I said the other day in another post that I was no longer on a “rocker dies/write a post” train. That is true. I used to feel compelled to say something immediately, like within seconds after I heard the news. I no longer feel that way and I do want to write a Petty series one fine day.
But some of his songs keep going through my head and so I thought I would jot this list down while it’s still fresh in my mind. Interestingly, I discovered there is a Petty box set called Playback that might wind up on my Christmas list. (6 CDs, 41 bucks on Amazon.)
You’ll notice that many of my choices come from the early years of Petty’s catalog. I first heard him when he released “Breakdown” in 1976 and those were the primary years where I listened to him. I never lost sight of him but, well, forty years is a long time to track any artist.
- Runnin’ Down a Dream – This song is pure rock ‘n roll. Everything works – lyrics, music, references to the Fifties song “Runaway,” (“Me and Del (Shannon) were singing,”), Mike Campbell’s terrific song-ending solo. Co-written by Campbell and Jeff Lynne. BTW, that Del Shannon reference is not just Petty singing along. He actually produced one of Del’s albums with the Heartbreakers as Del’s backing band. And then poached Shanon’s bass player Howie Epstein.
- American Girl – What’s not to love here? “Oh, yeah. Alright. Take it easy baby. Make it last all night.” If you’re in a bar band doing covers and you don’t know this song, find another job.
- Breakdown – For the life of me I don’t know why I don’t see this song listed on more Petty Top 10 or 20 song lists. A great, bluesy tune with an infectious riff. Love it.
- Free Fallin’ – I have a memory of being in San Francisco around the time this song came out. I was waiting for a cable car and some street busker was singing it with a bunch of German tourists singing along. This tune gives me that “free of all bonds, fallin’ like a skydiver” feeling.
- Refugee – “You don’t. Have. To live like a refugee. (Don’t have to live like a refugee.) Love the way Petty and crew have the nice backup vocals. Let us not overlook the contributions of the Heartbreakers.
- I Need to Know – A nice uptempo romp. Stevie Nicks has sometimes done this in concert and I gotta say I like it way better than “Stop Dragging My Heart Around.”
- Here Comes My Girl – A Tom Petty/ Mike Campbell song. Petty said the chorus was inspired by the Byrds, a band he loved so much he did their write-up in Rolling Stone’s list of 100 Greatest Artists.
- Don’t Do Me Like That – Petty thought about giving this song to the J. Geils band but was convinced to keep it for himself. Peter Wolf opened for Tom’s final tour. I have the Petty channel on pre-set on satellite and listened to an interview with Wolf. He couldn’t have dug Petty or the tour more if he tried.
- The Waiting – “The waiting is the hardest part.” Yes it is.
- Even the Losers – A stopped clock is still right twice a day, yes? The lyrics – if not the music – are very Springsteenian:
Well, it was nearly summer we sat on your roof
Yeah, we smoked cigarettes and we stared at the moon
And I’d show you stars you never could see
Baby, it couldn’t have been that easy to forget about me
A couple of others that just missed are “You Got Lucky,” and “I Won’t Back Down.” I have to also give a special nod to “I’m the Night Watchman.” A friend of mine used to be one for a time so of course, I’ve got to sing it to him in my poor, warbly voice every now and again.
That’s my list. Feel free to share yours.