Everyone has a favourite Tom Petty track - even the man himself. “The next song is a request,“ Tom Petty told the crowd during his last ever UK show at London's Hyde Park earlier this summer. "Of course, it’s actually me that requested it," he wisecracked before playing "Walls," a track from the soundtrack of 1996 film She's the One.
The musician, who passed away at the age of 66 after suffering a cardiac arrest on Monday (2 October), was one of the best-selling artists in music history, changing the face of the medium as lead singer of The Heartbreakers in the 70s and 80s as well as a solo artist in the 90s.
Petty dealt out his fair share of rock 'n' roll tracks that sit alongside the classics with ease, selling over eight million records across a career spanning over 40 years - below is a countdown compiling eight of the best.
American Girl (1977)
Album: Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
The supercharged intro to “American Girl” - instantly recognisable to anyone with even the slightest interest in rock music - was perhaps emblematic of Petty himself: an undulating force of energy who refused to be contained by anything. The urgent guitar and drum combination results in a timeless track possessing the power to make the listener feel like anything is possible - ironic for a song, due to its protagonist standing "alone on her balcony," long believed to be about suicide - a theory Petty would later debunk.
Album: Damn the Torpedoes
A rebellious rock classic that would go on to inspire artists across varying genres, including Melissa Etheridge and Bryan Adams, “Refugee” remains one of Petty's biggest crowd-pleasers. Its status as an anthem was solidified largely due to its striking call and response chorus highlighting its presence as a standout rock track let alone just one from Petty's back catalogue.
Free Fallin' (1989)
Album: Full Moon Fever
It's hard to believe that one of Petty's most famous track was written and record in two single days, however, its free-wheeling nature is a testament to the fact. Co-written alongside regular collaborator ELO's Jeff Lynne, "Free Fallin'" is a drive down a sunset-strewn highway in song form taken from his debut solo record. It remains Petty's longest-charting track enjoying a resurgence in the mid-nineties thanks to Tom Cruise's rendition in Cameron Crowe film Jerry Maguire.
I Won't Back Down (1989)
Album: Full Moon Fever
Another track co-written by Lynne, "I Won't Back Down" is a lesson in stoicism. "Well, I know what's right," Petty sings before telling the listener, "I got just one life." He wanted his point to be on the nose - don't give up when life pushes you around - and, consequently wrote a song that can provide hope in fraught times (it got increased radio airplay in the weeks following 9/11 as a message of defiance against oppressive forces).
Yer So Bad (1990)
Album: Full Moon Fever
“My sister got lucky / Married a yuppie / Took him for all he was worth” - and with that, listeners find themselves propelled headfirst into the stormy universe of “Yer So Bad,” a track that toes the line between moody and fitful bouts of joviality with the mere strum of a guitar. A knee-slapping ditty disguised as a storm in a teacup - and a plain old fun song to sing along to.
Learning to Fly (1991)
Album: Into the Great Wide Open
"Learning to Fly" is yet another product of Petty's time collaborating with Lynne. Comprised of just four chords, its hair-raising melody and sanguine lyrics are beautiful in their simplicity, its allure inducing both smiles and tears without the listener ever knowing why. The song went on to become one of the rocker's top hits, enjoying a full six weeks at number one with a music video starring a fresh-faced Johnny Depp.
You Don't Know How It Feels (1994)
“So let's get to the point,” Petty sings in “You Don't Know How it Feels” before doing exactly that: “Let's roll another joint.” The lead single from 1994 record Wildflowers, bolstered by foot-tapping beat and harmonica solo, was proof of Petty's desire for autonomy when it came to the songwriting process.
Square One (2006)
Album: Highway Companion
Jerry Maguire director Cameron Crowe would draw upon Petty once again for the soundtrack of his 2006 film Elizabethtown. The song in question was the deeply moving "Square One," a heartland track taken from his third solo album, Highway Companion, that - beautifully - features nothing more than Petty's solemn vocal and guitar. An underrated track deserving of fresh attention.
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