Tom Petty: His 10 best songs
Tom Petty, the beloved rock icon known for his work with his band the Heartbreakers and the supergroup the Traveling Wilburys, died Monday at age 66 after suffering cardiac arrest, his manager confirmed. In a career that spanned more than four decades, Petty was a celebrated songwriter as well as an accomplished solo artist in his own right — and there’s no shortage of musical moments to highlight. Below, EW has rounded up his essential tracks:
10. “Into the Great Wide Open” (1991)
A cautionary Hollywood tale like only Petty could tell them, with a now-legendary video starring Johnny Depp as the aspiring rock star and rebel without a clue whose eventual downfall was as sure as Tom’s pitch-perfect sense of melody.
9. “I Won’t Back Down” (1989)
Petty’s classic “stand my ground” anthem has lived many lives, including an elegiac version performed at an iconic post-9/11 concert and a news-making lawsuit against Sam Smith’s Grammy-winning 2014 smash “Stay With Me” that resulted in a shared credit and royalties. (And yeah, that’s George Harrison on guitar and backing vocals in the original recorded version, no big deal; Jeff Lynne also cowrote the track.)
8. “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around” with Stevie Nicks (1981)
The song is officially credited to Nicks’ first post-Fleetwood Mac solo opus, Bella Donna, but their rueful duet is a stone-cold classic of early-’80s AOR rock: the wary, full-throated pas de deux of two lovers with way too much water under the bridge for easy goodbyes.
7. “You Don’t Know How It Feels” (1994)
Radio censors wouldn’t allow him to rhyme “Let’s get to the point” with “let’s roll another joint.” Their workaround was a weird sort of aural smudge, but it couldn’t wreck this triumph of lean lone-wolf storytelling.
6. The Traveling Wilburys, “Handle With Care” (1988)
A bittersweet road-dog gem from the starriest supergroup that popular music ever produced: George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison, ELO’s Jeff Lynne, and Petty. (After Harrison and Orbison’s untimely deaths the Heartbreakers revived the song on tour, adding it to several setlists in the 2000s.)
5. “Refugee” (1980)
Nothing to do with immigration, literally; just Petty’s defiant take (or so he claimed) on the ruthlessness of the music industry — though it works just as well for doomed relationships — set to a spiraling vocal refrain and ridiculously great guitar hook.
4. “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” (1993)
The ‘90s MTV kids knew it as the one with a dead Kim Basinger in a wedding dress being dragged through one final, freaky waltz. But the song stands alone; a hypnotic, harmonica-laced rocker about a small-town Indiana girl who couldn’t quite kill the pain.
3. “Don’t Come Around Here No More” (1985)
Its Alice in Wonderland-themed video was fitting; bad romance is some kind of rabbit hole for the Mad Hatter-clad Petty in this airy, slow-burning plea to be left alone by a no-good lover. (All those un-Pettyish synths? Credit is probably due to cowriter Dave Stewart of the Eurythmics, who claimed the title itself was inspired by a late-night encounter with Stevie Nicks.)
2. “American Girl” (1977)
Still rightfully one of the most famous opening riffs in rock and roll, and an enduring ode to big dreams, bruised hearts, and (oh yeah, alright) take-it-easy babies.
1. “Free Fallin’” (1989)
No one captured the unadorned poetry of ordinary lives quite like Petty, and this may be his masterpiece: the endlessly evocative tale of “a good girl/crazy ’bout Elvis/loves horses, and her boyfriend too” — even if that love isn’t fully returned by the guy who wants to write her name in the sky.