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I really don’t know what my favorite Tom Petty song is. You ask me today, you ask me tomorrow, you ask me next week, I might say three different things.
But with this big and this wonderful a catalog, it made for a fun draft topic. So I got two of my musical peeps together (Eric Edholm, Frank Schwab) and we went eight rounds of Petty, 24 songs in all.
You could make a pretty strong team on the free agents, too.
1.01 — Refugee (Edholm)
As far as I am concerned, "refugee" was Petty's first (of many to come) great FU songs. He kinda told it like it was. Dude talked like a slightly euthanized Altamont hippie, but he was a stone-cold Florida dick when he wanted or needed to be. I kinda respect that.
Nice and stadium rock only should cross wires in doses, and they're not intersecting in this tune. But Benmont comes through great on this one, and it's really (super underrated guitarist) Mike Campbell's baby — a labor of love that was naturally birthed without sedation with that slave driver Tom turning the wheels behind the board. The song is rife with that tension, too. And make no mistake, this could be Petty's guitar-drop encore in his touring prime, and, really, it made rockin' cool again. So that's why it's a safe top overall pick for me. Killer number. Eminently sing-a-long-able when you want to blow off steam.
1.02 — The Waiting (Pianow)
It’s never been quite my favorite Petty song, but it’s always near the top. And it’s now or never, if I don’t pick it here, I’ll never get it.
The chorus is what people remember, but the second verse gets me every time. And it’s also one of those songs where if I catch it midway through, on the radio, I’ll immediately go to my own music device and start it from scratch. You need every note, every meandering melody. And everyone knows exactly how difficult this feeling is.
1.03 — Free Falling (Schwab)
I can actually hear Scott shaking his head. I get it, it's not winning any deep cuts points. But there's a reason everyone knows every word of this song. Sometimes obvious picks are obvious for a reason.
(Pianow: Yeah, it’s the Petty song for people who don’t like Tom Petty.)
2.01 — I Won’t Back Down (Schwab)
A great song but funny enough, what pushed it up for me wasn't Petty singing it. When Jason Aldean sang it on the cold open for "Saturday Night Live" after the Las Vegas shooting (and Petty's death), it was worth some tears.
2.02 — You Wreck Me (Pianow)
On a lot of days, my favorite Petty song, and Wildflowers is unquestionably his masterpiece album. It’s very difficult to have an A to Z record, and especially so when you’re offering 15 songs. And I’d posit that Wildflowers isn’t merely an album where every track is good, but it’s the type of album where you want to experience it at the same time, 1 to 15, exactly as it was ordered. There are no skipped tracks for me.
2.03 — American Girl (Edholm)
One of the great outliers in their catalog. I bet some punk dude was walking to CBGB's in 1977, heard Son Sam blasting it out his Ford Galaxie window and thought, “F—. That's good." This song had three lives, near as I can tell: 1. a minor hit during the punk/disco era that barely charted; 2. cool again in 1991 after the abduction scene in "The Silence of the Lambs"; and 3. three years later when they vaingloriously re-released it. I never understood why. I also never was able to solve the song's lyrical mystery: What WAS that one little promise our American Girl is gonna keep? Nice little second-rounder.
(Pianow: Also shows up in Fast Times at Ridgemont High. This song is a family relative at this point.)
3.01 — Don’t Come Around Here no More (Edholm)
Strangely, this was my introduction to Petty. This is without a doubt THE oddest introduction to the band, or him solo, because it ain't like anything else before or since. This is the Extreme's "More Than Words" of Petty's library. Well, except it's awesome. The video makes it next-level. Not a song a play a ton, but it holds wild early memories for me. You could say I had a very Lewis Carrollian experience when I heard what the rest of. Petty's songs sounded like. We've now covered three very distinct genres with our three picks. We might not be the most talented club, but goddamn it, we're diverse.
3.02 — Learning to Fly (Pianow)
I know Frank loves this song, so I need to act now. Pensive Petty is often the best Petty. Another track best enjoyed live — here’s the version Schwab turned me onto.
3.03 — End of the Line (Traveling Wilburys, Schwab)
The Traveling Wilburys was a remarkable compilation of talent, and it's impossible to listen to this song and not feel pretty good at the end. Which is true for most Petty songs.
(Pianow: Frank tried to pick Learning to Fly as a separate live track, which I of course shut down. But I allowed the Wilburys to pass through.)
4.01 — Running Down a Dream (Schwab)
I mean, it's pretty much the Petty song you want to hear when you're driving, right? Perfect.
4.02 — Jammin’ Me (Pianow)
Joe Piscopo got mad over this song; he should send residual checks to Petty’s estate, for keeping his name on the air so many years. Petty sounds legitimately pissed off on this track, and that’s always a good pitch for him.
4.03 — Rebels (Edholm)
Just a great goddamned song. In my Petty top 5, honestly. (The only thing that honestly keeps it from rising is the cheesy horn part; I don't get it.) I understand if it's not in your top 10 or even 15. But for me, this is my first home-run pick. Pick a better opening line than "Honey don't walk out / I'm too drunk to follow" or a better chorus than "With one foot in the grave / And one foot on the pedal / I was born a rebel." Not sure you can. This is the song I picture a young Patterson Hood hearing and deciding to start a band called Drive-By Truckers. That's the sound they chased.
(Pianow: It pains me to miss out on Rebels. It’s the second verse that crushes me. Another song that really demands the live version, if you have it handy.)
5.01 — Listen to Her Heart (Edholm)
My first semi-panic pick. Don't hate it, don't love it. It's on the team. We'll work it in the setlist, likely when people need a beer or to take a leak.
5.02 — Change of Heart (Pianow)
For about two months, it was my favorite song, period. Then I forgot about it for a long time. The rediscovery was glorious.
5.03 — Into the Great Wide Open (Schwab)
It's a classic narrative song, about the music business. It has a pretty great story-telling video to go along with it too.
6.01 — Mary Jane’s Last Dance (Schwab)
Here's a song probably better known for the video, another story-teller that included Kim Basinger (which was a really big deal at the time). As always Petty can do slow, like this classic, or fast and it's great either way.
6.02 — Shadow of a Doubt (Pianow)
My buddy Steve Gleason got me into this one, a long time ago. Damn The Torpedoes is Petty’s second-best album. We’re all complex kids.
6.03 — Stop Dragging My Heart Around (Edholm)
It's Petty and Stevie Nicks. They're both awesome. Them doing Three Blind Mice likely is a value in Round 8. So getting this banger in Rd. 6 feels like a win.
7.01 — You Don’t Know How It Feels (Edholm)
Well, Tom, I do know how it feels. Or maybe I just think I do. Felt like I needed something from Wildflowers. It's a good song, and everyone who loves getting stoned loves singing that line. You know the one. This pick is for you people.
7.02 — Even the Losers (Pianow)
The first side on Torpedoes will never steer you wrong. Skillfully used to lead off the best Billions episode.
7.03 — Yer So Bad (Schwab)
Funny (albeit dark) lyrics and a catchy hook, it's not one of the most recognizable Petty hits, but it's still pretty good to sing along with.
8.01 — Don’t Do Me Like That (Schwab)
Petty's first top-10 hit still holds up really well.
8.02 — You Got Lucky (Pianow)
I love how ticked off and disrespected Petty sounds in the middle of this track. It cost him a broken hand every so often, but so much of Petty’s best work came when he was angry. (It kills me to leave Runaway Trains on the board, but that’s what happens when you draft from this deep a catalog. And I’m depending on time, babe . . . to get you out of my mind.)
8.03 — Breakdown (Edholm)
More of a "this is still out there?" pick than a private collection track. Don't get me wrong, it's killer ... just trying to finish with some value. This isn't Tom Brady in Round 6 ... it's more like Matt Hasselbeck in Rd. 6.