11 Great Tom Petty Covers

In the aftermath of Tom Petty’s passing there has been a wealth of in-concert tributes by an incredible range of performers, and many of them were truly excellent. But I wanted to find some official Tom Petty covers, those that were committed to record, and there are some truly excellent versions on this list too.


11. Roger McGuinn – American Girl (1977)

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The story goes that Byrds founder McGuinn heard the Petty song on the radio and thought “I don’t remember recording this”. Indeed it’s uncanny and a bit eerie how much McGuinn’s voice sounds like Petty’s. But what a huge validation it must have been for Petty to have his idol record a version of his song so early into his career.


10. Puddle Of Mudd – Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around (2011)

Who knew that the feckless 90s Rockers were still making music in 2011? You’ve got to hand it to them though, they pulled off this cover remarkably well. What’s next, Linkin Park covering Gram Parsons?


9. Linda Ronstadt – The Waiting (1995)

She had one of the most powerful and versatile voices in Rock history, and still had it going on in 1995, before Parkinson’s so cruelly began to take it away. Her voice touched a whole lot of people over the years, including me, so here’s wishing Linda the very best as she continues to battle ill health.


8. Glen Campbell – Walls (2008)

It was actually a darn good “comeback” album called Meet Glen Campbell where he covered the Foo Fighters, The Replacements, Lou Reed, Green Day, John Lennon and other surprises. Here he gives the Petty song the full monty early-Seventies treatment and you can practically see a brown and orange color scheme appear right before your eyes.


7. Grace Jones – Breakdown (1980)

Grace Jones was a musical pioneer, transitioning from disco to New Wave in 1980 and creating an intoxicating blend of reggae, funk, pop and Rock that would influence artists for years to come. So impressed was Tom Petty that he wrote an extra verse of the song just for her.


6. Johnny Cash – I Won’t Back Down (2000)

There are over 70 cover versions of this song. I’ve listened to a lot of them, and can’t find too many that are any good. It’s got to be a difficult song to cover, because Petty’s distinct phrasing (And I…won’t…back down) is embedded in the melody and you can’t really do it another way without sounding forced. Although Johnny Cash could have been reading the phonebook and it would still sound compelling.


5. Elle King – American Girl (2015)

Roger McGuinn’s version above has great historical value, but it’s musical value, well maybe not so much. This, on the other hand, is a really killer version. The “Ex’s And Oh’s” singer brought some much-needed Rock attitude to the pop charts in 2015, and she brings more of the same here.


4. Walk Off The Earth – You Don’t Know How it Feels (2017)

This talented outfit is perhaps best known for its cover videos like their 2012 five-people-on-one-guitar version of Gotye’s “Someone I Used To Know”, which has garnered over 180 million views. Their original material is pretty strong too, but it gets overshadowed by their covers like this one, which captures Petty’s vibe to a T.


3. Melissa Etheridge – Refugee (2005)

This is the only cover Melissa Etheridge ever recorded, but even without it, her musical debt to Petty is pretty self-evident. I’ve never been a big fan of hers, but this performance is tremendous, packing a wallop that the original version never had.


2. John Mayer – Free Fallin’ (2009)

Sure, Mayer has his cheesy side, but into every life a little cheese must fall. Even his most churlish critics can’t deny the guy’s bona fide chops on guitar and vocals, and this is simply an superb treatment of a beautiful song.


1. Chris Hillman – Wildflowers (2017)

This one is special. Earlier this year Petty approached Hillman – an original member of the Byrds alongside McGuinn and David Crosby – and said he would like to produce an album for him. Hillman had no intentions of making a new album, but Petty sweet-talked him into it and it turned into a very fine record, with some old Byrds song redone, some new originals, and guest appearances from McGuinn and Crosby. Hillman’s voice still sounds so amazingly pure and vital at age 72. Bidin’ My Time was released on Sept. 22, just a week before Petty’s death, and it would be the last thing he ever worked on. Hillman said it’s probably the last album he will ever make too. This is the closing number, a cover of the title track on Petty’s 1994 classic. And so Petty’s career ended where it began, being covered by an original member of The Byrds, the band he idolized. That is one beautiful, poetic full circle.

“You belong among the wildflowers, you belong somewhere close to me. Far away from your trouble and worries, you belong somewhere you feel free.”


Photo credit: By Ирина Лепнёва (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

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