Tom Petty kicked off a tour with his early 1970s band Mudcrutch this week, and anyone that shows up hoping to hear “American Girl,” “Breakdown” or “Runnin’ Down a Dream” are going to walk out very disappointed. This is a tour devoted exclusively to tunes from the small (though stellar) Mudcrutch catalog. They represent just a tiny fraction of the Tom Petty classics that never became big hits. In honor of the Mudcrutch tour, we had our readers select their favorite Tom Petty deep cuts. Here are the results.
Few rock stars that got their start in the 1970s had a better 1990s than Tom Petty. With the exception of the She's the One soundtrack (which doesn't really count), every single project he took on became an enormous success. He was a good two decades older than most everyone else on MTV, but that didn't stop the network from playing videos like "Mary Jane's Last Dance" and "You Don't Know How It Feels" over and over and over. He wrapped up the decade, however, with the relative commercial dud, Echo, a sad album inspired by the collapse of his marriage and general depressed state of mind.
The third single was "Swingin,''' which didn't even scrape the Billboard Hot 100. In the song, Petty compares his marriage to a boxing match where one of the fighters gave it his all and still lost. Some smart-asses pointed out that Sonny Liston didn't actually go down swinging in his famous 1965 fight with Muhammad Ali, but we'll cut him some slack. And over time, Echo has proven to be one of Petty's most enduring albums.
From the very first moments of Echo, it becomes clear this is a different sort of Tom Petty record. "I've got a room at the top of the world tonight," Petty sings in a voice dripping with sorrow and exhaustion. "I can see everything tonight/I got a room where everyone/Can have a drink and forget those things that went wrong/In their life." It only gets more depressing from there, but for some reason the label thought this would make a good single. Like the other songs from the album, mainstream radio didn't really touch it. And when Petty hit the road, the song was so intense that he only did it 26 times on a tour that lasted all year. He hasn't played it once since 1999.
"That's one I haven't wanted to do," Petty told Rolling Stone in 2013 when asked about the song. "I haven't wanted to even hear it since I did it, and I don't think I have. You never know. Sometimes you go back to something and it's different than you thought it would be."
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers' 1979 masterpiece Damn the Torpedoes is so packed with hits like "Refugee," "Here Comes My Girl" and "Even the Losers" that the other songs on the album are often overlooked. One of the best is "Shadow of a Doubt (Complex Kid)," which is about a girl that Petty just can't quite pin down. We learn that she hates her job and her boss, has depressing dreams she claims she can't remember in the morning and she's unwilling to admit any feelings for Petty. It's become a real rarity in recent years, last popping up at a 2003 theater gig in Chicago.
By the time that Hard Promises rolled around in 1981, Tom Petty had become a great storyteller. Take the album track "Something Big," in which we meet a lonely guy on a Sunday in June in a seedy part of town near a porno theater. He meets a stranger (possibly a prostitute) and takes the person up to a hotel room where he tries to order up a drink, but he's then forced to contend with the blue laws that forbid alcohol sales on Sunday. We flash ahead to the following morning when the maids enter the room and find the bed still made, but they recognize the guy, who is quite possibly dead. "Probably just another clown," one of them says. "Working on something big." The song was a super concert rarity until 2012 when Petty put it into his rotation.
You're Gonna Get It! is often left out of the conversation when people talk about great Tom Petty records. The 1978 LP isn't the explosive first album or the breakthrough third, but the sophomore release is a crucial link between the two of them in which the group really showed their growth. "Magnolia" wasn't a single or a hit of any kind, but had it been a single, it very well could have gotten a lot of radio play. It's the simple story of a one-night stand with an enchanting woman named Magnolia. "As she looked up at me," Petty sings. "And said now I must tell you goodbye/And there in the moonlight/As I watched her leave I felt a chill down inside." As far as we can tell, he's never played it live.
Hard Promises gets off to a joyful start with the ecstasy of a new relationship on "The Waiting," but things get bleak with the romantic frustration of "A Woman in Love (It's Not Me)" and then delves into the drudgery of a dead-end job with "Nightwatchman." Like the title suggests, it's a song about an actual security guard. "I sit around at night and listen to the radio," Petty sings. "If I get real bored, I might have a little smoke/Yeah I got a permit to wear this .38/But listen, my life's worth more than the minimum wage." He played it during one of his Beacon Theater shows in 2013, but up until that point, he hadn't touched it since 1981.
When Jimmy Iovine entered Tom Petty's life to begin work on Damn the Torpedoes in 1979, he went through every scrape of tape in his vault trying to find songs that they could re-record. He came across two Mudcrutch-era songs he loved: "Don't Do Me Like That" and "Louisiana Rain." Both wound up on the album. The latter tune was written by Petty at Leon Russell's house during a brief time while he was working as his quasi-assistant. It wound up as the final track on Damn the Torpedoes. He's only played it nine known times, most recently in Evansville, Indiana, in 2013.
Tom Petty fans that tried to put the needle down on "American Girl" and wound up off by one song on the 1976 self-titled debut came across "Luna." The eerie song was the final one the group wrote in Tulsa, Oklahoma, before heading back to Hollywood to finish it up. "It's very improvised, especially on the ending," Petty told writer Paul Zollo. "You can hear all these weird stops and little licks. It's just us jamming together." They haven't played it live since 1980.
The first phase of Tom Petty's career ended in 1982 with the release of Long After Dark. Bassist Howie Epstein had just joined the band, but they'd been on the road for about seven years straight and were burned out. Jimmy Iovine agreed to produce the record, but didn't tell them he'd be working on a Bob Seger album at the same time. It caused a lot of tension, but somehow they still came up with killer tracks like "Straight Into Darkness." It's a song about losing something great, though it ends on an optimistic note. "I don't believe the good times are over," Petty sings. "I don't believe the thrill is all gone/Real love is a man's salvation/The weak ones fall/The strong carry on."
At some point before he began work on Wildflowers, Tom Petty's cousin sent him a book of great phrases. One really stuck in his mind: "Most things I worry about never happen anyway." He worked it into the brilliant "Crawling Back to You." Petty's marriage was falling apart around this time, and it's hard to not sense that in this song about a guy "tired of being tired." It's an amazing live track, though the band hasn't touched it since the 2013 tour.