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Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers

Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers

1976

Aside from the obvious classics here like "Breakdown" and "American Girl" there's not much else to get excited about on Mr. Petty's debut album.  "Hometown Blues" was a nice find, but other than that, the rest sounds fairly underwhelming.

7.9

You're Gonna Get It!

Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers

1978

I share the same general sentiment about this album as I do with their debut.  Once again we have a couple of classic songs here ("I Need to Know" and "Listen to Her Heart") but the rest of the album is pretty pedestrian.  The difference is the two classics songs are not as good as the two classics from their debut, and there's not really any hidden gems to be found on this album, which unfortunately adds up to a pretty underwhelming listening experience.

7.5

Damn The Torpedoes

Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers

1979

I had always thought of Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers as a singles band.  Granted their "hits" were quite simply some of the greatest classic rock songs of all-time, but for whatever reason, I never took the time to delve into their back catalog of albums.  And while it's true that many of The Heartbreakers albums suffer from a lack of consistency at times, failing to be engaging listening experiences from start-to-finish, Damn The Torpedoes is definitely not one of those albums.  Not only is it it great from beginning to end, but it also happens to feature some of the band's best songs, and arguably captures The Heartbreakers in their prime.  It's hard to go wrong with the opening 1-2-3 punch of "Refugee", "Here Comes My Girl", and "Even the Losers".  You'd be forgiven if you thought this was a greatest hits album, but no, it's just Damn The Torpedoes, which also features my personal favorite Petty song of all time: "Don't Do Me Like That".  Such an infectious and joyous sounding song, which is due in large part to the soaring organ.  And aside from the hits, the album also features some pleasant surprises like "Shadow of a Doubt", "Century City" and "Louisiana Rain", all of which could potentially be included in any "Greatest Hits" package.  This album is actually kind of short, featuring only 8 songs and clocking in at under 37 minutes, but it suits the vibe of the music, which is punchy, catchy, and often times to the point.  So in a way, Damn The Torpedoes is kind of like a mini-greatest hits album, being that all the songs are either very good or outstanding.  Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers really captured lightning in the a bottle on this album, as the band were absolutely clicking on all cylinders here.  Although this is not my personal favorite Tom Petty album, Damn The Torpedoes captures the essence of the band and their sound moreso than any other album in their catalog, and is generally considered to be their best.  It's hard to argue with that, or the fact that this album captures the spirit of the open road, of the journey of life, and the unbridled rush of freedom better than virtually any other album of its type.  A bonafide classic.

9.1

Full Moon Fever

Tom Petty Full Moon Fever.jpg

Tom Petty

1989

Like a lot of my favorite artists, the 1980s were not a particularly acclaimed period for Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers.  Sure, the band was able to pump out some pretty good singles occasionally during the decade, but album-wise, their output certainly left a lot to be desired.  That all changed when Mr. Petty took a sabbatical from the band and cooked up Full Moon Fever, which he released as a solo artist, and turned out to be one of his best albums of all-time (if not THE best).

Full Moon Fever sounds like a breath of fresh air compared to The Heartbreakers' recent output at the time, and you can tell Petty sounds invigorated and renewed as an artist.  And while even the most pedestrian Petty albums usually hindered a hit song or two, what's impressive about Full Moon Fever is just how good virtually every song is here.  The one-two punch of "Free Fallin" and "I Won't Back Down" to open the album certainly make quite an impression, with the former's breezy, wistful vibe and the latter's earnest and affirming quality, it's no wonder these songs became instant hits and are still in heavy rotation at most classic-rock stations to this day.  But the great songs keep on coming with "Love is a Long Road" a tune that could have easily been a single if not for all the stiff competition found on the rest of the album.  Essentially, every song on this album are good in their own way, whether they're sporting that breezy/wistful vibe on songs like "Face In The Crowd" or "Yer So Bad", or creating an instant road-trip anthem with the exhilarating "Running Down a Dream", or just being light-heartedly fun and catchy on "The Apartment Song" or "Zombie Zoo", or just being incredibly sweet on "Alright For Now", Full Moon Fever really has it all.

And what makes these songs so good is Petty's willingness to embrace and channel his 60s influences (i.e. on the fantastic cover of The Byrds "Feel A Whole Lot Better") into his distinctively rural/bluesy essence.  It's a beautiful marriage of those two ideas, and the results are pretty stellar overall.  While Damn The Torpedoes is considered by most people to be his best album (and it's certainly pretty awesome) there's something really warm and light-hearted about Full Moon Fever that puts it ever so slightly over the top for yours truly.  It's easily Petty's prettiest and catchiest album, but it does not sacrifice any depth or heart in the process.  Regardless if it's his best album, it's a certified classic in most everybody's book.  An endearing and wonderful record overall.

9.2

 

Into the Great Wide Open

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Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers

Two years after the huge success of the brilliant Full Moon Fever, Tom Petty re-teamed with The Heartbreakers and essentially attempted to make the sequel to the aforementioned album, with mixed results.  The production and spirit of this album sound almost exactly like that of Full Moon Fever, but with one glaring difference: the songs simply aren't as good.  That's not to say that "Learning to Fly" isn't a great song for example, it is, but it sounds way too much like "Won't Back Down" that it almost sounds cliche (almost).  Speaking of cliche, the name of the album itself, along with the title track, attempt to capture the very essence of what makes Tom Petty so great in the first place: roadtrip anthems.  With apologies to Dylan, Zeppelin, and probably a few other greats, nobody's music better exudes the freedom, rush, and sense of adventure that a roadtrip provides better than Tom Petty.  He seems distinctly aware of that on this album, and he does his best to channel that feeling on most of these songs, but they unfortunately fall a bit flat too often.  There's a certain sameness to the tunes here, as they lack the depth or freshness that characterized Full Moon Fever.  So while Into the Great Wide Open isn't a bad album, taken as a whole, it is a somewhat forgettable one.

7.8

Wildflowers

Tom Petty Wildflowers.jpg

Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers

1994

Arriving a good three years after Into the Great Wide Open, Wildflowers finds Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers striking a different tone and feel.  Whereas Full Moon Fever and Into the Great Wide Open had a glossy/poppy vibe about them, Wildflowers sports more a punchy, blunt, hard-rock sound.  Chalk that up to bringing in veteran producer Rick Rubin into the mix, an interesting choice considering he was primarily known at the time for producing records for Slayer, Beastie Boys, and RHCP, groups that have very little in common with Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers.  But it turned out to be a good move, as the band definitely needed a change in direction from the generally sterile production that characterized their prior effort.  Rubin's production makes the songs here jump out at you, giving them an immediacy that most tunes on ITGWO severely lacked.  That's not to say these songs are "jarring" or "heavy", but they just sound more engaged and significantly more organic overall. Take the opening title track for example. It's one of the sweetest songs Tom Petty ever wrote, but what makes it so endearing is the clarity and earthiness of the melody. It's a beautiful song. Wildflowers also features one of Petty's best tunes period in the just flat out blissfully laid-back "You Don't Know How It Feels".  This is classic stoner rock with a distinctly 90s sound to it, and it's executed pretty much perfectly. The harmonica on this song is a good example of the more back-to-basics sound found on this album as a whole, as there are essentially no keyboards or processed drums to be found here, and frankly, it's refreshing to hear. "Time To Move On" has that classic compelling vagabond Petty vibe about it, "You Wreck Me" actually rocks pretty hard, and "It's Good to be King" has a compelling, borderline dark atmosphere to it thanks to the somber piano.  From there, things start to get pretty hit and miss, and the album's excessive 62 minute running time is not helpful in that regard. There are a few more rockers that are pretty fun (i.e. "Honey Bee" and "Cabin Down Below") but most of the other songs on this album are fairly lackluster.  Again, this could have been avoid by trimming off at least 3-4 songs here, but it is what it is. And what is it?  In a way, it's your typical Tom Petty album: there's a couple of classic stellar songs, a few other good songs, and a lot of filler.  The only thing that makes Wildflowers fairly unique is Rubin's raw production, which helps keep your attention somewhat even during the more pedestrian numbers.  Overall, some truly great moments to be found here, but the excessive running time of the album allows a bit too much filler to seep in, diminishing the overall impact of the album as a whole.

8.2

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