FROM WORST TO BEST
Written by Andy Derer
While Tom Petty was an artist that never made a “bad” album per se, we thought it might be a fun challenge to work our way through his catalogue and try and separate the wheat from the chaff.
Highway Companion (2006)
Really only the third solo album of his storied career, Tom reunites with Jeff Lynne, but Lynne refuses to bring his calling-card wall of sound. The result is a collection of hushed, straight forward, pop-rock songs that rarely connect in the way the previous two solo albums did.
This dark, solemn garage rocker was created at a low point in Tom’s personal life. While it is nice to hear the band lock in, the songs have trouble being memorable and the overall feeling is somewhat of a downer.
The Last DJ (2002)
Probably the angriest of Petty’s oeuvre, the title track bemoaned the current state of rock and roll, while the rest of the record plays out like the closest thing to a concept album the band has ever released. Unfortunately there is little to enjoy, save for the courageous title track.
Let Me Up (I’ve Had Enough) (1987)
After nearly a decade of successful albums, this was the first to famously disappoint without a hit single and was completely overlooked on Petty’s 1993 Greatest Hits album. Looking back its an interesting listen: new wave meets heartland rock with light touches of synth pop.
Mudcrutch 2 (2006)
The last album of Tom Petty’s career was the second salvo from his original country rock band Mudcrutch and it’s delightful even if it didn’t quite hit the mark like the previous Mudcrutch record.
The bluesiest, loudest beast in Petty’s catalogue was recorded live to tape and sounds absolutely miraculous despite the fact that the songwriting isn’t always top shelf.
While on break from the Heartbreakers, Tom Petty reunites with his first garage band that only released one single before Petty created the Heartbreakers. This 30 year-in-the-making debut album is a rambling, country rock record that basically ends up sounding like just another Tom Petty album.
You’re Gonna Get It! (1978)
Petty and company rush into the second album with unbridled momentum, but the songs aren’t on the same level as the debut. The record got lost in the shuffle and left Petty unsure of what to do next.
Southern Accents (1985)
Recorded at height of the band’s partying days, this scattershot release is all over the map. Dave Stewart was an unlikely bedfellow but somehow his songs are the best of the batch, while the rest lacks energy.
Long After Dark (1982)
We will call this the fruition point of the first era of Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers. While being a huge seller loaded with hit singles, the band sounds slightly bored and on the verge of breaking down.
Into The Great Wide Open (1991)
Jeff Lynne becomes a non-roster invitee to the Heartbreakers, and that makes for the most polished TP&HB full-length. The title track is Tom’s greatest Beatles impression and many of these songs are stellar even if the production tends to suffocate.
Hypnotic Eye (2014)
The final Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers album debuted at #1 but was somewhat avoided by the music press. Their mistake. This was a brash, loud garage rocker that found the band sounding better than they have in 30 years and buzzing with kinetic energy.
She’s The One Soundtrack (1996)
Petty and Rick Rubin create the soundtrack to the latest Ed Burn’s romcom, earns cool points by covering a then 25 year old Beck Hansen, and the band secretly give us one of their best albums in years.
Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers (1976)
Nearly boiling over with inertia (whatever that means), the debut album finds the band fully formed, completely comfortable in their own indentity. Tom himself plays and sings like a man out to do absolutely anything it took to gain rock stardom.
Hard Promises (1981)
While often remembered for being the beginning of Tom Petty’s disdain for the music industry due to him haggling over keeping the price of his record low, this album finds the band sizzling and confident.
Damn The Torpedos (1979)
This is where Tom convenes with Jimmy Iovine, and struggles and toils for months while pressures continue to mount. The result not only met expectations but totally pushed the band into the next-level of notoriety.
The second solo album found Tom eschewing the ornately busy sound of Jeff Lynne for the back-to-basics approach of Rick Rubin. This sepia-toned collection hit a nerve with post-grunge America, making it one of Petty’s best sellers with multiple hit singles complete with era-defining music videos.
Full Moon Fever (1989)
Petty’s first comeback found him with a certain energy that you get when collaborating with someone new. It was Jeff Lynne, most known for his project Electric Light Orchestra. His debut solo album (nearly 15 years in the making) stands out from the pack in 1989: it has nothing in common with mall-pop, hair metal, hip hop or house music, instead polishing up Petty’s California sound. It was a massive success and thirty years later half the album is still a staple on rock radio.