Tom Petty fans have to be especially grateful for Sirius XM’s excellent Tom Petty channel in the months following the American rock icon’s untimely death. With band members and music journalists as DJs, and with Tom Petty’s own show, “Buried Treasure,” where the man himself DJs to play his favorite deep tracks from his favorite artists, it’s everything a channel like this should be.
One thing the channel illustrates is the size of the vault of unreleased tracks by Petty and the band. As big as the published Petty catalog is—and I’ll say it again, nobody has released as much good original American popular music as Petty—it appears there is just as much that has not been given the official take-it-to-the-studio-and-mix-it-to-sell treatment.
Now is the time. Here are my six must-release albums that should do well in the marketplace while still living up to Petty’s own high standards of not fleecing the fans.
1. 40th Anniversary Tour
This is a no-brainer. Petty and the Heartbreakers were still one of the best live acts in the world at the time of his death, and the tracks from the tour that are already on satellite radio are outstanding. This should be as complete as possible, even though many of the greatest hits are already on other live releases.
There are two tracks that are absolute musts for this release. First, include the last time Petty and Stevie Nix performed Stop Dragging My Heart Around together at Hyde Park in London this past summer. It also includes Tom’s introduction and reminiscences about how he met each band member.
And the last cut unquestionably has to be Petty’s very last live song, which appropriately was American Girl at the Hollywood Bowl. It was the emotional planned end of the tour. You couldn’t have planned it any better—if this had to be the end.
2. Live Anthology 2
Tom Petty’s first Live Anthology was one of the all-time best values in rock. There are four 80-minute CDs of great live cuts that spanned the catalog from the beginning through the Mojo album in 2010.
This would be a little more of a shaggy dog compilation, but here is what I would include: 30th Anniversary Tour Live from Gatorville, 2007. This is available—and well watched—on YouTube. It was a popular DVD, but it’s never gotten the full audio release treatment in the U.S. Since we are not going to get the full Stevie Nicks/Tom Petty duet album that should have happened sometime in the last 40 years, the live Mojo tracks that those who bought tickets to the tour were able to download are the next best thing.
The fifth bonus disc of Live Anthology was only released to people who bought the deluxe version, which is no longer available—unless you want to pay hundreds of dollars on eBay.
Add whatever else the producers want to drag out of the vault to bring it all together.
3. Southern Accents Live
It’s hard to remember now, but in the early years, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers were not at all identified as Southern or even Roots Rock; they were more of a classic rock throwback with some punk overtones.
That’s probably why the Southern Accents album was considered such an oddity at the time, and why the studio wanted to tinker with it by adding songs from Dave Stewart of the Eurythmics (including Don’t Come Around Here No More, which was the biggest hit).
A remake of this album with live versions of each song would restore the organic Southern roots quality Petty intended. Or perhaps only include the songs that were originally included, like Trailer, which he later recorded with his country-rock band, Mudcrutch.
4. Tom Petty Country
Speaking of Tom Petty and country music, Petty had a habit of throwing old-time country songs into his live setlist: Hank Williams’s Lost Highway, You’re Gonna Change Or I’m Gonna Leave, Lester Flatt’s Blue Moon of Kentucky and Rolling in My Sweet Baby’s Arms. Along with some Mudcrutch songs like Trailer and Shady Grove, which country fans are likely unfamiliar with, this could be a big hit album (though since there are no videos with Petty in a cowboy hat, country radio probably would still ignore it.)
5. Tom Petty Blues
Those who have the Live Anthology got a taste of the band’s talent for hard blues with their harmonica-driven version of Foghat’s I Just Want to Make Love to You and Bo Diddley’s I’m A Man. But that just scratches the surface.
A 2003 concert in Chicago contains many more live blues tracks and has only been released as an import that’s just barely above a bootleg sound, quality-wise. It has great tracks like Born in Chicago, Red Rooster, and Two Men Talkin’ that simply cry out for a high-quality release.
6. Last Studio Recordings
I have no absolute proof for this one, but “Sirius XM Exclusive” recordings like The Mystery of Love and the tremendous songwriting output of Petty and company make me believe that there are just enough good original studio tracks lying around to make one last album that doesn’t sound like a cheap exploitation of the fans and the artist.
But that one I leave to the judgment of the Heartbreakers, who I am confident care more about Tom Petty’s legacy than I do.