My Top Ten Tom Petty Songs

Update – in a subsequent series on Petty’s life, I added a few more tracks to the Spotify list. So it’s the Top Ten plus. And that’s a good thing.

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.”
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. The Waiting – “The waiting is the hardest part.” Yes it is.
  10. 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.


21 thoughts on “My Top Ten Tom Petty Songs

  1. How can you argue with that list? You can’t!! I think you could put almost any 10 Petty songs up there and I would agree. I always dug the fact the band was not so high and mighty and would be the backup band for other artists such as Johnny Cash. That is cool to me.


    1. I’ve seen some lists in the past few days where I saw songs about which I thought ‘meh.’ The absence of ‘Breakdown’ alone disqualifies them for me. It’s not just a nostalgia thing. It’s the perfect bluesy number.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Breakdown is awesome. No argument. I garnered and new respect for the band when I saw the documentary on them. That made me go back and explore them some more and really appreciate what they did over the years.


  2. I’ve been listening to a fair bit of Tom Petty this week (not that I needed a reason), so so many classics. I may end up posting more on this or my playlist but if I were to go for a Top Ten it’d look a bit like:
    The Waiting
    Even The Losers
    Walls (or Angel Dream)
    Room At The Top
    Something Big
    It’ll All Work Out
    Southern Accents
    Free Fallin’
    Mary Jane’s Last Dance

    Oh – Playback is one hell of a box but very much worth it.


    1. I couldn’t have some of those on my list simply because I don’t know half of them. I’ll be sure to give them a listen. But I confess “Mary Jane” has never done it for me. Video’s fun however.


    2. Finally got a chance to listen. A nice selection of stuff, much of which I hadn’t heard. If I may stereotype us both, you seem to be a bigger fan of his mellow stuff, me a bigger fan of his rockers. As to Playback, much as I think I would listen to it, I fear I would not if I can trust my recent track record of buying CD’s and hardly ever getting around to listening to them. Not sure why that is exactly. BTW, my hands-down favorite on the “new stuff” is Angel Dream.


  3. Good one Doc. Petty and the Heartbreakers are one of those solid bands embedded in CB’s music pile. Talk about a long and consistently high level of music. Glad you mentioned the band. They are one of the best in my opinion (some people might not like Dylan but he knew a backing band when he heard one). Can’t argue with the list. There are so many good songs off of so many good records. Like you I was an early follower. ‘Need to Know’ and ‘Listen to Her Heart’ along with ‘Breakdown set the hook (Those first two albums set the hook). I absolutely love ‘Swingin’ especially his references to Goodman, Dorsey, Miller, Davis and Sonny Liston. Great tune.


    1. Yeah, Petty’s one of those guys that was around so long you almost start to take him for granted. I had never seen him and wasn’t racing to go to any more big concerts. But hell, he seemed indestructible and I figured he’d be playing for at least another ten years anyway. I was just listening to his station on satellite. Forever on pre-set now. I used to dig listening to his drawl when he’d host it.

      As I mentioned in the piece, I find it really hard to track any band over that long a time. I wander in and out, check in periodically to see what’s going on. For all I know there’s an equally valid list to be made from the last 10 or 15 years. Don’t know. Petty’s a journeyman. Anyway, I’ll be listening to some of the songs you mentioned and Tony’s (and if anybody mentions others) over the weekend.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. “Take for granted”. You took the words out of my mouth. Tony’s list was a good one. ‘Cabin Down the Road’ has that greasy, swamp sound (reminds me of a band we’ve been talking about a lot lately).
        Never heard of the the station but yeah Tom was a guy I enjoyed listening to. I absolutely dig the Echo album and have been getting into Mojo. Doc, the guy was good. The Wolf interview sounds interesting. I will search that one out. Thanks.


      1. Just listened to the Beatles cut. Yeah I get your connection ( CB likes that early Beatles stuff). Petty’s also has that jingle jangle Byrds sound. Funny how certain tunes move you. Swinin does that to me.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. I don’t think you’ll catch either the Petty station or the Wolf interview unless you have Sirius XM. Maybe there’s a write-up of the Wolf interview, not sure.


  5. I like the music in Breakdown, but always find the lyrics tough going for some reason. Free Fallin’, Refugee, Even The Losers, and The Waiting would all make my list though.


    1. That’s funny. I never much thought about the lyrics in “Breakdown” one way or the other. Not even 100% sure what it’s about but seem to fit the music well. For whatever reason, that song keeps going around in my head more than any other.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Great list! I also really dig “You Got Lucky” and from the “Southern Accents” album “Rebels” and the title song, plus “The Last DJ” (title song from the 2002 album) and “Red River” (from “Hypnotic Eye”). Last but not least, I’ve always liked his version of “Needles And Pins” from the terrific 1985 “Pack Up The Plantation” live album. There are so many great tunes from Tom Petty, it’s hard to keep it to 10 tracks!


    1. Yeah I almost went with 15 but I figured I’d try to discipline myself. I’ll check out your selections this weekend along with some other ones I received and didn’t know. Thanks.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Wow, I was playing all but one of these songs just this morning. Middle child is off school and I thought she’d learn something useful about music if she heard these – hope springs eternal. Great list.


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