The first song I listened to after learning that Tom Petty had been placed into a medically-induced coma wasn’t “Refugee,” “The Waiting,” “Into the Great Wide Open,” or any of his numerous other FM rock radio hits. The Damn the Torpedoes cut appeared on the career-spanning Anthology: Through the Years compilation album, but it wasn’t released as a single, and according to Setlist.fm, Petty hadn’t played it live with the Heartbreakers since 2008, meaning it wasn’t well known enough to earn an obligatory dust-off during the transcendent 40th Anniversary Tour. And yet, “Even The Losers” sums up Petty’s career more than any other track in his hits-stuff discography.
There’s rarely a wasted word in Tom Petty’s songs, and “Even The Losers” sets the mood immediately: “It was nearly summer, we sat on your roof / Yeah, we smoked cigarettes and we stared at the moon.” That near-rhyme is romantic, nostalgic, and bridges the gap between carefree adolescence and the anxieties of adulthood (note the past tense, as if the singer is remembering a time before everything turned to shit). At this point, “Even The Losers” could go either way: It could be happy, sad, or both. “I showed you stars you never could see,” Petty continues, “it couldn’t been that easy to forget about me.” We’re still somewhere between extremes. Ever the hopeless, yet bitter romantic, Petty, with the Heartbreakers backing him, then succinctly sums up what it’s like to fall in love, and worry that it will slip away at any second.
“Time meant nothing, anything seemed real
Yeah, you kissed like fire and you made me feel
Like every word you said was meant to be
It couldn’t been that easy to forget about me”
Could it? The rest of the song provides an answer.
Baby, even the losers, get lucky sometimes
Baby, even the losers, keep a little bit of pride, they get lucky sometimes
Two cars park on the overpass, rocks hit the water like broken glass
I shoulda’ known right then it was too good to last
God, it’s such a drag to have to live in the past