10 Excellent Tom Petty Deep Cuts

The late Tom Petty was a great singles artist – tracks like ‘The Waiting’, ‘Refugee’, and ‘Free Fallin” sound terrific blasting from cars and on classic rock radio. Petty had so many enjoyable hits through the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s that my list of favourite Tom Petty songs is largely predictable. Ably supported by ace musicians like guitarist Mike Campbell, keyboardist Benmont Tench, and bassist/backing vocalist Howie Epstein, his songs were always beautifully presented.

When I reviewed Petty’s catalogue a few years ago I kept a note of my favourite deep cuts. Some of these tracks are relatively well-known, popping up on compilations or racking up respectable streaming numbers, but none of them was released as a single in the US. Taken together, they present an alternate history of Petty’s evolution, a talented and likeable songwriter. Contrary to the usual tradition on this site, these ten songs are presented chronologically.

10 Excellent Tom Petty Deep Cuts

Luna

from Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, 1976
Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers were originally signed to Shelter Records, run by Leon Russell and producer Denny Cordell. When Russell and Cordell fell out, they closed down their Tulsa studio. But the engineers sent to retrieve the equipment from the Oklahoma studio had a great idea. They invited their new signing Tom Petty to take advantage of free studio time. The result was ‘Luna’, an odd track in the band’s catalogue, built out of a studio jam between Lynch on drums and Petty on Hammond organ. Lynch also plays the synth part.

“‘Hey,’” Tom Petty remembers Shark saying to him, “‘why don’t you guys fly down and we’ll cut a track before we take the gear out? Because no one’s around and we can do it for free.’ So [original drummer] Stan [Lynch] and I, just on a lark, flew to Tulsa. … It was an empty studio. We got there and it was just empty. … But there was a Hammond organ and some drums. And I made [‘Luna’] up on the spot, and we cut it with me playing the organ and Stan playing the drums.” He goes on to note that “it’s very improvised, especially the ending. You hear all these weird stops and little licks. It’s just us jamming together.”

Tom Petty, https://somethingelsereviews.com/2014/04/29/into-the-great-wide-open-tom-petty-and-the-heartbreakers-luna-1976/

Shadow of a Doubt (A Complex Kid)

from Damn the Torpedoes, 1979
Damn the Torpedoes was Petty’s commercial breakthrough – signed to MCA Records and produced by Jimmy Iovine, he sounded bigger and bolder than before on hits like ‘Refugee’ and ‘Even the Losers’. According to setlist.fm, the album track ‘Shadow of a Doubt (A Complex Kid)’ often served as the opener on the Damn the Torpedoes tour. It makes sense – it’s fast-paced, and like some of Petty’s material from his early period there’s more than a hint of power-pop.


Insider

from Hard Promises, 1981
Stevie Nicks was a fan of Tom Petty. When she asked him to produce her first solo album, he instead recommended Jimmy Iovine. She also implored him to write a song for her – Petty came up with the gentle ‘Insider’. But, as he told American Songwriter, “I was really attached to it. And it really hurt me when I did the track and the vocals. So I said, [softly] “Stevie, I can’t give you this.”  And she said, “Well, I can relate to that. I completely understand. I’ll take something else.”

That something else was ‘Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around’ – a bluesy rocker written by Petty and Campbell. ‘Draggin” was Nicks’ first solo single, reaching #3 on the charts.


Deliver Me

from Long After Dark, 1982
1982’s Long After Dark featured the lead single ‘You Got Lucky’, a smug synth-pop song that’s a misfire from the usually reliable Petty. Petty later said that “[‘You Got Lucky’] was almost a throwaway. Almost just tossed off. And the next thing we know, it’s the single.” Deep cut ‘Deliver Me’ would have made a much better lead single, a punchy rocker with a strong riff – instead it stands as one of Petty’s best deep cuts.


Southern Accents

from Southern Accents, 1985
After five albums of southern-tinged rock and roll with The Heartbreakers, Petty strove to break free from the band’s formula with Southern Accents. He broke a hand punching the wall in frustration during the recording of ‘Rebels’. The b-side of ‘Rebels’ was the title track of Southern Accents – it adds some strings, but it feels natural and heartfelt. Petty told the Los Angeles Times in 2002 – “that may be my favourite among my songs – just in terms of a piece of pure writing. I remember writing it very vividly.”


Two Gunslingers

from Into the Great Wide Open, 1991
Petty successfully reinvented himself with the acoustic jangle and glossy Jeff Lynne production of his 1989 solo album Full Moon Fever. He brought back the Heartbreakers, but kept Lynne on board, for 1991’s Into the Great Wide Open. It’s one of his most even albums; Petty released seven singles from Into the Great Wide Open, but somehow ‘Two Gunslingers’ wasn’t one of them.

Petty said that “Oh, I love that one. It’s one of my favorites. The whole idea of a gunslinger questioning his existence is great, saying, “I’m taking control of my life.” It really cracks me up, still, that song (laughs). I was tremendously pleased with that one. That was one of those rare moments when I actually got to say something and entertain the people at the same time. I wrote it in a couple of hours. Written during the Gulf War.”


Wildflowers

from Wildflowers, 1994
Petty considered 1994’s Wildflowers his best studio album. It was created when his life was in flux – his marriage was disintegrating, while longtime Heartbreakers’ drummer Stan Lynch was kicked out of the band. There is a clutch of impressive and intimate low-key songs on Wildflowers, but the title track sets the tone from the start. It’s a masterful piece of songwriting, a gracious breakup song. ‘Wildflowers’ was never a single, although it’s one of Petty’s most-streamed songs on Spotify.

I just took a deep breath and it came out. The whole song. Stream of consciousness: words, music, chords. Finished it. I mean, I just played it into a tape recorder and I played the whole song and I never played it again. I actually only spent three and a half minutes on that whole song. So I’d come back for days playing that tape, thinking there must be something wrong here because this just came too easy. And then I realized that there’s probably nothing wrong at all.

Tom Petty, quoted in https://performingsongwriter.com/tom-petty-songs/

Lonesome Sundown

from Echo, 1999
Echo chronicled a dark period in Petty’s life – he’d divorced in 1996, gone through a period of heroin addiction, and watched Heartbreakers’ bassist Howie Epstein fall apart. Epstein missed the photo shoot for Echo and would pass away in 2003, shortly after his dismissal from the band. Petty’s still working through his personal issues on ‘Lonesome Sundown’. “The words changed several times in that song,” said Petty. “I worked on that one a lot more than the others.” The other Heartbreakers contribute to the sadness that pervades ‘Lonesome Sundown’ – there are mournful harmonies from Epstein and a typically restrained yet accomplished solo from Campbell.


The Trip to Pirate’s Cove

from Mojo, 2010
This list skips the first ten years of the 2000s – Petty had a lean decade by his consistent standards. On 2010’s Mojo he changed his approach – its looser and funkier, letting his talented band off the leash. It’s fun hearing Benmont Tench’s layer on slinky electric piano and organ, backing Petty’s rambling story of a road trip; “And she was kinda cute/If a little past her prime”.


Shadow People

from Hypnotic Eye, 2014
The final song on Petty’s final studio album, ‘Shadow People’ plays as a farewell – not least because it closes with an acoustic coda. Like ‘Pirate’s Cove’, it’s a bluesy rocker – Petty lost much of his melodic flair in his later years and leaning on blues progressions and giving Mike Campbell’s guitar room to shine was a wise move.


What’s your favourite Tom Petty deep cut?

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18 Comments

  1. There’s no “MJs last Dance”, or my favourite TP song ever – “Don’t come around here no more”.

    Maybe they don’t count as B sides, but I think they might.

    • Those two are great – ‘Don’t Come Around Here No More’ is easily top ten Petty for me. But they were both singles – this list covers non-singles, album tracks.

  2. The only one I can think of is called Walls #3 which is on some soundtrack album but I can’t remember what it’s called. It’s got a yellow cover. I’ll have to check to see what it is. Otherwise the only ones I like a real lot by him are a few of his hits.

    • She’s The One, right? It’s pretty much a normal Petty album, although there are a couple of short instrumentals and half the songs are Wildflowers outtakes. I like ‘Walls (Circus)’ with Lindsey Buckingham on backing vocals better.

  3. The only two I didn’t know was The Trip to Pirate’s Cove and Shadow People…and I can’t argue with anything you have on the list.
    I would add Nightwatchman off of Hard Promises…I just wrote a post of The Waiting and have listened to the album recently.
    Do you like any of the non hits off of Full Moon Fever? They are lighter songs but fun like The Apartment Song and even Zombie Zoo…

    Love the list…

    • I’m not so keen on a lot of the Full Moon Fever deep cuts for some reason. It has a bunch of my favourite Petty singles, but not a lot of my favourite deep cuts.

  4. Yes, he was a class act, and Mike Campbell’s contribution was always thoughtful and measured. I love the space they left in the songs, where other bands would have packed in fills. Shadow of a Doubt is my favourite. There’s a good video on YouTube, originally from one of the “classic album” series or something. It tells about his fight with the record companies and there’s also a great line from Stan Lynch where he says something like “Every band has an asshole, and I guess I was that asshole.”

    • I remember a Petty documentary airing on NZ years ago, and Lynch not coming across well. Great drummer, but must have got hard to work with.

  5. I never realized it was the exact same song. I just listened to it but I still like No. 3 better. But how could there be a No.3 when there isn’t a No.1 or a No.2?? ha ha

  6. Good selection. Knew some, not all. One of the tunes, I think it was Gunslingers, sounded to me like standard Petty fare. All songwriters have their song that sounds like too many of their other songs. Springsteen has fallen into that more than once.

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