Some artists make a huge impact before shrinking away, like the Sex Pistols for example, making their big splash and disappearing before every water molecule hits the deck. Other artists permeate the industry and seep into every corner of it, soaking every inch of the cultural spectrum with their impressive output. Some artists manage to do both without blinking an eye like Tom Petty.
The late, great Tom Petty should certainly be regarded as one of the greatest songwriters of the 20th century and beyond. His skills both lyrically and his expert ear for a tune have made him one of the most revered acts in rock. But if you are new to both his solo work and his albums with the Heartbreakers and aren’t sure which record to start with, we’ve got just the thing for you.
Below, we are giving you a chronological playlist of all of Petty’s impressive discography. Across sixteen studio LPs under his own moniker, plus live records and one special supergroup appearance, Petty and his band the Heartbreakers delivered some of rock’s defining moments and the story of Americana. It ranks as some of the most comprehensive and yet understated work we’ve ever come across.
Releasing his debut record Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers in 1976, just as punk was beginning to boil over, it is easy to dismiss Petty’s work as pure Americana. The kind of tacky songs that are meticulously added into motorcycle commercials and rock radio. However, as soon as one spends a little time trying to discover the heart of Petty’s work it is easy to see how he could write some of the greatest records of the era, including the brilliant Damn the Torpedos from 1979 and the wonderful Wildflowers from 1994.
Of course, the latter record would mark the beginning of a resurgence for Petty who had reclaimed his position as a rock giant after standing toe to toe with the legends Bob Dylan, George Harrison and Roy Orbison as part of the Travelling Wilburys. A crucial moment in Petty’s career, that record also features on our playlist and acts as a reminder of Petty’s talent.
While, of course, we are happy to revere the gifted songwriter and producer in his natural habitat of the studio, included in the list below is also a fine selection of his live albums, including 1993’s Greatest Hits and the wonderful Playback from 1995, which feel either side of his aforementioned monumental solo LP.
Below, you can listen to it all as we bring you the perfect guide to Tom Petty: a 452-track playlist.