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Readers’ Poll: Tom Petty’s 10 Best Songs

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

Tom Petty

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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

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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.

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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.  

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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. 

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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. 

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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. 

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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." 

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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.

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