Tom Petty Discography
Tom Petty‘s discography — with the Heartbreakers, as a solo artist and with side projects like the Traveling Wilburys and Mudcrutch, is filled with the sort of records that make a career mean something.
There are ups and downs, as there would be in any artist’s catalog that spans 40 years, and there are plenty of moments where you probably took it all for granted. Through it all, Petty made it all sound so effortless. Even when he was battling his record company and putting together a follow-up record to his breakthrough album, he sounded like he barely broke a sweat.
Some scars surfaced later in his career, but for the most part, Petty — who was inseparable from his band, even when he recorded solo — shrugged it off like the dedicated workman he was. He evolved the Heartbreakers into something like a jam band near the end, and their approach to the music paid off in ways that kept them relevant, even as so many of their peers crumbled. (Their one and only No. 1 album came in 2014, the last album released in Petty’s lifetime.)
Even with these ups and downs, one thing remained constant in Petty’s music: a love for rock ‘n’ roll that he injected into almost every single song he recorded. From his scrappy debut to the big albums in the ’70s and ’80s to the personal records he made later in his life, Tom Petty’s discography is one of rock’s most durable.
‘Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’
Nobody was sure where Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers fell on the music spectrum when their debut album was released in 1976. Were they a New Wave group? A rock ‘n’ roll band? A throwback to ’60s pop? They were a little bit of all these things and more, and they were just getting started.
‘You’re Gonna Get It!’
The Heartbreakers’ second album is a lot like the first, a combination of rock, pop and New Wave songs. They were starting to find an identity here, but were still a year away from their breakthrough moment. Still, tracks like “I Need to Know” and “Listen to Her Heart” hinted at things to come.
‘Damn the Torpedoes’
The breakthrough record and the album that made Petty a star. Almost every single song here is a classic — from the opening drum roll that ushers in “Refugee” to the epic sweep of the closing “Louisiana Rain.” Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers made some great later albums. but Damn the Torpedoes remains their masterpiece.
Behind-the-scenes battles with his record company shaped the direction of Hard Promises, the follow-up to the breakthrough Damn the Torpedoes. “The Waiting” is here, and it’s a great album opener. If the rest of it doesn’t immediately sink in like the best Petty records, give it time. The songs are there.
‘Long After Dark’
After the troubled Hard Promises, Petty and the Heartbreakers’ fifth album is a lean rock ‘n’ roll record, filled with some of the band’s most underrated songs (like “Change of Heart” and “Straight Into Darkness”). “You Got Lucky” made them MTV stars, but the album goes deeper than that.
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ most underrated album started life as a concept record about the south. Some of those themes are retained in the best songs, but Eurythmics’ Dave Stewart was brought in as producer for a couple tracks, spinning them toward the freak-out “Don’t Come Around Here No More.”
‘Let Me Up (I’ve Had Enough)’
The title is telling. After a bruising few years, an exhausting tour and a shifting industry, Petty and the Heartbreakers sound beaten and almost defeated on their seventh album, which included a co-write with Bob Dylan. The ’80s update does them no favors, but a strong comeback was right around the corner.
‘Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1′
Between one of his most disappointing Heartbreakers albums and his career-reviving first solo LP, Petty got together with Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Jeff Lynne and Roy Orbison for the Traveling Wilburys, which jump-started the creative lives of everyone involved. Everyone joins in on the fun, with egos rarely getting in the way.
‘Full Moon Fever’
After the soggy Let Me Up (I’ve Had Enough), Petty returned with his first solo album — which pretty much sounds like a Heartbreakers album with some assistance from Jeff Lynne. The result is some of the best music of Petty’s career: tough, funny, resilient and almost defiant in its determination to not be beaten down.
‘Traveling Wilburys Vol. 3′
Roy Orbison died between the Traveling Wilburys’ two albums (despite the title, Vol. 3 was their second record). He’s missed here, as is the sense of tossed-off joy that was all over the first record. Still, some songs are keepers, even if the four stars seem to be serving as each other’s backing groups for much of it.
‘Into the Great Wide Open’
A near sequel to Full Moon Fever, but with the Heartbreakers on board for the entire record this time. Jeff Lynne is back, and he coats the album in a pop polish that heightens the songs’ melodies. Petty and the Heartbreakers were one of the best touring bands on the planet by this time. The LP soaks in their focus.
Petty’s second solo album (following Full Moon Fever) is closer to a one-man show this time. Wildflowers is Petty’s rootsiest and most stripped-down album, a reaction of sorts to the Jeff Lynne-produced pop gloss of Fever and Into the Great Wide Open. A change of pace that affected the next two decades.
‘Songs and Music From “She’s the One”‘
The soundtrack to a Jennifer Aniston movie nobody remembers, She’s the One didn’t fare too well for Petty and the Heartbreakers either. Some of the songs were Wildflowers leftovers; some were covers. Generally, it’s a forgettable mess with a handful of good songs that gets lost in the sludge.
Echo is an album of firsts and lasts. It’s the only Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers record to feature a lead vocal by someone other than Petty (guitarist Mike Campbell sings one). It’s also the final album they made with producer Rick Rubin and bassist Howie Epstein. In a way, the wayward music reflects these changes.
‘The Last DJ’
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ first album of the new millennium takes aim at the changing tides of the music industry. It’s often a biting and bitter look at the band’s place in the changing landscape. It feels tired at times, but like so many Petty records, give it time and its best songs will pull you into their orbit.
Petty reunited with Jeff Lynne on his third solo album, a road record that plays like a comforting side trip for Petty, Lynne and Mike Campbell, the only three musicians on the record. They seem to enjoy the ride, though the wariness in some of the grooves is evident (Petty hinted at retirement around its release).
Petty resurrected his pre-Heartbreakers band Mudcrutch — featuring longtime bandmates Mike Campbell and Benmont Tench — for a roll through some old songs, new songs and traditional songs. It’s a rootsy spin-off from their full-time gig, and a super-casual one at that. The pressure is low, but the guys sound like they’re having a blast.
Petty’s first album with the Heartbreakers in eight years broke the longest stretch between band records, and they sound reinvigorated here — almost a new group at times. Part of that has to do with their live approach to recording, which allowed them to hone in on their bulging stage muscles.
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ only No. 1 album marked a sturdy return for the band after a bumpy few years. It doesn’t quite reach back to the classic era — the album is bluesier and heavier than that — but it reflects just how tight, and reliable, the group had become over four decades.
Eight years after getting his old band back together, Petty grabbed two of the Heartbreakers for another turn from their earlier band Mudcrutch. Like the first album, 2 is an ego-free romp through the members’ past, but the results are even better this time. This would be the last record Petty made.