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The Tom Petty breakdown

When it comes to Saturday’s concert, the waiting might be the hardest part. Here are 13 favorite deep tracks to tide fans over. by Shea Stewart | April 17, 2012 at 3:52 p.m.
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers are coming to Verizon Arena on Saturday night.

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers are the best American rock band ever. Right? Well, certainly one of America’s greatest rock bands. The case could be made for others. Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, of course, if they are considered a “band,” and not Springsteen and backing band. (Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers? Most assuredly a band, and not Petty and backing band.) Aerosmith, but only the Aerosmith of the ’70s when they were drug-fueled. The Ramones, The Velvet Underground, R.E.M., Nirvana and maybe even Pearl Jam deserve consideration. Metallica or Van Halen? Creedence Clearwater Revival and The Grateful Dead, too. Heck, what about The Replacements or Pixies? There are others. The Cars? Talking Heads?

All of the above are worthy of the title. But we’re talking about Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers here. Petty and the Heartbreakers — Mike Campbell on lead guitar, Benmont Tench on piano, organ and synths, Ron Blair on bass and backing vocals, Scott Thurston on rhythm guitar, harmonica, synths and backing vocals, and Steve Ferrone on drums — have long been one of America’s greatest rock bands. There’s a reason why the band is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Campbell is one of the most underrated lead guitarists of all time. Nothing flashy; nothing wasted. Just melodic leads. Each note is there for a reason. He’s the perfect sideman, too, helping Petty pen some of the group’s tunes.

Tench is the consummate keyboard player, layering the band’s tunes with his piano, organ and synthesizer work. Subtlety — that’s the key. He shades the spaces in the songs.

Then there’s the unknown Heartbreaker: Thurston, a former member of The Stooges. He’s the harmony man with the passing of former bassist Howie Epstein. Also the band’s multi-instrumentalist.

And that rock solid rhythm section: Blair with Ferrone. (Blair and Epstein with former drummer Stan Lynch was pretty darn good, too. So was Epstein with Ferrone.) Ferrone perfected his drumming with everyone from the Saturday Night Live house band to Duran Duran and Eric Clapton. Blair is a new — yet old — Heartbreaker because he left the group in 1982, being replaced by Epstein. He rejoined the band in 2002, replacing Epstein.

And then there’s Petty. The leader. The songwriter (along with Campbell). Lead vocalist. Rhythm guitar.

During their more than 35-year career, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers have perfected their version of rock ‘n’ roll. And the band possesses an universal appeal founded on jangling Rickenbacker rock with a pop savvy. Chiming chords and heavenly harmonies. Maybe a little sneering from Petty. But there’s more than that. Heartland rock with The Byrds’ California country pop. The blues, Bob Dylan, Chuck Berry, The Kinks and The Band. The band boasts a punk’s attitude with a New Wave heart. And then there’s the rough, guitar-led bar rock with whip-smart and sometimes cutting lyrics with Petty’s nasally-yet-understandable singing. The sound is also brisk, economical power pop with tight rhythms and handclaps, but on the other end, the songs can be textured and atmospheric. So yeah, there’s a lot to discover when it comes to Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.

And maybe what it all means is that Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers are the best American rock band ever.

13 (or so) deep tracks from Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers:

When Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers take the stage Saturday for a show at Verizon Arena, concertgoers will get a whole lot of what they want. There is no new album being promoted so expect a string of greatest hits. “American Girl.” “I Won’t Back Down.” “Listen to Her Heart.” “Refugee.” “Runnin’ Down a Dream.” More than a dozen or so others.

But Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers have barely a bad song in their catalogue. The man and band have 15 combined studio albums for mining when selecting tunes, and here’s one fan’s opinion of 13 (or so) deep tracks by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers that rival any of their hits:

“Fooled Again (I Don’t Like It)”
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
This deep cut from the act’s 1976 debut album has actually worked its way into setlists over the years and for good reason. This slow burner is dark, and showcases what guitarist Mike Campbell would become known for: his guitar break accentuates the melody of the tune instead of completely fleeing it.

You’re Gonna Get It!
Yes, it’s cheating to name a whole album, but the band’s 1978 sophomore release is largely overshadowed by the band’s debut and third album except for “I Need to Know” and “Listen to Her Heart,” a tune that is a staple of the group’s live set. But the rest of the tunes here are perhaps the best of the band’s early years: the rock punch of record opener “When the Time Comes;” the title track with Benmont Tench’s relentless keyboard pounding and Campbell’s short, fiery solo; the piano-backed country rock of “Magnolia;” and the threatening stomp and stumbling rhythm of “Restless.”

“Even the Losers”
Damn the Torpedoes
Granted, this 1979 tune isn’t much of a deep track — it’s found on Greatest Hits — but compared to other hits from this album such as “Here Comes My Girl,” “Don’t Do Me Like That” and “Refugee” — a nearly perfect rock tune — “Even the Losers” is lost. But the survival anthem shouldn’t be. “You Tell Me” is another deep track classic as is the rootsy rock shuffle of “Louisiana Rain.”

“You Can Still Change Your Mind”
Hard Promises
Listening to Petty and the Heartbreakers’ early output is a revelation that the band really didn’t record a bad tune. From this 1981 album, “Kings Road” is a blazing rocker, and “Letting You Go” showcases Tench’s superb organ work. But “You Can Still Change Your Mind” — co-written with Campbell with backing vocals from Stevie Nicks — is perhaps the band’s first truly great rock ballad.

“Change of Heart”
Long After Dark
This 1982 album is another album where almost every tune is a winner. Most of it is simply more of Petty and the Heartbreakers’ stunning take on rock ‘n’ roll, but the album’s hit “You Got Lucky” introduced synthesizers into the band’s sound. And “A Wasted Life” is a late-night, soul rock jam. But “Change of Heart” is the true winner here: huge power chords and the first taste of the greatness of Howie Epstein’s harmony vocals.

“Southern Accents”
Southern Accents
Recording this 1985 album was a struggle. Three years in the making, the album was planned as a concept album, a rumination on the Southern experience. It didn’t quite work out. Instead, its ambition creates an uneven work — from the disco funk rock of “It Ain’t Nothin’ to Me” to The Last Waltz horn-infused rock ‘n’ roll of “The Best of Everything.” Still, the title track is Petty at his most introspective: “There’s a Southern accent, where I come from/The young ‘uns call it country; the Yankees call it dumb.”

“Think About Me”
Let Me Up (I’ve Had Enough)
This 1987 album is largely forgotten, but it’s not a bad album. In fact, after backing Bob Dylan on tour, Petty and the Heartbreakers learned to blend their ragged rock ways, including the fuming, kiss-off rock of “Jammin’ Me,” with other sounds, such as the front-porch sway of the bucolic rock of “It’ll All Work Out.” The simple rock glide of “Think About Me” is the band at their best on their most underrated album.

“Yer So Bad”
Full Moon Fever
In 1989, Petty went solo with Electric Light Orchestra leader and fellow Traveling Wilbury Jeff Lynne co-writing many of the songs on this classic record. Sure, it’s less rock and more pop polish, but no one can argue with the grandness of “I Won’t Back Down,” “Runnin’ Down a Dream” and “Free Fallin’.” There’s a reason why those songs are in rotation on classic rock radio. Other tunes — “Love Is a Long Road” and “A Face in the Crowd” — are perfect, too. But the rockabilly rollick of “Yer So Bad” — co-written by Lynne — taps The Byrds and Beatles.

“Crawling Back to You”
1991’s Into the Great Wide Open gets skipped here; not because it lacks deep album cuts — “Out in the Cold” is one of the hardest rocking songs the band has ever recorded — but simply because of space. Instead, let’s mention this 1994 “solo” Petty album with Rick Rubin producing. Stripped of Lynne’s production, Petty gets back to his roots with the Heartbreakers playing on the album, too, and creates a classic album. “Crawling Back to You” just happens to be one of the album’s best cuts. It’s a song that rarely finds its way into live sets though.

“Walls (Circus)”
Songs and Music from She’s the One
Next to Let Me Up (I’ve Had Enough), this is the album most fans forget about. Sure, the 1996 album is a soundtrack to Ed Burns’ equally underrated film She’s the One and terribly inconsistent, but the tunes here are also loose, fun loving and rootsy. And “Walls (Circus),” featuring guest vocals from Lindsey Buckingham, is a gorgeous love song from a man who doesn’t write love songs.

“Billy the Kid”
1999’s Echo is a very personal album for Petty, and these songs are rarely played live. It’s really too bad; this is the band’s best album since perhaps Hard Promises. The album showcases all of the strong spots of the band, whether on the muscular rock of “Free Girl Now” with Campbell unleashing a volatile solo, or on the steady rock march of “Swingin’.” But “Billy the Kid” is the redemption tale here, layered with Tench’s chamberlin and clavinet textures.

“Down South”
Highway Companion
The grouchy The Last DJ was Petty’s strike at the recording industry — a business that has pissed him since the ‘70s — and the album is a muddling affair because of it, but his third solo record Highway Companion recaptured his rock glory, especially on “Saving Grace.” Lynne returns, but keeps the production relatively clean, and that sound is best heard on “Down South.” As Petty sings about returning home, Lynne gently backs the tune with the warm tone of his keyboards.

“No Reason to Cry”
The blues — that’s often the word used when discussing this June 2010 album by Petty and the Heartbreakers. And the blues are definitely here. Vintage blues with vintage instruments. But on an album of blues burners, there’s the subdued bittersweet beauty of the country blues of “No Reason to Cry.”

see the show
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers are coming to Verizon Arena on Saturday night. And then throw in indie artist Regina Spektor, whose new album What We Saw From The Cheap Seats is out May 29. It’s kind of an odd pairing, but again, it’s Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. The doors open at 6:30 p.m. with the music starting at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are available through the Verizon Arena Box Office for $27.50, $57.50, $77.50 and $99.50. It’s going to cost you extra if you go through Ticketmaster.


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