Editor’s Note: With Tom Petty’s passing, we’re revisiting Petty’s top 20 songs in remembrance of the rock legend. This article originally published 16 February 2016.
This year Tom Petty will celebrate an impressively big milestone in his career: the 40th anniversary of his band Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. In 1976, the Gainesville, Florida-based band released its self-titled debut, a stunning collection of raw rock and roll songs. Petty and his bandmates soon found much success with each following show and album and for good reason: listeners could relate to Petty’s often character and story-driven lyrics about everyday life in America and standing your ground and fighting for what’s important. He also has a knack for writing catchy rock and roll songs like “American Girl.” During its 40 years, the band released an impressive 13 studio albums, including 2014’s Hypnotic Eye. Petty also released three solo albums, including the perennial favorite Full Moon Fever. He also was part of the star-studded Traveling Wilburys and reunited his pre-Heartbreakers band Mudcrutch.
With news that he’s planning to release a previously unreleased collection of songs recorded during the sessions for his 1994 solo album Wildflowers, it seemed as good time as any to look back. Throughout his prolific career, Petty has challenged himself to keep things interesting and reinvent himself, while also staying true to himself and not giving in to what a label wants him to do. Narrowing a 40-plus-year career to 20 songs can be a daunting task (especially if you consider the deep album cuts and B-sides from his 1995 boxset Playback), but here are some of the stand-outs from Petty’s four-decade-long career, limited to one song per album.