Tom Petty's Ten Most Underrated Songs
"I Should Have Known It"
Rocks Off has an especially acute case of clockwatcher's syndrome this afternoon, because as soon as we leave the office we're heading up to The Woodlands for the big Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers/ZZ Top show. Some of you out there might be doing the exact same thing.
We've often wondered how artists with such vast and deep catalogs decide what to play in concert; the big hits like "Refugee" and "Runnin' Down a Dream" have to be in there, obviously, and you won't catch us heading to the bathroom when the band starts into new album Mojo - in fact, "I Should Have Known It" is not only our favorite song of this year, it's also, already, one of our favorite Petty songs ever.
But there are plenty of others we know we don't have a prayer of hearing tonight. We're glad "King's Highway" is in the set this tour, and hope there's enough time for the band to play Chuck Berry's "Carol" in the encore like they have been recently. Still, Team Petty here at Rocks Off came up with a few more songs we'd like to hear if the band had just a little more time. Damn curfews.
"Asshole": Petty's version of this song from Beck's One Foot In The Grave casts shadows Beck's just can't. Petty's world-weary voice manages to make the song a sadder dog than it ever was before. Craig Hlavaty
"It'll All Work Out": Truth be told, we never heard the song from 1987's "Let Me Up (I've Had Enough)" until Cameron Crowe used it for his Elizabethtown soundtrack 19 years later. It's a sad, mandolin-laced ode to, what else, giving up the romantic ghost. Rocks Off used this for one of our He Said She Said posts, and it still haunts us. The line "better off with him than here with me" kills us each time we spin it, another instance of Tom patting us on the shoulder. C.H.
"It's Good To Be King": This mid-tempo semi-ballad from Petty's 1994 solo album Wildflowers gets catchier and catchier the more you hear it. It starts out fairly nondescript, but after a few plays, you'll find yourself humming the riff that bridges the verse and chorus. It's a simple, honest tune about the wish to be king, and what it would be like to be in charge of everything: "Excuse me if I/ Still dream time to time" Petty faux-pologizes. Daydreaming is fine, he seems to be saying. If even Tom Petty can daydream from time to time about being someone else, it's more than all right if you do, too. John Seaborn Gray
"Jammin' Me": Delirious from nearly two years of touring the world as Bob Dylan's backing band (and who knows what else), Petty and the Heartbreakers tried to regroup on 1987's "Let Me Up (I've Had Enough)". Today the band sees the album as a train wreck, but it has its defenders, and this backhanded rocker co-written by Petty, Dylan and Mike Campbell deserves to be taken out of mothballs sometime. Although certain former Saturday Night Live cast members would no doubt disagree. Cool video, too. C.G.
"Learning to Fly": It may sound cheesy since it's such a radio hit, but this is our favorite Petty song. He does such a good job at "breakaway" songs. Sure, it's kind of sugary and almost a little girly - according to some of our more grizzled brethren - but it's our favorite. We can be having a bad day and it's like a Xanax lollipop. C.H.
"Louisiana Rain": Spurned affections have always been one of Petty's specialties; see "A Woman In Love (It's Not Me)" and several other songs on this list. Our personal favorite has always been this heavy-hearted yet somehow hopeful ballad that closes 1979's Damn the Torpedoes. Another reason we like it is because the beginning of Mike Campbell's solo uses the same notes as Jeremiah Clarke's "Trumpet Voluntary," which just means we are a classical nerd for life. C.G.
"Orphan of the Storm": As a son of northern Florida, of course Petty has an affinity for country music, although it doesn't show up very often or very overtly in his own songs. One notable exception is the version of Hank Williams' "Lost Highway" the Heartbreakers nail on the first take in 2007 documentary Runnin' Down a Dream. Another is this tearjerker from Petty, Mike Campbell and Benmont Tench's pre-Heartbreakers band Mudcrutch's 2008 reunion album. No, we didn't pick this song because it's about Houston, we picked it because lines like "Louisiana girl, born into losin'/ The skyline of the city made her cry" make a solid case that Petty's lyricism is improving with age. C.G.
"The Apartment Song": Buried on side two of Full Moon Fever, this song tells about a man thrust back into bachelorhood - against his will, we're guessing - with only four walls and Jeff Lynne's Rockpile-ish arrangement for company. Also, you can pretty much team up Petty and Stevie Nicks on anything and it'll be golden. C.G.
"Time To Move On": Off Wildflowers, this is easily our favorite Petty song at the moment. It's just about shutting up shop and moving on from something that isn't panning out, and sometimes you need a Petty to tell you to do so. Both this and "It'll All Work Out" hit us at times in our lives when we needed them the most, namely when you need courage and strength do something you don't want to do. C.H.
"When a Kid Goes Bad": From Petty & the Heartbreakers' 2002 middle finger to the music industry, The Last DJ, "Kid" starts out with what can only be described as a pretty standard blues-rock shuffle, but what draws you into the song is the gigantic hook. At the end of the chorus, the guitars get louder and growlier, dropping sinisterly down the neck as Petty howls "Bad!... BAD!"
You can almost feel the song's main character spiraling into amoralism. Pretty scary, dark stuff for a Petty album, but then again, it was about how the music industry poisons and corrupts beauty and innocence, so it's to be expected. What was unexpected was how he was able to so accurately portray the feeling of compromised ideals through music alone. Impressive, and engaging. J.S.G.
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