REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 09/18/2008
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, in addition to being one of the great American rock and roll bands of the past third of a century, are one of the strongest arguments in popular music for the existence of greatest hits albums. For all of Petty’s gifts as a songwriter, he has always been more prolific than consistent, and a better writer than editor of his own work. Once you get beyond those first three iconic LPs, it’s just about impossible to review a Petty album without using the word “filler.”
Which is why reviewing this disc is such a slam-dunk. It’s all killer, no filler. Virtually every song here is just the right choice, it all flows beautifully, and the end result is one of the most impressive “greatest hits” albums ever to wear that sometimes-checkered label.
The first thing they do right on Greatest Hits is stick to chronological run order, kicking off with the raw beauty of the anthemic “American Girl” and the slinky menace of the immortal “Breakdown” before digging into the two best cuts from You’re Gonna Get It!, the gorgeous, jangly “Listen To Her Heart” and the blistering, punkish “I Need To Know.”
Damn The Torpedoes rates four tracks -- as the group’s breakthrough smash should -- with hit singles “Refugee,” “Don’t Do Me Like That” and “Here Comes My Girl” augmented by the single most important album track of Petty’s career. The memorable “Even The Losers” seems to sum up Petty’s entire artistic persona in a single chorus: “Baby, even the losers get lucky sometimes / Even the losers keep a little bit of pride.”
From there you get a sprinkling of highlights from Petty’s relatively fallow 80s period -- “The Waiting” from Hard Promises, “You Got Lucky” from Long After Dark and “Don’t Come Around Here No More” from Southern Accents -- before digging into the trio of monster singles from his 1989 resurgence with Full Moon Fever. “I Won’t Back Down,” “Runnin’ Down A Dream” and “Free Fallin’” are so strong that you hardly notice that the two cuts from follow-up disc Into The Great Wide Open show diminishing returns from Petty’s musical partnership with fellow Traveling Wilbury (and ex-ELO frontman) Jeff Lynne.
The two bonus cuts recorded for this album -- representing Petty’s first work with producer Rick Rubin -- include the stinging, rather Stones-ey “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” and the Thunderclap Newman cover “Something In The Air.” The latter is the album’s only off note, a cover of a fluke hit single that many 70s bands seem besotted with, but that makes for a lukewarm and somewhat unsatisfying finish to what has up to that point been a stellar collection. (Note: the 2008 reissue of Greatest Hits replaces “Something In The Air” with the Stevie Nicks-TP & the Heartbreakers collaboration “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around” -- definitely an upgrade.)
I’m an album guy, which means hits collections tend to gather dust on my shelf. Not so with this one. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ Greatest Hits has been my highway companion on hundreds of roadtrips, and assuredly will be for hundreds more. Don’t leave home without it…