I caught Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers in concert in 2010, and despite them playing for three hours (with only 15 minutes from their new album), we still left the show rattling off the favorites he didn’t get to— like he played nothing from Hard Promises, considered one of the all-time classic rock albums.
Nobody—and I mean nobody—has recorded more good songs than Tom Petty—68 singles released, and at least four times that many great songs that weren’t. Pretty much anyone can name a dozen Petty songs they consider classics.
He’s an all-American original who is a legitimate legend—and still manages to be underrated. Maybe that’s because he and his outstanding bandmates just make it look so easy.
So here is a baker’s dozen of songs that weren’t big singles that you should have on your playlist, starting with the most recent.
13. American Dream Plan B (Hypnotic Eye, 2014)
A perfectly timed song about young ambition in which a young man declares:
Well, my mama so sad
Daddy’s just mad
‘Cause I ain’t gonna have the chance he had
My success is anybody’s guess
But like a fool, I’m bettin’ on happiness
He decides that even if people are right that the American Dream is a “political scheme,” he’s “gonna find out for myself some day.”
Optimistic and gritty, this is an anthem for today.
12. All You Can Carry (Hypnotic Eye, 2014)
Superb Mike Campbell guitar work, and maybe Tom Petty’s best advice ever—Take all you can, all you can carry/Take all you can and leave the past behind.
11. Fault Lines (Hypnotic Eye, 2014)
Beginning with one of Mike Campbell’s best guitar lead-ins since “Breakdown” (he also wrote the song), this is classic Heartbreakers. A truly great song in every way.
10. Forgotten Man (Hypnotic Eye, 2014)
With a guitar intro that hearkens back to “American Girl,” this lover’s lament sounds like it should be on Damn the Torpedoes—other than the fact that Petty’s voice has gotten stronger since then.
9. I Should Have Known It (Mojo, 2010)
The Heartbreakers are known for rousing Zeppelin covers in concert and their 2000 album, Mojo, hearkened back to Led Zeppelin’s bluesiest days. This snarky rocker about a lover who finally learned his lesson is the best song on the album and deserves mention with Petty classics.
8. Melinda (The Live Anthology, 2010)
The reason you haven’t heard this is that it’s only available on the monumental The Live Anthology, which is nearly four hours of live Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers for about 20 bucks. One of the things that shines though in the collection—as in concert—is the mastery of keyboard player Benmont Tench.
If there’s a better live rock collection than this one, I’d like to know what it is.
“Melinda” is an 8-minute, largely instrumental song that features a piano and guitar interplay that ranks with Jim Gordon playing with Eric Clapton and Duane Allman on the classic, “Layla.”
7. Scare Easy—(Mudcrutch, 2008)
An anthem for Tom Petty that almost equals “I Won’t Back Down.”
Tom Petty is known for a loyalty that is rare in show biz. The dissolution of his 20-plus-year first marriage had him in despair, and bassist Steve Ferrone, who has been with the band since 1994, calls himself “the new guy.”
The Mudcrutch project was a chance for Petty to give the members of his original band not named Mike Cambell or Benmont Tench a chance to get some glory. It was so successful that Mudcrutch 2 came out in 2016, another terrific record in which several songs just barely missed this cut.
6. Wrong Thing to Do (Mudcrutch, 2008)
Here’s another Mudcrutch song that is a prime example of Tom Petty embracing his inner redneck.
5. Flirting with Time (Highway Companion, 2006)
A wistful acoustic rock song about not letting things slip away, with just a touch of wry humor.
4. Saving Grace (Highway Companion, 2006)
Tom Petty’s lyrical ode to flyover country with an impeccable Jeff Lynne production. Petty’s third solo album with Lynne is the least known, but the second best.
3. Echo (Echo, 1999)
Echo is the forgotten album from Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, but it’s one of their best. The reason? Petty won’t play anything from it live, as it was written during the dark days of the breakup of his 20-year marriage.
Fans probably won’t think it is all that dark, though there is perhaps a bit of an edge, particularly in the the title song, which includes the superb put-down line: “And I don’t want to mean anything to you/ I don’t want to tempt you to be true.”
There’s not a slow spot on this record, and I easily could have chosen 3 or 4 other songs for this list, including the very clever “Swingin’,” “Rhino Skin,” or “Counting on You.”
2. The Same Old You (Long After Dark, 1982)
The most underrated song on the most underrated album of Petty’s prime hit-making period. Everyone has a friend they’d like to say this to.
1. Southern Accents (Southern Accents, 1985)
This defiant ballad was mysteriously never a single, though the title cut to what was supposed to be a Southern roots concept album (that got muddled with Dave Stewart of the Eurythmics writing “Don’t Come Around Here No More” and two other tracks) has become a popular concert favorite.
The song was also superbly covered by Johnny Cash in his American Recordings series, in which Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers played vital guest roles.
There’s a southern accent where I come from
The young uns call it country, the Yankees call it dumb
Later… Got my own way of prayin’ but everyone’s begun
With a southern accent, where I come from