10 Tom Petty Songs I Will Treasure Forever

Everybody’s got their own go-to Tom Petty songs, these are mine. These are the songs that come to me when I think about Tom Petty, and like many of you I’ve been doing a lot of that in the past couple of weeks. I justify selecting five from one album, 1989’s Full Moon Fever, because not only do I believe it’s his best album, I think it’s pretty high on the list of best albums of all time.


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This was recorded in 1976, and even though everyone agrees Petty wasn’t a part of the New Wave of music that began around that time, there were still some things in it that he shared with the new music, like the vague sense of menace and the Patti Smith-style vocal inflections (which he soon after discarded). It still sounds fresh 41 years later.


Runnin’ Down A Dream

There’s nothing really special about it except for Mike Campbell’s scorching guitar solo, but it’s another example of how Petty could take a simple driving Rock number, infuse it with a little soul and warmth, and make it memorable.


Saving Grace

I just love the vibe of this, the opening track from 2006’s Highway Companion. Musically there are a few different Rock styles being seamlessly blended together, and lyrically Petty is once again at the top of his game: I’m moving on alone / Over ground that no one owns / Past statues that atone for my sins.”


Learning To Fly

Here’s all you need to know about this epic, inspirational number: Bob Dylan covered it in a concert last week. I call that high praise.


Yer So Bad

Petty’s influences from the Sixties are well-known – Dylan, Beatles, Byrds – but this one clearly owes something to The Kinks, with the old English music hall feel and the wicked biting wit.


American Girl

Take The Byrds’ lyricism, chord changes and jangly guitars, infuse them with punk energy, and you get the timeless classic “American Girl”. And talk about timeless, twenty years later The Strokes would borrow the sound of this song’s opening chords for their song “Last Night”.


A Face In The Crowd

I really love the feel of this one, I don’t know, I guess I’ve always been more drawn to Petty’s more melancholy stuff. But it’s not all sadness, there’s that uplifting middle part with the slide guitar that feels like George Harrison, it’s just another perfect simple song.


You Don’t Know How It Feels

It was like Steve Miller’s “The Joker” updated for the Nineties, but way better because it brought something we really needed in 1994. In the midst of all that grunge and power pop, here was a voice saying whoa, hold on people, we really need to slow down and roll a fucking joint already. Also, “I woke up in between memory and a dream” is a line that comes to me almost every day.


Free Fallin’

Ezra Koenig of Vampire Weekend called this song “truly one of the greatest pieces of American art, so perfect and sad” and I agree with him completely. You don’t need to dig too deep to conclude that it is really about America itself, and it is a credit to Petty’s genius that he could cloak such heavy social commentary in such a disarming way.


I Won’t Back Down

It wasn’t until I listened closely to this song that I realized it wasn’t about standing up to others but rather standing up to yourself and for yourself. That when this old world starts pushing you around, you’ve gotta stand your ground and hold onto your dreams, your principles, and your sense of who you are. It’s the most important lesson anyone can learn, and I will always be grateful to Mr. Petty for delivering it so memorably. I always try to think of this masterpiece whenever the world starts bearing down on me a little bit.

So what are your favorite Tom Petty songs?

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