Deep Album Cuts Vol. 23: Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

This week, Tom Petty is releasing his 16th album (and 13th with The Heartbreakers), Hypnotic Eye, so I figured it was a good time to finally dedicated a deep cuts playlist to one of the acts I've been promising to cover since the first installment. In fact, there were 2 previous points in the series when I intended this one to be next, and decided to delay it because I just needed more time to comb through Petty's huge catalog and familiarize myself with the non-hits. Their first best-of compilation, Greatest Hits, was released in 1993, when I was 11. And though I was always a pretty classic rock-friendly adolescent of the grunge era, it is true in a broad sense that Petty was pretty much the hippest boomer rock icon still making music at the time (outside of maybe Neil Young). And as one of the 7 million people who bought that Greatest Hits collection, I was just bowled over by how many perfect singles the guy had written, and took a couple decades to properly educate myself in his albums.

One of the central theories or questions of this series is the chicken-or-egg aspect of hit singles. Out of an album with a dozen songs and just a couple hits, did the best songs naturally, inevitably become the popular favorites, or would any song the label promoted as a single have performed more or less similarly? If Tom Petty can write 17 songs as perfect as the ones on Greatest Hits, it stands to reason that there'd be dozens more on the albums, right? But as consistent and frequently excellent as his albums are, it took longer than usual to pick out favorite album tracks. Often, Petty's voice gets in the way -- he puts his unique instrument to ideal use on the hits, but frequently on the album tracks it's too whispy, or too guttural, or too much like a bad imitation of Dylan. Slowly, though, the standouts emerged.

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers Deep Album Cuts (Spotify playlist): 

1. We Stand A Chance
2. A Thing About You
3. You Tell Me
4. A Mind With A Heart Of Its Own
5. Too Much Ain't Enough
6. The Wild One, Forever
7. How Many More Days
8. Finding Out
9. Shadow Of A Doubt (A Complex Kid)
10. Straight Into Darkness
11. Hope You Never
12. Insider
13. Let Me Up (I've Had Enough)
14. Southern Accents
15. Wildflowers
16. Turn This Car Around
17. The Trip To Pirate's Cove
18. No More
19. Dreamville
20. The Dark Of The Sun
21. Alright For Now

Track 6 from Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers (1976)
Track 5 from You're Gonna Get It! (1978)
Tracks 3 and 9 from Damn The Torpedoes (1979)
Tracks 2 and 12 from Hard Promises (1981)
Tracks 1, 8 and 10 from Long After Dark (1982)
Track 14 from Southern Accents (1985)
Tracks 7 and 13 from Let Me Up (I've Had Enough) (1987)
Tracks 4 and 21 from Full Moon Fever (1989)
Track 20 from Into The Great Wide Open (1991)
Track 15 from Wildflowers (1994)
Track 11 from Songs and Music from "She's The One" (1996)
Track 18 from Echo (1999)
Track 19 from The Last DJ (2002)
Track 16 from Highway Companion (2006)
Track 17 from Mojo (2010)

It bears mentioning that three of those albums (Full Moon Fever, Wildflowers and Highway Companion) are technically Tom Petty solo records, although I consider the distinction to be fairly pointless. Mike Campbell plays all over all of those albums, several other Heartbreakers are on two of them, and really there's little to no aesthetic difference.

One of the refreshing things about Petty's catalog is that you never really know where the gems will be found, and going by the strength of the singles isn't necessarily the best clue. The self-titled debut has "American Girl" and "Breakdown," but nothing else on it can even hope to compete with those songs. Meanwhile Long After Dark has way more quality deep cuts than I would've expected based on the good but not quite transcendent "You Got Lucky" being its biggest hit. And while Damn The Torpedoes and Full Moon Fever are deserving of their status as Petty's most fertile crops of hits, their long singles campaigns didn't leave as many great album tracks to pick over.

Once I started finding the good stuff, there was suddenly far more than I could fit here. "The Insider" is another great Stevie Nicks collaborations from the same sessions that yielded "Stop Draggin' My Heart Around." "Hope You Never" is the best thing to ever come out of the damned Edward Burns filmography. And while the last half dozen albums are less essential, they're all pretty listenable. Well, except for The Last DJ, that's a pretty insufferably cantankerous concept album, even if it comes from a place of love for the rock radio, the medium that Tom Petty is an uncontested champion of.

Previous playlists in the Deep Album Cuts series:
Vol. 1: Brandy
Vol. 2: Whitney Houston
Vol. 3: Madonna
Vol. 4: My Chemical Romance
Vol. 5: Brad Paisley
Vol. 6: George Jones
Vol. 7: The Doors
Vol. 8: Jay-Z
Vol. 9: Robin Thicke
Vol. 10: R. Kelly
Vol. 11: Fall Out Boy
Vol. 12: TLC
Vol. 13: Pink
Vol. 14: Queen
Vol. 15: Steely Dan
Vol. 16: Trick Daddy
Vol. 17: Paramore
Vol. 18: Elton John
Vol. 19: Missy Elliott
Vol. 20: Mariah Carey
Vol. 21: The Pretenders
Vol. 22: "Weird Al" Yankovic
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