TOM PETTY AND THE HEARTBREAKERS
By John M. Borack
Hot on the heels of An American Treasure (a superb four-disc collection of rarities and deep cuts) came The Best of Everything, a Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers greatest hits package available as a two-CD set, on black and clear vinyl LPs and digitally. All 38 tracks are newly mastered—and sounding better than ever, with a heretofore unheard clarity on some of the ‘70s numbers—and the collection includes Petty solo cuts mingled amongst the rather large clutch of iconic tunes he cut with the Heartbreakers. As a bonus of sorts, there are four Petty-penned tunes recorded by Mudcrutch, Petty’s pre-Heartbreakers aggregation that reformed for two albums in 2008 and 2016.
Two previously unreleased tracks provide more added value: an alternate version of the stately, wistful “The Best of Everything” (originally cut for 1985’s Southern Accents LP and presented here with a previously excised second verse), and “For Real,” a typically melodic mid-tempo cut dating from 2000 whose lyrics could be seen as referencing Petty’s musical career (“Never did it for no CEO…I did it for me… I did it for real”).
Of course, all the usual (wonderful) suspects are here: “Free Fallin’,” “Don’t Do Me Like That,” “American Girl,” “Don’t Come Around Here No More,” etc. They’re scattered across the two discs, which are not programmed in any sort of chronological order; rather, The Best of Everything is sequenced as a primo Petty playlist. Most of the biggies seem to appear on disc one, but that’s not to say that the second disc is lacking in any way: it includes treasures such as the power poppin’ “I Need to Know,” the insistently riffy “American Dream Plan B” (from 2014’s Hypnotic Eye), the gentle, acoustic “Square One” (one of Petty’s strongest ballads) and Mudcrutch’s “I Forgive it All,” a plaintive, tender tune that is sure to induce a tear or two.
Even though diehards may gripe that tracks such as “Change of Heart,” “A Woman in Love (It’s Not Me),” “Rebels” or “Free Girl Now” (to name a few) are among the missing, it’s difficult to argue with any of the songs that are included on this outstanding compilation. The Best of Everything makes a strong case for Tom Petty as the consummate rock ‘n’ roller of the past four decades or so and supersedes all his previous greatest hits collections.
By John M. Borack
The aptly titled An American Treasure is an illuminating look at the musical genius of the late Tom Petty, spread over four CDs (and 60 songs) worth of previously unreleased songs, live tracks, alternate versions, rarities and under-appreciated album cuts. Curated by a team that included Petty’s wife, daughters and longtime bandmates Mike Campbell and Benmont Tench, it’s a deep dive into all corners of Petty’s illustrious career.
Many of the tunes on An American Treasure showcase what a kickass band The Heartbreakers were: the previously unreleased 1984 rocker “Walkin’ From the Fire” (which featured some lyrics Petty would later repurpose on another tune), 2012’s bluesy workout “Two Men Talking” (which missed the cut for Hypnotic Eye), and a live rendition of the ZZ Top-influenced “Saving Grace” from 2006 all feature the band’s trademark ensemble playing, peppered with just the proper amount of give and take. Other standout upbeat numbers include 1982’s previously unheard “Keep a Little Soul,” which sounds appropriately soulful from the ’70s-influenced guitar arpeggios to the semi-shouted backing vocals; and a Chuck Berry-ish ditty, “Lonesome Dave.”
Other tracks prove that Petty was a first-class tunesmith: 1976’s supremely melodic “Surrender” sounds like it could have hit the Top 40 given half a chance, yet it wasn’t even released at the time (power popper Phil Seymour released a fine version in 1982); “I Don’t Belong” (another previously unreleased cut, from the 1998 sessions for Echo) borrows a bit from “Runnin’ Down a Dream,” but stands out as a perfectly pleasant pop song on its own; and an early take of 1987’s “King of the Hill” (with Roger McGuinn) is fed by the Byrdsy guitar chime that Petty loved so much. 1998’s “Accused of Love” is another choice cut, an easygoing classic that harkens back to Full Moon Fever and rescued from relative obscurity. (Speaking of Full Moon Fever, there is also a 1984 demo of “The Apartment Song” with Stevie Nicks, recorded a full five years before the officially released version.
The set is also highlighted by plenty of quiet, reflective numbers which take on an extra poignancy after Petty’s untimely death: a dramatic live version of “Southern Accents” from a 2006 hometown gig in Gainesville, FL, a heart-tugging alternate take of 2002’s “Like a Diamond,” and delicate live readings of “Insider” and “Two Gunslingers” are just a few of the pearls that help to make An American Treasure one of 2018’s finest archive releases.