Tom Petty faced the same dilemma each time he went on tour: How many hit songs should be in the setlist? A huge portion of the crowd on any given night didn’t know much beyond his most famous tunes and he had so many of them that they couldn’t even all fit into a two-hour show. The problem was that a strictly hits show would bore his hardcore fans to tears and neglect about 90 percent of his vast catalog, but leaving his most iconic numbers out of the show would disappoint many people that paid big money to see him.
He ultimately found that the best solution was to peg a handful of songs (“American Girl,” “Refugee,” “Free Fallin’,” “Mary Jane’s Last Dance,” “Don’t Come Around Here No More,” “You Wreck Me,” “Learning to Fly,” “Runnin’ Down a Dream,” “I Won’t Back Down”) as must-plays and break them out virtually every time he played an arena, festival or stadium. Other hits (“Breakdown,” “Listen to Her Heart,” “Here Comes My Girl,” “Into the Great Wide Open,” “Don’t Do Me Like That,” “You Don’t Know How It Feels,” “I Need to Know,” “You Got Lucky”) came and went and the rest of the show was reserved for new tunes and lesser-known old ones.
On each tour, he attempted to resurrect at least one or two deep cuts that hadn’t been heard in many years. For his 40th anniversary tour – which kicked off April 20th at the Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City – he shocked many fans by beginning the show with “Rockin’ Around (With You).” It’s the first song from the Heartbreaker’s 1976 debut, and they hadn’t touched it since 1983. The show also featured the first “You Got Lucky” since 2010 and the Mojo track “Something Good Coming,” though it disappeared from the setlist after that night and never returned. As the tour went on, he sprinkled in “Crawling Back to You,” “Time to Move On,” “Swingin'” and “Good Enough.”
Here’s video of “Rockin’ Around (With You)” from opening night. In 2014, Mike Campbell told us it was the first song he wrote with Petty. “At that time, I wasn’t as developed as a songwriter as Tom was,” he said. “My input at the time was guitar riffs and chords and things. And that was just something I played in the studio one day. I had a little demo of it I think that I messed around with, and he took it home and said, ‘Maybe I can write some words to this.’ Then he came back the next day and took some of the extraneous chords out of it and simplified into a nice song, and that was the first song we ever wrote together.”
Watching this video in the aftermath of Petty’s shocking death is bittersweet. The group was in great spirits and on the verge of a stellar run of 53 shows that would keep them on the road for four straight months. The public didn’t know that Petty was battling hip pain that made it hard for him to move around when he wasn’t on stage, and nobody could have possibly imagined he’d die from a heart attack just one week after the final show. But at least he got to get in one final, amazing tour before the end.