Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers' 20 Best Songs

Photo by Mary Ellen Mathews/Courtesy of Big Hassle Media
Get excited. Next Saturday morning at 10 a.m., tickets go on sale for Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers' first Houston-area show in four years, September 25 at Toyota Center with old friend Steve Winwood opening. A copy of the band's new album, Hypnotic Eye, is included with each concert ticket sold.

But to be honest, all that has very little to do with this article. It's certainly good timing, not to mention a convenient way for Rocks Off to show you we're capable of looking beyond Summer Fest. But the truth is we have several Petty fans on staff here (as it should be), and this list has been in the making for several weeks. Never mind the Beatles and the Stones, our subjects are just two years removed from the 40th anniversary of their first album; although they may have slowed the pace a little in the past decade or so, the Heartbreakers are still one of the most killer live bands on the field, hands down, while Petty remains only a step down from his buddy Bob Dylan as one of America's finest songwriters.

At the end is a small selection of the songs that could just as easily been on this list, but for one reason or another these are the 20 we chose. Tom, guys, well played. See you in September.

"A Face in the Crowd"
This easy breezy mantra-like single from Petty's first "solo" album, Full Moon Fever, plays like a road lullaby with its hypnotic guitar line and bittersweet confessional lyrics: "Out of a dream, out of the sky/ Into my heart, into my life," evoking both melancholy and true blue desire. Instantly identifiable, as we are all faces in the crowd until that fateful chance meeting. I recall the song as the clear standout listening to the cassette on near-constant repeat while my mom drove my siblings and I on a cross-country move from L.A. to central Florida, (Coincidentally, Tom's native region.) Since then it's followed me around everywhere like a friendly ghostlike companion. MATT BLACK

"American Girl"
Well, I am an American girl, and like many other American girls, I was raised on promises. Plus I love rock and roll. Do I therefore love this song by default? I suppose there's a chance to that. But in reality, this beautiful snapshot of "rock in the time of disco" has got to be one of the top feel-good songs of the last century. There is not a time that this song comes on that I don't unintentionally scream, "I LOVE THIS SONG!" You know, like American girls do. And I mean it from my heart every damn time. SELENA DIERINGER

The final track on Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers' 1976 debut album surely restored faith to diehard FM rock radio listeners in a year dominated by soft M.O.R. ballads and disco drivel with its effective and upbeat economic delivery. This is honest and genuine rock and roll soaked in sweat and swagger. Where this number really heats up and catches fire is in the live arena, when Mike Campbell melts faces with the extended electrifying guitar solo. Do yourselves a favor and do not miss their next tour. MATT BLACK

I'm a Tom Petty fan who's never owned a Tom Petty album. That doesn't mean much in this digital age, but when Petty broke you bought the LP if you wanted to hear the music. This is the first of several Petty songs I enjoy with the word "down" in the title. Here, his influences are obvious. He's Bob Dylan until he gets to the chorus, then becomes Van Morrison. My stoner friends were about it and the girls liked it, too. Perfect recipe for a long rock career. JESSE SENDEJAS JR.

"Don't Do Me Like That"
Something about "Don't Do Me Like That" is like finding a time capsule. When Tom and his Heartbreakers released this song in 1979, they probably didn't think that hearing it 35 years later would make the listener feel the exact same way as it did then, but it does. And that's a beautiful thing. SELENA DIERINGER

"Here Comes My Girl"
So maybe I fashion myself somewhat of a hardass, but I have to face the facts: like many other women on the planet, it seems I am somewhat a fool for love. No surprise, I adore "Here Comes My Girl." What lady doesn't want to feel like their existence is enough to make a man feel like his crap day is suddenly amazing? I know I do. SELENA DIERINGER

"Into the Great Wide Open"
We've all had fantasies of leaving for Tinseltown to make it as an actor or rock star. This song tells the tale of the rise and fall of Eddie, a wayward young man with promise and stars in his eyes only to become another dejected, disenfranchised shell of a soul, an Icarus clone. It's timeless and especially applicable with contemporary pop artists vainly flexing and vying for glitz and glamour. T.P. and the Heartbreakers soundtrack the story with a cool and restrained slow-rocking groove, and the accompanying video mini-movie featuring Johnny Depp and Faye Dunaway perfectly marries Petty's words to picture. MATT BLACK

"I Should Have Known It"
The Heartbreakers' last album, Mojo, showed how much of the vintage R&B, soul and '60s psych-rock Petty plays on his Sirus/XM show Buried Treasure had sunk into his songwriting. The whole thing could use a trim or two, but overall it goes down pretty smooth and mellow except for this scornful lament that sees Mike Campbell call down his best Clapton/Jimmy Page hoodoo. Petty hasn't rocked this hard since "Runnin' Down a Dream" and "You Wreck Me," at least. CHRIS GRAY

List continues on the next page.

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