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written by Kyle Sanders
On a day filled with tragedy, avid rock fans learned of other disheartening news that singer/songwriter Tom Petty had suffered from cardiac arrest, with confusing news reports eventually confirming his death.
Petty produced an array of well-known hits throughout his career as both a solo artist and as lead singer of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. From "Refugee" to "You Don't Know How it Feels," Petty's craftsmanship as a songwriter proved successful throughout his forty-plus years in the music industry.
With hits like "I Won't Back Down," "Here Comes My Girl," "The Waiting," "Free Fallin," "Mary Jane's Last Dance," "Don't Come Around Here No More," "Learning to Fly," and "American Girl," there is no lack of favorite songs to choose from when compiling a list of Petty's best. Yet to those fans who stick solely to the hit singles, Petty's discography showcases just as many valid lesser known tracks than those that cracked the Billboard Hot 100.
In honor and remembrance of Petty's legacy in music, here's a list of deep cuts that deserve the attention of your ears:
Somewhat reminiscent of the songs of old when lyrics were stand-ins for a linear narrative, this track from one of The Heartbreakers' most recent efforts finds Petty on a cross-country journey, finding persons of interest along the highway.
"She was a part of my heart/Now she's just a line in my face," Petty bemoans, regarding a motel maid he decides to take along for the ride. This moody slow burn of a song shows Petty was still in top form well into the twenty-first century.
In the late eighties, Petty saddled up with a rock and roll supergroup consisting of Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Jeff Lynne, and Roy Orbison. The group formed The Traveling Wilburys, and produced an album that was met with both critical acclaim and commercial success, winning a Grammy for Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group.
While "Handle with Care" and "End of the Line" were released as singles, "Last Night" is a deep cut standout, with a reggae-tinged sound backing Petty's lead vocals recalling a one night stand gone awry: "Now I'm back at the bar, she went a little too far/She done me wrong, all I got is this song."
Soon after the album's success, Roy Orbison died of a heart attack. Now after Petty's passing, only two Wilburys remain.
Petty's disdain for a relationship quickly dissipating is quickly sensed in this song's opening, featuring an abrasive drum beat and aggressive guitar strings. "I thought of you, starry eyed/I wondered where we stand/Did I just fall from your arms, down into your hands?" he asks. Petty's answer: a cold, blunt "I'm out..."
It's surprising that this pop music gem was never released as a single on any of Petty's studio albums, as the exquisite melodies and lush harmonies with The Bangles make this a buried treasure that finally found the light of day as part of his boxed set. "I'm gonna trust my intuition/I'm gonna hope I don't get lost" he sings on a tune about lost love--the perfect theme in stellar Petty song.
Petty's nasally baritone met its match in Stevie Nicks' deep gravelly vocals on their mutual hit "Stop Draggin' My Heart Around," but their collaboration suggested a deeper chemistry beyond their mutual admiration for one another.
Originally, "Insider" was a song written for Nicks' 1981 solo debut Bella Donna, but Jimmy Iovine (producing both Bella Donna and Hard Promises at the same time) preferred the former to be Nicks' first single. Petty kept "Insider" for his album, letting Nicks harmonize right along with him.
"Yeah I'm the brokenhearted fool/Who was never quite enough/I'm an insider, I been burned by the fire" they both sing, and instantly you become aware of two souls whose lyrical catalog of heartbreak connect so well with each other.
From his final solo album, "Flirting with Time" now stands as a haunting foreshadowing of Petty's mortality; however, the lyrics aren't filled with cynicism or despair, but rather acceptance and acknowledgement that we all can't live forever: "Should be more to learn from this/Can't say I know what it is/No difference 'tween a hit or miss, it's true..." It's a final bow that is both heartbreaking yet comforting.
"I've had enough of all this hardcore emptiness," Petty growls. "I don't think pain is so romantic." On a stirring song about easing yourself into trusting love again, Petty is backed by his Heartbreakers bandmates in full force.
As with any album chock-full of hits (in this case, "Refugee" and "Here Comes My Girl" come to mind) some songs often go overlooked, such as this track from The Heartbreakers' third album. Petty never ran out of material when it came to romantic frustrations, and the girl in this song certainly gives Petty a run for his money. "I think she loves me/But she don't wanna let on" is perhaps one of the most relatable lyrics about romantic uncertainty ever.
Another notable mention from Damn the Torpedoes. I've always thought of Petty as the voice of the Everyman, and perhaps that's due in part to this song. With a beginning chorus of "Even the losers get lucky sometimes," Petty created an anthem for those down-on-their-luck, discarded underdogs.
"Baby fools pay the price of a whisper in the night in Casa Dega/Time rolls by, night is only night, can I save you?" Originally relegated as a b-side to the single "Don't Do Me Like That," "Casa Dega" is a song worthy of more attention.
Inspired by a New York Times article about a strange Floridian town, the song opens with a slow groove and concludes in an emotional orchestra of guitars, drums and raw vocals courtesy of Petty.
Some of Petty's best songs have worked like that: slowly bringing you in, ultimately shaking you to your core. It's why he's one of rock's most enduring artists, and his songs will continue to define his mark in music history.
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