmy Iovine pushing them until they got the perfect performance. Gruelling at the time but it probably paid off in the end with one of their biggest hits to date.
It’s not often that you write your most well known song this far into your career but Tom Petty isn’t your average guy.
Recorded on July 4th 1976 – the bicentennial of the United States.
Where it all began.