Our Top 10 Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers Songs list looks at one of the most loved bands in rock and roll history. From 1976 until 2017, Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers from Florida rocked the world with a long list of big hits and deep brilliant rock and roll albums. They defined what it meant to put together a truly great rock and roll band.
In the Beginning
When Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers first came together as a rock band, Petty was the lead vocalist while Mike Campbell was the lead guitarist, Ron Blair was on bass, Stan Lynch was the drummer, and Benmont Tench was the keyboardist. In addition to his role as the band’s frontman, Petty also performed rhythm guitar. Together, they embarked on a career that focused on heartland rock and Southern rock clean into the 1980s.
As soon as the band was put together, they recorded a self-titled album that was released under the Shelter Records label. Despite a slow start at first with the US Billboard music charts, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers became a commercial success, earning a gold certification with the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). In the United Kingdom, their popularity was even greater, thanks to “American Girl,” “Anything That’s Rock ‘n’ Roll,” and “Breakdown.”
Adding to the band’s popularity at this time was the 1978’s movie, FM. The immensely popular soundtrack associated with the film, “American Girl” won Petty and the Heartbreakers an audience that hasn’t really given them much thought before. Since then, the single has earned its place as an all-time classic rock favorite that became one of the group’s signature songs.
In 1978, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers released their second studio album, You’re Gonna Get It! This actually became the group’s first certified gold recording with the RIAA, thanks to the hit singles “I Need to Know” and “Listen to Her Heart.”
However, the success of the album wasn’t enough for Petty and his bandmates to escape legal issues that came about against ABC Records and MCA Records. As a label, Shelter Records was sold to MCA and Petty refused to compromise his principles as an artist. His strategy to file for bankruptcy became part of a story that ensured the man was able to keep one foot ahead of big corp expectations.
Via MCA’s Backstreet label, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers released their third studio album in 1979 after the legal issues between the group and the label were resolved. This became the group’s most successful recording as it quickly became platinum, then triple platinum with the RIAA. In Canada, it was certified platinum twice. Damn the Torpedoes included “Don’t Do Me Like That,” a single that became the group’s first top ten hit on the US Billboard charts. In essence, it was the first of two major breakthrough hits in the U.S., the second being “Refugee.”
Despite the success, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers once again rain into legal issues with MCA as they were set to release Hard Promises in 1981. The battle revolved around how much to charge the album wanted the label to charge a premium price due to the band’s popularity. This was met with criticism by Petty as he felt the fans shouldn’t have to pay more just to cater to corporate greed. It became big news at the time that ultimately caused MCA to keep the price at par with less popular stars at that time. After it was released, the commercial success of Hard Promises had it become certified platinum with the RIAA and Music Canada. The Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA) certified it gold.
As is the case with many musicians who lead ultra-busy careers as recording artists and touring performers, sooner or later there will be lineup changes that will shake things up. In 1981, Blair left the band and was replaced by Howie Epstein. Ten years later, Scott Thurston became part of the roster, assuming rhythm guitar duties and as a second keyboardist. From 1994 until 2002, Steve Ferrone took Lynch’s place as the Heartbreakers’ drummer. Going into 2003, Epstein’s combination of drug addiction and personal life issues caught up with him, claiming his life in the process.
In 1982, Tom Petty and the Heartbreaker’s fifth studio album, Long After Dark, had Howie Epstein part of the lineup as a weary Ron Blair opted out from the lineup. After it was released, it became certified gold by the RIAA and Music Canada. This was the album that featured “Change of Heart” and “You Got Lucky.” Originally, “Keeping Me Alive” was supposed to be part of the record’s tracklist but it was kept out by record producer, Jimmy Iovine. This was a decision Petty felt hurt the album’s potential of achieving platinum instead of gold.
Its follow-up album was Southern Accents, which was released in 1985. In the US, it became certified platinum while in Canada, it became gold. For Petty, the frustration of its production had him punch his left hand against the wall with enough force to cause personal injury. This was the album that featured “Don’t Come Around Here No More.” Despite its success, it sparked feminist groups to speak out against a music video that had Petty dressed as the Mad Hatter, eating a cake version of Alice from the popular story Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.
Riding the height of success, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers enjoyed a successful concert tour that included the live recording of Pack Up the Plantation: Live! in 1985. An impressed Bob Dylan invited the group to embark on a world tour with him that would also feature the 1987 release of Let Me Up (I’ve Had Enough) as a studio recording that sounded like it was done live. This was an old trick from Dylan’s recording style that featured “Jammin’ Me,” a tune he co-wrote with Petty and Mike Campbell.
After Tom Petty’s debut solo album, Full Moon Fever, was released in 1989, it became a five-time platinum seller with the RIAA, as well as a six-time platinum seller with Music Canada. After enjoying the fruit of its success, he reunited with the Heartbreakers in 1991 to record and released Into the Great Wide Open. This became certified platinum two times over with Music Canada and the RIAA, as well as earning gold to platinum certifications among the nations of Sweden, Switzerland, and the U.K.’s British Phonographic Industry (BPI). It would be during this time multi-instrumentalist Scott Thurston joined the lineup as Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers embarked on a world tour, promoting the album.
This was followed by the 1993 release of Greatest Hits, a recording that featured yet another big hit for the band, “Mary Jane’s Last Dance.” After this, Stan Lynch decided he had enough and move on to pursue other interests. In the meantime, Steve Ferrone assumed the role of the band’s drummer. He, along with Campbell, Epstein, and Tench, worked with Petty as he recorded and released his next solo album, Wildflowers.
It wouldn’t be until 1996 that Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers would reunite to release a soundtrack for She’s the One, a movie that starred Jennifer Aniston and Cameron Diaz. Songs and Music from “She’s the One” had three singles from it earn chart success. “Walls (Circus),” “Climb that Hill,” and Changed the Locks” each made their way on the US Billboard charts.
Then in 1999, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers released their tenth album as a group, Echo. This would be the final recording from the group that would earn certifications with the RIAA and Music Canada. This gold-certified album led Ferrone and Thurston to be full-time band members and would remain on board until the band until the end.
In 2002, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers released The Last DJ. This was the recording that had Ron Blair replace step in as Howie Epstein’s combination of drug abuse and personal problems interfered with his ability to perform. Shortly afterward, Epstein passed away at the age of forty-seven years old.
The twenty-first century witnessed Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers continue as one of the world’s most beloved rock bands. In 2010, they released Mojo, then in 2014 Hypnotic Eye. In addition to becoming classic rock legends, they were sought after as composers and performers for sporting events and other venues. However, this came to an end after September 25, 2017. The performance they held at the Hollywood Bowl in California would be the last time fans would see Tom Petty while he was still alive.
On October 2, 2017, Tom Petty went into cardiac arrest from an accidental overdose of medication. Unfortunately for him, he did not survive it as he was pronounced dead shortly after he was taken to a medical center in Santa Monica, California at sixty-six years old. Although technically the Heartbreakers didn’t officially disband at first, by 2018 Campbell had moved on to join Fleetwood Mac as Lindsey Buckingham’s replacement. He did, however, perform with Steve Ferrone and Benmont Tench as they carried on as the Heartbreakers.
On April 28, 1999, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers earned a star on the infamous Hollywood Walk of Fame as key contributors to the music industry. This was followed by a 2002 induction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. From 2006 until 2007, the Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio, had Petty’s items on display as he personally donated them to the curators in charge of its museum collection.
Although gone, Tom Petty is far from forgotten. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers continue to release material. Live at the Fillmore, 1997 was a 2022 release with nostalgic flair. Aside from this, the group’s music continues to be used in political and social campaigns by activists supporting specific causes. Ironically, Tom Petty was more interested in expressing himself as an artist without the intent to be directly associated with anything other than the direction of the music industry. Instead of looking at it from a businessman’s perspective, it was done so through an artist who valued the price of integrity much higher than the pricetags engineered by record labels.
In addition to making an impression as recording artists, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers excelled in music videos that made them fan favorites on stations like MTV. Their theatrics added more depth to songs that turned them into mini-movies that kept the fans coming back for more.
Top 10 Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers Songs
#10 – Into the Great Wide Open
Released in 1991, “Into the Great Wide Open” was a song loaded with dark humor. The storyline featured Eddie, a man who moves to Los Angeles, California in his quest to become a rockstar. As soon as he became one, the demands stemming from the corporate side of the music industry puts the hero of the story in a sticky situation. In the music video used to support the song, Johnny Depp took on the role of Eddie while Faye Dunaway posed as his manager. The girlfriend featured in the song that appeared in the video was played by Gabrielle Anwar. There were also cameo appearances made by other recording artists. In it, Petty assumed the roles of a roadie, a tattoo artist, and a reporter.
“Into the Great Wide Open” turned out to be one of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ most beloved hits. On the US Billboard Mainstream Rock chart, it peaked at number four. It didn’t do quite as well at ninety-two on the US Billboard Hot 100 but it did become a number twenty-three hit in Canada, as well as a number fifty-eight hit in Germany.
#9 – You Got Lucky
From Long After Dark, “You Got Lucky” was a single that made heavy use of synthesizers as part of its musical format. Released in 1982, it became a number twenty hit on the US Billboard Hot 100 and a number thirty hit on the Canadian Top 100 Singles chart. On the US Billboard Mainstream Rock Songs chart, it peaked at number one. In Australia, it was a number sixty-two hit.
As a song, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers pointed out to the love interest that she was a lucky woman. It was also pointed out she would have a difficult time finding someone better. At the time, this group was among the few from the 1970s era that fully embraced the experimental sounds coming from synthesizers. They combined this with a drum loop that made this an easy favorite among a fan base that was leaning in favor of new wave music as it continued to grow in popularity at the time.
#8 – The Waiting
“The Waiting” dealt with the angst of expecting the desired result of something to come about in due time. In this case, the wait for a dream to become reality was met with uncertainties. Like many goal-setters, the struggle to reach the prize is often met with obstacles that make the process take longer than expected. In some cases, it’s enough to put an end to the quest and the dream remains unfulfilled.
The timing of this song came about when Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers argued with MCA Records over the price of the album, Hard Promises. In 1981, charging $9.98 for a superstar-labeled album was preposterous in their eyes. This was a dollar more than most of the other albums that were released at the time. The argument had Petty side with the people instead of catering to corporate greed, which spiked his popularity considerably. At one point, the group considered renaming the album to $8.98 but ultimately stuck with the original title.
“The Waiting” was designed as a song focusing on optimism. No matter how hard our patience is tested in situations that seem beyond our control, perseverance usually pays off in the end.
#7 – Don’t Come Around Here No More
For Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, “Don’t Come Around Here No More” was a venture into psychedelic rock that worked beautifully as a breakup song. This was a popular hit single that peaked at number two on the US Billboard Mainstream Rock chart and at number thirteen on the US Billboard Hot 100. However, the music video sparked controversy among certain women’s groups who felt it was offensive. Despite their objections, it won an MTV Music Video Award for Video of the Year.
The theme behind the song came as a source of inspiration after Stevie Nicks from Fleetwood Mac broke up with Joe Walsh from the Eagles. At a party, she was playing dress up with Victorian clothing as she shared her view of Alice in Wonderland with fellow party guest David A. Stewart from the Eurythmics. When Walsh found Nicks, she threw him out of the room with the comment “Don’t come around here no more.”
That phrase stuck, which became a song originally intended for her album, Rock a Little, but after hearing Petty perform it, she felt he and the Heartbreakers were more deserving to turn it into a potential hit. As far as the official music charts are concerned, this was a smart move as it became one of the group’s greatest hits. Aside from its American success, it also peaked at number twenty on the Canadian Top 100 Singles chart. In New Zealand, it was a number forty-two hit and it peaked at number fifty on the UK Singles Chart. In Australia, it charted as high as number sixty-one.
#6 – Mary Jane’s Last Dance
Released in 1993, “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” came from Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ Greatest Hits album. As a single, it peaked as high as number fourteen on the US Billboard Hot 100 and as high as number one on the US Billboard Mainstream Rock chart. It was also a number two hit in Portugal and a number five hit in Canada. Germany, the Netherlands, and the UK each had this song appear on their music charts at number fifty-nine, sixty-three, and fifty-two, respectively. In 2017, “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” made another appearance on the music charts, this time at number six on the US Billboard Hot Rock & Alternative Songs chart.
The song was about an Indiana girl striving to be all that she could be as a free spirit. Among some fans, there’s an assumption the song was about drugs but it was really about finding a way to go out into the world and make the most of it.
#5 – Breakdown
Although “Breakdown” was first released as a single in 1976, it didn’t gain much American attention but it certainly won over an audience in the U.K. Because of this, “Breakdown” was released a second time in the U.S. in 1978. It became a number forty hit on the US Billboard Hot 100. This was also the case with the Canadian RPM Singles chart.
“Breakdown” went from its eight-minute performance to just shy of three minutes before it was recorded on the group’s self-titled debut album. Mike Campbell’s guitar performance was so good that instead of merely using it at the tail end of the song it was used throughout. At the time of recording, Dwight Twilley and Phil Seymour were present. It was Seymour who sang the backup vocals in “Breakdown.” This was a song where Petty addressed his love interest that now is the time to express herself as he ended what became a toxic relationship.
#4 – Don’t Do Me Like That
On the US Billboard Hot 100, “Don’t Do Me Like That” became a number ten hit. For Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, this was their first crack into the top ten of its music chart. This was also the case in Canada as it peaked as high as number three on its Top 100 Singles chart. In New Zealand, it was a number seventeen hit. The twang of the guitar suggested hints of Egyptian-themed influence in a song that would find its way on Damn the Torpedoes in 1979.
This was a song Tom Petty wrote while he was still with his previous rock group, Mudcrutch. In 1974, he moved with them from Florida to Los Angeles. It came at a time when he had a friend whose heart was broken after his girlfriend mercilessly dumped him. The song served as a warning to not end a relationship so callously.
#3 – Refugee
When “Refugee” was released as a single in 1980, it rose as high as number fifteen on the US Billboard Hot 100. The popularity of this song also saw it become at least a top thirty hit among the nations of Australia, Belgium, Canada, the Netherlands, and New Zealand.
“Refugee” was a song that had Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers take a swipe at the pressure laid out by corporate expectations set by recording labels who dictate the direction of the music industry. This came at a time when ABC Records attempted to sell the band’s contract to MCA Records without their knowledge. Doing so meant violating a clause in the contract, which triggered a reaction from the musicians who knew they were being wronged.
At the time, “Refugee” was recorded as simply another song until someone at the studio insisted it was hit material. As a song, “Refugee” served as a source of inspiration for fans who could relate to victims of circumstances where they had a choice to make. Do they suffer as victims or do they fight back in self-defense?
#2 – Learning to Fly
“Learning to Fly” became a certified sliver single with the BPI not long after it was released in 1991. From the album, Into the Great Wide Open, it peaked at number twenty-eight on the US Billboard Hot 100 and at number one on the US Billboard Mainstream Rock chart. On the Canadian Top 100 Singles chart, it peaked at number five. Globally, it was at least a top forty hit among the nations of Germany, New Zealand, and Sweden. In the UK, it was a number forty-six hit.
When this song first came out, it was assumed it made reference to drugs. However, the inspiration came from a television show that talked about learning how to fly. Upon watching this, Petty learned the hardest part about flying was learning how to land. For Petty, he used this as a source to perform what he regarded as a song about personal redemption.
#1 – American Girl
When “American Girl” was first released by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers in 1976, it failed to chart on any of the US Billboards. It did, however, peak at number forty on the UK Singles Chart in 1977 and it became certified silver by the BPI. This was also the same year Roger McQuinn’s version of this single won over the attention of the American audience as a recording from his album, Thunderbyrd. As a song, this technically paid homage to the Byrds as Tom Petty and Mike Campbell fused the 1960s band’s folk-rock sounds with the new wave music energy that was taking the genre by storm.
While “American Girl” didn’t earn much attention at first, it did become one of the most beloved tunes from Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. When it was released as a single for the second time in 1994, it peaked as high as number sixty-eight on the US Cashbox chart. As a digital release in 2017, the year Tom Petty died, it peaked as high as number nine on the US Billboard Rock Digital Song Sales chart.
Since its release, “American Girl” has become a staple of classic rock music and remains an all-time fan favorite to this day. It’s often used in movies and television as a number used to express a person’s desire to become something better.
Top 10 Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers Songs article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2022
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