Home Music Music Lists

Readers’ Poll: Tom Petty’s 10 Best Songs

Your picks include ‘Breakdown,’ ‘I Won’t Back Down’ and ‘You Wreck Me’

Tom Petty

Jason Merritt/Getty Images

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers just wrapped an 11-date run in New York and L.A. that focused on relative obscurities from the band's extensive catalog. Last weekend, the band closed Bonnaroo with a more traditional set of fan favorites drawn from Petty's long list of hit singles. "It's great to play to so many young people that you know couldn't have even been born when we started out," he told Rolling Stone. His favorite moment of the gig? When a young girl in front held up a sign that said, "I was raised on your music."

There's plenty more where she came from. Last week, we asked for your favorite Petty songs. Click through to see the results.

By JAMES SULLIVAN

Play video

10. ‘You Wreck Me’

Tom Petty had already been leading the Heartbreakers for almost 20 years when he released his second solo album, Wildflowers, in 1994. Produced by Rick Rubin, the album still featured most of Petty's backing band. The big hit was "You Don't Know How It Feels," but the hard charge of "You Wreck Me" – likely inspired by the loose, unfussy sessions Petty had recently cut with the Traveling Wilburys – has proven to be an enduring fan favorite.

Play video

9. ‘Here Comes My Girl’

Petty already had a handful of rock-radio staples to his name ("Breakdown," "American Girl," "I Need to Know") when his band released their third album, Damn the Torpedoes, in 1979. The one-two punch of "Don't Do Me Like That" and "Refugee" – which reached Numbers 10 and 15, respectively, on the singles charts – made the drawling Floridian a bona fide rock star. The follow-up single from the album, "Here Comes My Girl," didn't fare quite as well, failing to crack the Top 40, but the song's sweet sentiment and Byrds-style jangle have made it another crowd-pleaser.

Play video

8. ‘Learning to Fly’

Petty co-wrote this song with his pal Jeff Lynne of ELO, after their collaboration with Bob Dylan, George Harrison and Roy Orbison in the Traveling Wilburys. The nostalgic video features black-and-white footage of a middle-class upbringing in the middle of the century. "Some say life will beat you down/ Break your heart and steal your crown," Petty sings, but his tone suggests he's comfortably resigned to it.  

Play video

7. ‘The Waiting’/ ‘Runnin’ Down a Dream’ (tie)

"I think I got the idea from something Janis Joplin said on television," Petty has said of "The Waiting," the first single from his 1981 album Hard Promises. The song went to Number 19 on the pop chart and held the Number One spot on Billboard's then-new Rock Tracks chart for six weeks. Your votes for "The Waiting" equalled the number cast for "Runnin' Down a Dream" from his 1989 album Full Moon Fever.

Play video

6. ‘Breakdown’

This moody song was many fans' first introduction to Tom Petty, as it was the first single from the Heartbreakers' debut album in 1976. The song flopped on its first release, but after the band began to build a name for itself with its touring, the reissued single slipped onto the tail end of the Top 40 in early 1978. Live versions often stretch to seven minutes or more, as the song was originally intended.  

Play video

5. ‘I Won’t Back Down’

Petty's first solo album, recorded in the midst of his days in the Traveling Wilburys supergroup, featured a video for the first single that included two Beatles in his backing band. Fellow Wilbury George Harrison played guitar (alongside Jeff Lynne), and Ringo Starr "played" the drums. The actual drum part on the recording was handled by Phil Jones. 

Play video

4. ‘Mary Jane’s Last Dance’

Is this song about weed? Given Petty's perpetual grin, it's a safe bet. "If that's what you want to think, it very well could be," guitarist Mike Campbell once said, "but it could also just be a goodbye love song." Sure, that's a possibility. 

Play video

3. ‘Refugee’

Petty had a major record-company headache in 1980, and he has said it affected the tone of the whole Damn the Torpedoes album. "I was so angry with the whole system," he once said. "I was in this defiant mood." Ironically, the song and album helped make him a huge star, with only The Wall coming between Torpedoes and Number One. 

Play video

2. ‘Free Fallin”

Another cut from his 1989 solo debut, Full Moon Fever, "Free Fallin'" is the singer's highest-charting single, reaching Number Seven. It's "a very good song," Petty once said. "Maybe it would be one of my favorites if it hadn't become this huge anthem." 

Play video

1. ‘American Girl’

This is pretty thoroughly American, all right: in this footage from Live Aid, Don Johnson introduces the band from Florida. Petty, looking like a psychedelic Civil War soldier, kicks off with "American Girl," the song that spawned a thousand imitators. It doesn't bother him, he's often said. After all, it is a great big world.

Show Comments