Heartbreaker, Wilbury, Legend: The Music of Tom Petty

The news out of California on October 2 was murky and disheartening: Tom Petty, rock legend and songwriter extraordinaire, had suffered a cardiac arrest. He was on life support in a hospital. There were conflicting reports, to put it mildly, about his health and condition.

By the first few moments of Tuesday, Oct. 3, it was official, confirmed by the Heartbreakers’ longtime manager: The world has lost Petty. He was 66.

As is often the case when someone in the music world passes, we gathered ’round the G&B Newsroom, sharing our favourite Tom Petty songs. Feel free to share yours, and your memories, in the comments.


“Running Down a Dream” — suggested by Vsem Yenovkian¬† and Michael Hainsworth

Released in July 1989, it was the second single from Petty’s first solo album and provided the name for a documentary about Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. A Billboard Hot 100 song for Petty, it’s a staple of classic rock radio.


“The Apartment Song” — another from Michael Hainsworth

Another song from “Full Moon Fever,” it features paradiddle drumming, akin to what you’d hear on Buddy Holly’s “Peggy Sue.”


“Breakdown,” suggested by Alan Cross

Best known for its instantly recognizable hook — written by Heartbreaker Mike Campbell— this song was originally seven minutes long and was recorded in the middle of the night during the sessions of the band’s self-titled album.


“Wildflowers,” requested by Gabrielle Bossy

Petty told Performing Songwriter this song came out of a deep breath, stream-of-conscious style, in one shot.


“You Wreck Me,” requested by Jay Moon and Christa Sampson

One of a trio of songs from the 1994 album “Wildflowers,” this track was likely inspired by Petty’s work with the Traveling Wilburys.


“American Girl,” suggested by Amber Healy

This song, inspired by a line in a 1963 Francis Ford Coppola film, wasn’t a monster hit when it was first released in 1977 but took off when it was re-released in 1994.


“Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around,” with Stevie Nicks, another one from Amber Healy

Technically, this is a Stevie Nicks song on which Petty provides guest vocals, as it appears on her “Bella Donna” album.


“Last Night” by the Traveling Wilburys, requested by Vanessa Azzoli

Described as a “nonsense narrative,” this track appears on the Traveling Wilburys’ first album, “The Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1,” in 1988.


“I Won’t Back Down,” requested by Vanessa Azzoli and Dr. Proximo

Once again we turn to “Full Moon Fever” for this track, inspired by an arsonist’s attack on his home and his desire to reclaim his bearings.


“Mary Jane’s Last Dance,” submitted by Christa Sampson

Whether it’s a straightforward song about drugs or the story of a girl who grew up determined to get out of her hometown, this jam is as memorable for its video, featuring Kim Basinger, as its lyrics.


“You Don’t Know How It Feels,” requested by Vanessa Azzoli

The final installment on this list from “Wallflowers,” the song’s lyrics are laughingly innocent by 2017 standards, but many people heard the line “let’s roll another joint” as something garbled and incoherent.


“It’ll All Work Out,” suggested by Amber Healy

Featured on the “Let Me Up” album in the late 1980s, audiences were reintroduced to the tune in Cameron Crowe’s “Elizabethtown” in 2005.

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