Tom Petty, who died Monday after being rushed to the hospital due to cardiac arrest, was an indisputable music legend. He had what is possibly the weirdest voice in rock n’ roll and that, combined with his musical prowess and lyrical skill, made him great.
Whether with Mudcrutch, Traveling Wilburys, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, or his solo work, Petty consistently turned out hits.
Whittling his vast catalog down to just 10 essential songs is no easy task. We did it so you can honor the iconic musician the way he’d want you to — by enjoying his music.
“Breakdown” — Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
This is the song that launched Tom Petty’s mainstream career after Mudcrutch disbanded. The song starts off smooth and easy, gradually building to that famous, angry crescendo Petty pulls off with such ease.
“Free Fallin'” — Tom Petty
Do not lie. The first strums of that guitar will give you chills. Whether you see it as a triumphant anthem or a cry of pain, there’s deep emotion in this song. It’s the kind of tune you can’t help but sing along to. That’s probably why if you only know one Petty song, it’s this one.
“Refugee” — Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
With another monster opening guitar riff, Regugee is possibly Petty’s most “rock n’ roll” song. It has a very angry hook with a bass line that absolutely rips. This was my personal favorite growing up, and it still carries a lot of weight for many other fans.
“End of the Line” — Traveling Wilburys
You can’t deny that this is probably the best supergroup of all time. Petty teamed up with other greats including Bob Dylan and George Harrison to create a rock group with southern influence. Listen to these masters at work and you’ll want to start a singalong with this number at your next campfire.
“The Waiting” — Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
A simple idea can strike a chord if it’s delivered properly, and this man was brilliant at that. Petty’s lyrics, “You take it on faith, You take it to the heart, The waiting is the hardest part,” are so poignant in their simplicity, and they make this song a classic.
Don’t Come Around Here No More — Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
Talk about an amazing music video. The song itself is pretty great, too — it’s haunting and has a phenomenal drum and sitar combo that is unmatched. This Alice-in-Wonderland-themed romp is a complete trip in the best way.
“Mary Jane’s Last Dance” — Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
This is just a damn good song. Tom’s voice comes in a little harsher than usual, which makes the pretty chorus all the more pleasing. It’s a perfect example of his melodic prowess and storytelling ability that really paints the auditory picture for an audience.
“Handle With Care” — Traveling Wilburys
If you’re looking for a feel-good love song that compells you to belt along, look no further than another Wilburys joint. You won’t even be angry that you’re stuck with this earworm; it doesn’t get old and it’s truly heartwarming. And if you don’t want to hang out with this crew after watching the video, you’re wrong.
“American Girl” — Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
We know you’re not yet ready to dance after the terrible news of the singer’s death — but this song absolutely begs you to get up and move. It’s another example of Petty’s excellent storytelling and melodic genius. With the backup vocals echoing, “Make it last all night,” the song has cemented itself in every fan’s memory. Like a lot of Petty’s flourishes, they add a nice signature to the hook.
I Won’t Back Down — Tom Petty
Last, but not least, is the song that will motivate you in nearly any situation. It’s tough, it’s angry, it’s determined, and it’s badass: “Won’t be turned around, I’ll keep this world from draggin’ me down. Gonna stand my ground. And I won’t back down.” Those words have gotten me, and I imagine many other fans, through some tough times.
Thanks, Tom Petty, for teaching us how to stand our ground.