His sudden and cruelly early passing gives a sad finality to our playlist of 20 of the best Tom Petty songs on record, but the selection only underscores what a huge loss he is. It covers his 38-year span of studio albums with his beloved Heartbreakers, the best of his solo work and of course his time as a member of perhaps the most impromptu supergroup of them all, the Traveling Wilburys.
The introduction of Petty’s incisive songwriting, sharp-tongued lyrics, and distinctive vocals came when he and the Heartbreakers debuted on disc in 1976, but it was in the UK that they received their first chart placings. They had minor British top 40 hits from that LP with both ‘Anything That’s Rock ‘n’ Roll’ and ‘American Girl’ that new wave-fuelled summer, well before ‘Breakdown,’ from the same disc, hit the Hot 100 in November. To this day, it’s hard to believe that the anthemic ‘American Girl’ never showed on that US chart.
After that high-octane start to their singles life, our playlist continues with many of the classic Heartbreakers songs that helped turn them into one of America’s prime exponents of urgent, intelligent contemporary rock ‘n’ roll. ‘Don’t Do Me Like That’ and ‘Refugee’ were both part of 1979’s memorable third album, before the band made a superb cameo on ‘Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around,’ from Stevie Nicks’ 1981 solo album Bella Donna.