Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers' 20 Best Songs

"The Waiting"
Leave it to Petty to write a love song that is as much about being in the moment as it is about longing. Punctuated by one of Mike Campbell's many signature guitar hooks -- how often do you hear one of those today? -- the verses are structured melodically to feel like it is hanging on the precipice of something to come and not just the chorus. As it turns out, the waiting really is the hardest part. JEFF BALKE

"Walls (Circus)"
The forgettable film She's the One at least gave us one memory, this gem of a tune. Part Beatles, part Byrds, part Phil Spector, this is Petty's version of California wall of sound and it's goddamn glorious. It's difficult to tell if he is singing about himself or someone else, but his introspection has rarely been more poignant and direct. And who can resist a good "Strawberry Fields" fade out and and coda return? I sure as hell can't. JEFF BALKE

The title track off what is (in my opinion) an insanely underrated Petty album, "Wildflowers" ha a carefree vibe that lends itself perfectly to road trippin'. The next time you are about to venture out on the highway, make this Track 1 of your driving mix. You'll be ready for anything. SELENA DIERINGER

"You Don't Know How it Feels"
Petty's hit off of 1994's "Wildflowers" is like the most effortless "fuck off" ever uttered. It's like, I don't care enough to raise my voice, so read between the lines and figure it out yourself. In the meantime, I'm going to sit here, relax, and feel pretty amazing. Plus the harmonica is simply bitchin'. SELENA DIERINGER

"You Got Lucky"
And then there is Tom Petty at his most brilliantly arrogant. Note that he doesn't say "You got lucky when you found me," but rather "when I found you." This is the ultimate song of defiance when it feels like a partner is about to stray. The music is dark and creepy, like something out of a David Lynch film, and angry. Every guy (and girl) wishes for the balls to stand up to a former boyfriend or girlfriend just when that person began to believe they were too good for us. "If you can do better then me, go." Ouch. JEFF BALKE

"You Wreck Me"
This is the other side of the "You Got Lucky" coin. There might never have been and may never be a more perfectly evocative lyric than "I'll be the boy in the corduroy pants/ You be the girl at the high school dance." Filled with innocence and energy and the world laid out in front of them, it's poetic and insanely romantic. And the smooth, almost delicate delivery of the lyrics is laid out over a bed of pure guitar-driven angst, like when loud rock and roll started echoing through gymnasiums at high school dances in the '60s. JEFF BALKE

Honorable Mention: "Refugee," "A Woman In Love (It's Not Me)," "Saving Grace," "It's Good to Be King," "Insider," "Learning to Fly," "Louisiana Rain," "Honeybee," "Letting You Go," "Even the Losers," "I Need to Know," "Mary Jane's Last Dance," "Change of Heart," "Don't Come Around Here No More," "Kings Highway," "Hometown Blues"

The editor's ten favorite Tom Petty/Heartbreakers albums:

  • Damn the Torpedos
  • Full Moon Fever
  • Hard Promises
  • Wildflowers
  • Into the Great Wide Open
  • Mojo
  • Let Me Up (I've Had Enough)
  • Southern Accents
  • Highway Companion
  • Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers


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