The Top Ten Songs by Tom Petty

Whether with the Heartbreakers, the Traveling Wilburys, or all by himself, Tom Petty has had no problem churning out classic rock anthem after classic rock anthem.

His smooth, soothing voice and versatile guitar prowess have earned him a spot in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and his new album “Highway Companion” has been well-received by critics as well.

His music was a big part of the soundtracks to the summers of my youth, and here are my picks for his best songs, not counting those from his new album, which I haven’t heard yet.

10. Runnin’ Down a Dream-

The anthem of the 2006 NBA Finals 17 years after its release as a single, this song is a classic heavy-yet-melodic rock cut that’s great to throw on while cruising down the highway on a hot summer day with the top down. How much did I like this song growing up? I was brave enough to list it as my favorite song on one of those profile sheets in elementary school, even as my classmates were listing songs by the likes of more popular artists like Kriss Kross and MC Hammer.

9. I Need to Know-

With its infectious title chorus and energetic vocals by Petty, this song will get stuck in your head in no time. This is one those songs that keeps you entertained throughout despite a repetitive chorus, because the chorus is simply so good that you could sing it over and over again.

8. The Waiting-

You’ve probably heard ithis song several times in movies and TV shows because of its universal theme, but it is a surefire classic with another classic chorus that seems to get better with age. Everyone can relate to the lyrics and the theme of patience expressed in this song and it’s a microcosm of what gave Petty’s music such widespread appeal.

7. Don’t Come Around Here No More-

This 1985 release is a departure from Petty’s usual guitar-driven style, infusing his laid-back, emotional vocals with a funky synthesizer-driven beat. While not well received by all of his fans, the sound was an interesting change of pace and Petty delivers a fine vocal performance. The song also gets bonus points for the trippy Alice in Wonderland-themed video that accompanied its release.

6. You Got Lucky-

There’s just something extremely empowering about the lyrics in this song, as Petty spills his emotions yet again about the girl who thought she could find someone better and didn’t realize how good she had it until he was gone:

“Good love is hard to find/you got lucky baby, you got lucky baby, when I found you.”

This is another song that utilizes a synthesizer-driven beat and here it does a great job of capturing the somber, inflective mood in the lyrics.

5. Free Fallin’-

You’d think a song with this title and matching chorus would be a bit depressing, perhaps about struggles with alcohol or drugs, but not in this case.

This song is more about freedom and living life without boundaries after a breakup as opposed to feeling sorry for yourself. This is another one of Petty’s low-key, easy-going songs that’s easy to get lost in.

4. I Won’t Back Down-

This song finds Petty a little more defiant and serious than usual, as he belts out his pledge to “stand his ground,” and he “won’t back down.”

This is another case of simple lyrics with a powerful theme and the guitar riffs backing them up are smooth and don’t get in the way too much, another Petty trademark. He remains cool and confident throughout and belts it like he means it, making this another empowering classic rock song you can’t help but sing along to.

3. Refugee-

Another lyric-driven song, this one scores big with me mainly because of one classic line:

“Somewhere, somehow, somebody must haveâÂ?¦kicked you around some,” Petty asserts, evoking images of the troubled yet sweet girl all of us seem to have come across at some point in our lives.

From then on, Petty belts out the chorus with maximum emotion and tells the story of a girl whose life is headed in the wrong direction. It’s a powerful song.

2. Last Dance with Mary Jane-

I like this one because it’s a little more instrument-driven than most of Petty’s songs but still incorporates catchy and emotional lyrics.

The slow, echoing wail of the harmonica and the up-tempo guitar in this song is a great mix and Petty’s “Wooo!” at the end of each line allows the song to jump back and forth from heavy and dark to light and breezy. The imagery in this song is remarkable as Petty describes a whirlwind relationship with both a woman and drugs, while lashing out at and capturing the frustration of small-town life:

“I feel summer creepin’ in and I’m/tired of this town again” will go down as one of Petty’s best lyrics.

1. You Don’t Know How it Feels-

Even though I was young when I first heard this and turned off by the marijuana references at the time, I still was mesmerized by the amount of emotion and power conveyed through the simple lyrics and harmonica riffs in this song.

Petty sings every line like he means it in this bittersweet song about a lost love and his need to move on and get away from the negativity by any means necessary. The lyrics are among his most simple, and yet they still make you think, whether you’re analyzing them on a sheet of paper or listening to the song on a lazy afternoon.

And therein lies the genius of Tom Petty.

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