Great Compilations: Anthology: Through The Years, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

In keeping with the general sense of procrastination that pervades my attempts at a series of posts, it’s been a while since I first chewed over kicking off this one, looking at those great compilations in my collection. Those that are as close to perfect and essential as you can get. That do that rare thing of providing as solid, all-encompassing an overview as is possible in a dozen or so tracks in a manner that will provide a great entry-point for the uninitiated and give the already-converted a good career-spanner to listen to when they don’t feel like going through whole-albums.

These are inevitably some of the most well played volumes on my shelves and have served as starting points that have introduced me to many a loved band.  That’s certainly the case with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ Anthology: Through The Years.

Back in 2000 I didn’t really know much of Mr Petty’s back catalogue and was looking for a suitable entry point. It’s worth pointing out that while the chaps from Gainesville, Florida have certainly enjoyed some success in Europe and the UK specifically, they’re a much more American proposition than, say, Springsteen, so it’s understandable that at the tail-end of my teens I was unaware of the bulk of their songs. Fortunately I was still in the habit of reading a monthly music magazine* and just as Uncut had turned me on to other bands, it was the stuffed-with-praise review for the upcoming Anthology: Through The Years compilation that meant I parted with cash.

It’s also worth pointing out that there was already a pretty serviceable Greatest Hits album available but, for some reason, that 1993 release never appealed. Perhaps it was the cover, perhaps it was the inclusion of ‘Something In The Air’** .. who knows but Anthology: Through The Years was my introduction to the music of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers beyond the ubiquitous ‘Free Fallin’.

Now, here’s the thing with the songs on here; I didn’t know the vast majority of them and yet after one listen they felt like old friends. Like songs I’d known for years. Petty has a way of crafting instantly memorable and catchy-as-a-cold tunes that’s very rare and highly addictive. Yeah, everyone and his dog knows ‘Free Fallin’ but to hear ‘The Waiting‘ or ‘Mary Jane’s Last Dance’ for the first time is to know them as the classics they are; once they’re in your system they stay there.

The track listing is as perfect as you can get without a nitpicking committee. Despite it’s being released in 2000, there’s nothing here really newer than ’95 so the discs are divided up to cover the two ten-year periods from their ’76 début, the format better serving the band’s impressive catalogue than a single disc ever could.

The first disc, spanning ‘Breakdown’ to ‘Change of Heart’ pulled my attention first and probably still gets more plays. This one was the discovery for me, classics like ‘American Girl’ (I’d not watched ‘Silence of the Lambs’), ‘Even the Losers‘, ‘Refugee’ all tearing into my ears and the beautiful ache of ‘The Wild One, Forever’.

The second disc is stuffed to burst with FM classics – five from Full Moon Fever and a handful from Into The Great Wide Open that are always going to sound good whether they’re being played to a stadium or via a car stereo in traffic. For me, though, the real draw are songs like ‘Mary Jane’s Last Dance’, ‘Waitin’ For Tonight‘, ‘It’ll All Work Out’ or ‘The Best of Everything’ from the sublime Southern Accents.

Looking at the track listing for this is almost like picking out an ideal set list and there’s not much more you could look for in a compilation.

It was an odd time for release, one year on from the under-appreciated Echo*** and not featuring a single track from that release. I’m sure ‘Room At The Top‘ could’ve fitted nicely on here.  They even dusted off a previously unrecorded tune from 1977 to add something for the completests with ‘Surrender’ but couldn’t find room for anything from that one. In hindsight the eight year gap between the lacklustre The Last DJ and return-to-form Mojo would’ve been the ideal place for such a retrospective. In fact they did release a four-disc live compilation that served just that purpose.

I’ve gone on to stock my shelves with a fair amount from Tom Petty both solo and with the Heartbreakers. If I’m being picky I’d wonder – as Cameron Crowe’s linear notes do – whether there could be space for a track from Wildflowers or even from She’s The One but then it’s hard to imagine a better summary of the Heartbreakers’ then 25-year career than this one.

Instead of copying and pasting the tracklisting, I’ll drop the whole thing via Spotify.

I’ll end this one with the tune I think is the real glaring omission, the perfect title track from Southern Accents:

*A habit long-since abandoned.

**Overplayed and I’m still not that much of a fan of it. Though the remastered version in 2008 swapped it out for ‘Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around’ so I can’t be alone in that.

***Petty’s divorce album.

19 thoughts on “Great Compilations: Anthology: Through The Years, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

  1. Great post. I’m not a mega-fan but I am a fan. Petty is one those long-term, reliable journeyman rockers. My introduction to him was ‘Breakdown,’ still a really good song. I wondered how well Petty traveled overseas and you’ve somewhat addressed that. I dig the Spotify list and will certainly give it a tumble. One of my favorites of his that is, I think, less often played is “I Need to Know,” Another fave is the goofy but funky “Nightwatchman.” I have a friend who used to be one so I sing it to him. “Running Down a Dream” is terrific and gets my motor running. Mike Campbell is a terrific guitarist and is on Rolling Stone’s Top 100 list.

    • Ah good point! Wildflowers was his first with Warners and this comp and all upon it are MCA. Cross-label compilations aren’t all that common.

      • BTW, if you’ve never seen the video for “Mary Jane’s Last Dance,” suggest checking it out and see if you can identify the dead girl.

      • Ah yes, Kim Basinger working off some of that Boxing Helena debt. Petty clearly grasped the importance of MTV early on, I seem to recall it coming up in the documentary too

      • It would have been great to have the Wildflowers stuff though – feels like it was the last album where he was in the mainstream – after that he kind of faded back to a respectable following. I remember hearing You Don’t Know How It Feels and You Wreck Me on the radio.

      • Yeah for sure. Wildflowers is a fantastic album, I look forward to the rumoured revisit, there’s a whole album’s worth of other tracks cut at the time expected on it.

  2. Great compilation! Tom Petty is one my favorite American rock artists. To me he is in the same league with Bruce Springsteen, John Mellencamp and Bob Seger. I saw him together with The Heartbreakers in Sep 2014 in the wake of the “Hypnotic Eye” album – great show! I would definitely see him again, except there are so many others I haven’t seen yet. Plus, concert ticket prices have become pretty outrageous, so tough choice!

    • Thanks. I’ve kinda lost touch with them since The Last DJ failed to really resonate. I’m fixing that at the moment and checking out Mojo and Hypnotic Eye.
      The Live Anthology is a great listen – that must’ve been an awesome gig

  3. Great choice! I’ve recently delved deeper into Petty land and am completely captured by the pure Americana of it all. They’re all such well-crafted songs, performed with a kind of knowing wink that makes you feel like you belong to them without necessarily having the same cultural touchstones. A kind of genius I think.
    Plus, they’re catchy as fuck.

  4. I bought this for Big Earl (son) when It came out. I just recently took it out for a walk on the old Disc-Man. Petty and the boys have been pumping out good solid material since the start. I was happy when he started getting some commercial success. I wore out his first few albums and continued to stay around for the ride. He has a pretty good batting average with me. Good post.

  5. Sometime in the 80’s (I think it was 1987) I saw Bob Dylan at the NEC in Birmingham. It was a little odd as the support act, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, did a long set that lasted about an hour and a half and then Dylan came on with the Heartbreakers as his backing band and did about an hour. At the time I was a bit disappointed, but I have subsequently managed to get a bootleg recording of the gig and it is a much better gig than I remember it being. I think that one of the reasons is that I was listening to ‘Desire’ a lot at the time and they didn’t play a single track from it, so it was my own expectations that were at fault more than anything.Tom Petty was brilliant though and an unexpected bonus as I had no idea they were the support and the backing band.

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