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Readers’ Poll: The 10 Best Tom Petty Albums

Your selections include ‘Echo,’ ‘Wildflowers’ and ‘Damn the Torpedoes’

Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers

Tom Petty and The Heartbeakers

Chris Walter/WireImage

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers are going on a rare American theater tour this summer, which he says is a chance to break out deep cuts from his four-decade catalog. With that in mind, we asked our readers to vote for their favorite Tom Petty album. The response was huge, and the top album won by only seven votes. Click through to see the results. 

Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers

Warner Bros. Records

6. ‘Echo’

Echo came at a very difficult time for Tom Petty, both personally and professionally. His bassist Howie Epstein was in the grips of a severe heroin addiction and had become extremely unreliable, even missing the cover shoot for the album. (Notice his absence from the photo.) Petty had also recently undergone an extremely painful divorce from Jane Benyo, his wife of 22 years.

He poured all that pain into the songs on Echo, producing a stunningly personal LP. This is Petty's Blood on the Tracks or Tunnel of Love. The 1999 album kicks off with the agony of "Room at the Top" and doesn't let up for 15 tracks. It's no wonder Petty has barely touched any of these songs since the conclusion of the Echo tour. The album wasn't a big hit, but many Petty fans feel it's his last absolute classic disc. 

Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers

Backstreet Records

5. ‘Hard Promises’

The pressure was truly on when Tom Petty began recording Hard Promises in 1980. His previous disc, Damn the Torpedoes, made him a rock superstar, but now he had to craft a follow-up. He wisely didn't mess with a winning formula, re-teaming with producer Jimmy Iovine and cutting songs that sounded like they came straight from the Torpedoes sessions. Kick-off song "The Waiting" became a Top 20 hit, and "A Woman in Love (It's Not Me)" also got a lot of radio love. He also began his long professional relationship with Stevie Nicks on their duet "The Insider."

Petty went to war with his label before the album came out, since they wanted to hike up the price to $9.98. He prevailed after a long fight, but it wouldn't be the last time he'd go after the powers-that-be in the music industry. 

Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers

MCA Records

4. ‘Southern Accents’

At its core, Tom Petty's 1985 album Southern Accents is a compromise between two ideas. It was originally seen as a concept album about life in the South, hence the title, but producer Dave Stewart wanted to give it a modern feel, adding songs like "Don't Come Around Here No More" to the mix.

Tensions were high during the sessions, leading Petty to punch a wall and break his left hand, making it near-impossible to play guitar. The final product was a mixture of the two ideas, but fans didn't seem to mind one bit. "Don't Come Around Here No More" became a huge hit, thanks largely to the trippy Alice in Wonderland-themed video. 

Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers

MCA Records

3. ‘Full Moon Fever’

Tom Petty was a superstar in the 1980s, but for much of the time, he was creatively unfulfilled. Living up to the promise of Damn the Torpedoes was tough, and when 1987's Let Me Up (I've Had Enough) stiffed at the record stores, it was beginning to seem like he was on a downward trajectory. He decided to make some big changes, bringing in his Traveling Wilburys partner Jeff Lynne to produce his first solo album. Members of the Heartbreakers did play on the album, but Lynne and Petty wrote all the songs together. (Heartbreakers drummer Stan Lynch wasn't included, and he was quite furious with the situation.)

The result was a commercial juggernaut, landing classics "I Won't Back Down," "Free Fallin'" and "Runnin' Down a Dream" onto the charts and MTV. It cemented Petty as a rock giant, and when he played the Super Bowl in 2008, 75 percent of the songs came from the album. He never had another album this huge, but it didn't matter. After this one, he could sell out arenas all over the country until the end of time. 

Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers

MCA Records

2. ‘Damn the Torpedoes’

Much like Bruce Springsteen's Born to Run a few years earlier, 1979's Damn the Torpedoes was Tom Petty's make-it-or-break-it third record. He was an established live act by this time, but he didn't have an album that lived up to the hype. As the title suggests, he wanted to craft a disc that boldly charged ahead, regardless of the dangers. From the opening notes of "Refugee," it was clear that the album was a masterpiece. The track listing almost reads like a greatest-hits disc from there: "Here Comes My Girl," "Even the Losers" and "Don't Do Me Like That."

"This is the Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers album we've all been waiting for," wrote Ariel Swartley in the original Rolling Stone review. "That is, if we were all Tom Petty fans, which we would be if there were any justice in the world, live shows for all, free records everywhere and rockin' radio." 


Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers

Warner Bros. Records

1. ‘Wildflowers’

It was an extremely close contest, but Petty's 1994 solo disc Wildflowers won this poll by a hair. Petty cut the solo album over the course of two years with producer Rick Rubin. It's an extremely mellow effort, highlighted by the title track, "You Don't Know How It Feels to be Me," "It's Good to be King" and "Honey Bee."

Rubin insisted the group use no synthesizers and non-acoustic keyboards so they'd have a more organic sound. "The [album's] key virtues are grit and grace, and Rubin's taut, muscular production emphasizes both these gifts," Elysa Gardner noted in the original Rolling Stone review.  "Buoyant tracks like 'A Higher Place' and 'You Wreck Me' remind us that Petty and his band were the first to marry the chiming lyricism of the Byrds to a more raw, harder style of rock & roll, prefiguring the approach R.E.M. and others would later use to revitalize contemporary music. . . Wildflowers is worthy of that longstanding impact and evidence that this American boy is moving through middle age with all the gusto and poise that his admirers have come to expect."

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