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100 Albums: "Greatest Hits" by Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers

Kurt is going through his favorite records. Read the explainer or view the master list.

Artist: Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers
Title: Greatest Hits
Released: 1993
Genre: Americana rock




Are career retrospectives even a thing anymore? They don't really make sense in the iTunes age, when you can just go buy your favorite songs individually. And they don't really work as albums, for the most part. Inevitably they try to give the albums from the time period they cover relatively equal weight, which means including the flotsam from lesser albums and skipping over the deep cuts of the great ones, making less of a "greatest hits" collection than a "lots of hits and some stuff we felt sorry for" collection. They have to include one or two new songs, and those usually suck. Because they were recorded over the span of decades, the songs don't really sound like they live in the same sonic world. And because there is no unifying idea behind them, the whole thing is necessarily less than the sum of its parts.

Tom Petty's career retrospective is sort of the exception that proves the rule. Is it more than the sum of its parts? No, but it's still remarkably good because just take a look at those parts. Tom Petty spent his career writing the great American songbook. His singles are just legendary. From Free Fallin' to American Girl to Refugee and everything in between. As Slate noted when covering his death, Tom Petty was better than anyone else in rock-and-roll at penning opening lines. And it's a testament to the musicianship of Petty and his bandmates that his career retrospective actually does sound like it was recorded by the same band--like it all could have been recorded in the same month, even. The single from this collection is Mary Jane's Last Dance, which is an incredible song, one of the two or three best of Petty's career.

Now, all of that said, the above rules still hold true. The other new song, Something In The Air, is pretty inessential. And Don't Come Around Here No More, the sole inclusion from 1985's Southern Accents, feels like it wandered in stoned from another project. It doesn't completely gel. But the magic of this record is that it manages to transcend that and still work as a single, satisfying listening experience.

Further Listening: Judged purely on what got included here, Petty's strongest albums (at least until 1993) appear to be Full Moon Fever and Damn The Torpedoes. The immediate follow-up to this was Wildflowers, which spun off a great hit with You Don't Know How It Feels. But if you just want something fun, check out Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1, a side-project Petty wrote and recorded with George Harrison, Roy Orbison, Jeff Lynne, and Bob Dylan.

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