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.

Great Compilations: Asides from Buffalo Tom

Not too long ago – when explaining the need for self-compiling cds/playlists for those artists who already had a compilation out in the world, I mentioned that compilations are strange thing. That you’re never going to please everybody with a selection (in the linear notes for The Essential, Bruce Springsteen suggests that “one man’s NYC Serenade is another man’s Rosalita”*) and that my choice of what I’d consider essential listening very rarely coincides completely with the ‘official’ compiler’s (usually because they’re doing so with a specific, marketing-dictated aim  rather than just cherry picking).

There are some compilations, though, that are as close to perfect and essential as you can get. They 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. A good track-listing can also allow tracks to breath a little differently, have a better light shone on them than when otherwise buried on an album (see Long Time Comin’ on Springsteen’s Chapter and Verse – of which more to come later).

img_0628So I thought I’d kick this possible-series off with one of my favourite compilations, one that’s been keeping me steady company for a good sixteen years now; Asides from Buffalo Tom.

Now when it comes to recalling bands from Boston, I imagine those that get mentioned would include Aerosmith, The Cars, The J. Giels Band, Pixies, possibly even Dropkick Muphys and, of course Boston. I don’t know how many would pull up the trio of Buffalo Tom but, save for a bit of a break between 2000-2007, they’ve been a stalwart of indie-rock since their first album, the J Mascis produced self-titled effort, dropped in 1988.

After shifting song-writing gears for the 90’s, they became a pretty popular alt-rock band and yet, while Big Red Letter Day even managed to crack the top 20 over here, they never achieved the popularity their songs and music deserved. It is mind-boggling to me, and I’m sure others, that bands like The Goo Goo Dolls and Matchbox 20 got gargantuan levels of exposure while how-did-they-miss singles like “Taillights Fade” and “Mineral” remain songs I have to enthuse to people about as they’ve never heard ’em.

2011_buffalo-tom_tour_dates_13035883982475Of Buffalo Tom, I’ve read of them being described as “like a bar band fronted by an anxiously melancholic whiskey-fueled Alex Chilton” while even the too-cool-for-this Pitchfork said of them: “solo-ridden guitar-god aspirants Buffalo Tom: 1) named themselves after their drummer and Neil Young’s first band because it’d have been too much trouble to come up with anything really new; 2) played assorted variations on the strummy post-pop that filled collegiate airwaves throughout the 1980s because innovation is overrated; and 3) wrote sharply observed conversational lyrics because it was too hard to be obscure.”

This album came into my hands upon day of release thanks to my hearing “Taillights.. ” on a magazine sampler and seeing (just one of so many) highly-starred reviews against this comp. Having since gone back and accumulated the band’s discography, it’s still Asides From that gets the most plays (I’m genuinely surprised the disc hasn’t given out, the case certainly has). It contains the perfect selection of their finest from the 11-year period represented and the non-chronological sequencing makes this feel more like an album of absolute all-killer-no-filler than a compilation-by-rote. Early-cut “Birdbrain”, for example, is daft but is so full of hook as to be a barn-stormer and here rubs shoulders with the more bluesy-throat of “I’m Allowed”.

What such a track-listing also highlights is that, despite their lack of mainstream or commercial breakthrough, Buffalo Tom remained staggeringly consistent in terms of quality – album closer (and then final single) “Wiser” is one of their finest moments but here sits among plenty of equals – and remained ready and willing to bring it to every session.

While it isn’t going to break any new ground or make anyone wonder “how are they doing that?”, Asides From Buffalo Tom contains 18 very strong songs (even their cover of The Jams’ “Going Underground” is worth a listen) – in a way the fact that I’ve still yet to bump into anyone who shares this knowledge makes em feel just that little more ‘mine’. Still, I’m sharing it here and recommend – given how little it’ll cost – it to all.

After the release of Asides in 2000 (and the quickly-following Besides..), Buffalo Tom took a bit of a break – singer Bill Janovitz dropped another solo album, took up real estate, wrote a couple of books on The Rolling Stones – before getting back together and releasing Three Easy Pieces (2007) and Skins (2011). Both reveal the band remain consistently capable of a great tune and contain tracks that could easily sit alongside those on this best of – particularly You’ll Never Catch Him, Down and Don’t Forget Me (which features co-vocals from Tanya Donelly of another Boston band, Belly). There’s hints/rumour/suggestion of new Buffalo Tom music on the way and it’s something that I’m eagerly anticipating – a now long-term love for a band kicked of and continually fuelled by this compilation.

 

*or another combination – it, like all of my music collection, is currently sealed up in a box in the ‘spare’ room of my new house.