Five Underrated Tom Petty Songs (1976-1989)

Before I took a deep dive into the music of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, the frontman was only known to me as "the guy who sings that Free Fallin' song." I would hear that tune and host of other radio hits including "American Girl" and "I Won't Back Down" throughout my childhood. Around the age of fourteen my ears finally opened up, and I began to seek out music beyond what I could hear on the radio or what tapes my dad would play in the car. To be fair, he had some pretty killer tapes.

Thanks to several CD purchases from the now defunct chain Record & Tape Traders and a few questionable downloads via Bit Torrent from The Pirate Bay, I delved into the full discography of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Here are five of my favorite Petty songs (from 1976-1989) that I feel are underrated, underappreciated, and can't be found on any Greatest Hits albums or heard on the radio.

1. "Hometown Blues" - from the 1976 album Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

Fresh off of their debut album, this upbeat rocker is one of few Tom Petty songs to feature a saxophone, albeit very subtle. Clocking in at 2 minutes 14 seconds, it is one of the shortest songs in the band's catalogue. Also notable is that it does not feature the bass playing of original Heartbreaker Ron Blair, but rather the bass was provided by session musician Donald Dunn, who was a member of Booker T. & the M.G.'s and appeared on recordings by Otis Redding, Albert King, and Elvis Presley. 

2. "Rockin' Around (With You)" - from the 1976 album Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

The opening track of the band's debut album is another upbeat ditty that doesn't get a lot of love. Co-written between Petty and lead guitarist Mike Campbell, this compact track has more than meets the ears on first listen. Layered between somewhat typical Petty lyrics are brilliant slide guitar harmonies accompanying Petty's vocals and a subtle futuristic synthesizer powered by Benmont Tench. 

3. "Shadow Of A Doubt (A Complex Kid)" - from the 1979 album Damn the Torpedoes

This power ballad comes off what is arguably the band's best album. By 1979, the band had really come into their own with their specific brand of rock. "Shadow Of A Doubt" drives this point home for me: Petty's lyrical prowess is on display and Campbell's brief yet brilliant guitar solo shines through.

4. "Kings Road" - from the 1981 album Hard Promises

With lyrics that seem to be semi-autobiographical covering the band's transition to mainstream success, this track features the signature high-level Heartbreaker energy. The brilliant slide guitar playing of Mike Campbell subtly shines through again, while Petty sings of being "a new world boy on the old kings road." The album almost wasn't released over a price dispute between Petty and record label MCA.

5. "Dogs On The Run" - from the 1985 album Southern Accents

What I love about this track is how Petty's musical influences converge together here - you can hear the Bob Dylan-style "stream of consciousness" lyrics, the brightly toned Roger McGuinn-style guitar 12-string guitar. This track features "The Heart Attack Horns," presumably referring to all the guest brass musicians who performed on the album, including Average White Band co-founder Molly Duncan.

These are just five of my favorites through the year 1989. The Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers catalogue spans so many genres, it really is difficult to choose underrated songs as I feel there are so many of them. Stay tuned, as I feel another two lists are warranted.

What are your favorite underrated songs from Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers?

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dot com boomer - writing mostly on crypto, stocks, entertainment, etc.

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