Tom Petty was one of the greatest songwriters America has ever had the good fortune to produce. His death will be felt as a massive loss for years to come. Across 40 years and more, this toothy, blonde son of Gainesville, Florida put together a staggering array of incredibly melodic expressions of joy, pain, hope, defiance, and most of all love. His music intertwined with the fibers of your being. His songs overflowed with empathy. You innately recognized yourself and your own experiences in them as soon as you heard them in the car, on the radio, in the grocery store, through a pair of headphones or at a concert.
Petty was an artist who relished in the catharsis. In all of his best songs, no matter how distraught, how achingly sad, you knew there’d come that moment where he’d give the microphone over to you to belt out your feelings at full throat. He encouraged it. “You can stand me up at the gates of hell / But I won’t back down!” And on the joyous songs, the ballads, the odes to eternal devotion, you could practically drown in them. “Yeah, she looks so right / She is all I need tonight!”
To call Petty prolific is a massive understatement. With so many decades, so many albums, so many singles, and so many deep cuts to cultivate, pick apart, and enjoy, it’s almost impossible to know where to start and where to end. Nevertheless, I’ve boiled his iconic canon down to 20 essential selection that I think capture the full mettle of this singular artist.