Table of Contents
Last updated on June 6th, 2023 at 12:07 pm
Songwriter Tom Petty, who was born on October 20, 1950, and died in 2017, was an American treasure. The King of Heartland Rock dominated the charts from the 70s through the 90s with his true-to-life songs and down-home demeanor. He continued releasing some of the best rock n’ roll music until his untimely death in 2017.
Discover the 41 best Tom Petty songs from his vast catalog below.
42 Best Tom Petty Songs
42. “Saving Grace”
2006’s Tom Petty solo album Highway Companion was his return to basics. It’s filled with straightforward country rock and jangly pop in the incomparable Petty style.
Jangly, upbeat “Saving Grace” is definitely one of the coolest Tom Petty songs, finding him tapping into the American spirit like always: “it’s hard to say/who you are these days/but you run on anyway/don’t you, baby?”
Its chugging rhythm is somewhat reminiscent of bluesman John Lee Hooker. Donald Duck Dunn would have been proud of Jeff Lynne’s bass part.
41. “American Dream Plan B”
2014’s Hypnotic Eye ended up being Tom Petty’s final album. He left on a high note.
“American Dream Plan B” is a straightforward track that hearkens back to the garage rock era of the ’60s. Petty conjures it well throughout Hypnotic Eye.
40. “Yer So Bad”
If you’ve ever heard Petty’s radio show Buried Treasure, you know how funny he is.
His humor shines on “Yer So Bad,” a humorous story of a gold-digging sister and her woebegone yuppie ex-husband.
The bouncy music perfectly fits the fun lyrics. Tom Petty songs are rarely this fun, but when they are, they’re gems.
1994’s Wildflowers, 1996’s She’s the One, and 1999’s Echo are each weighty albums. Petty was working through his divorce during their recording.
It shows on the title track to Echo. The piano-led ballad, featuring some fine work from Heartbreakers keyboardist Benmont Tench, is a window into his pain.
The lyrics are equal parts heartbreaking (“I don’t want to question or even celebrate/all the joy you took and then gave back too late”) and surreal (“The poison came in liquid/she was naked all the time”).
38. “Scare Easy” [Mudcrutch]
Before Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, there was Mudcrutch. The band featured guitarist Tom Leadon, brother of Bernie Leadon, a founding member of the Eagles.
Mudcrutch was born out of the country rock era of the early ’70s. Petty revived the band in 2007, and they released two albums, 2008’s self-titled debut and 2016’s Mudcrutch 2.
“Scare Easy,” a midtempo, Byrds-y rocker, is quintessential Mudcrutch. Drummer Randall Marsh lays down a steady beat.
37. “Cabin Down Below”
Next up on our best Tom Petty songs list is underrated “Cabin Down Below.”
Led by a deceptively simple riff, it is one of many fantastic rock songs on Petty’s magnum opus, Wildflowers.
It’s as straightforward as any of his 70s classics, but it has a tinge of bleakness that gives it more of an edge.
36. “Don’t Come Around Here No More”
While some artists had trouble navigating through the new sounds of the ’80s, Tom Petty thrived, incorporating new sounds without losing his essence on albums like 1982’s Long After Dark and 1985’s Southern Accents.
Since it’s such a big hit, it’s sometimes easy to forget how weird of a song “Don’t Come Around Here No More” is.
Sure, it’s insanely catchy, but the weirdly syncopated (and very 80s) drums, synths, and sitar hook should sound out of place.
They don’t, despite the maudlin lyrics and fairly dark lyrics and feel, especially in the “I can’t feel you anymore” section.
35. Listen to Her Heart
“Listen to Her Heart” was the second single from Tom and the gang’s second album, You’re Gonna Get It!
It straight up sounds like if the Byrds had a hit single in the 70s. You can practically hear Petty’s friend Roger McGuinn singing it.
Interestingly, the jacket Tom wears in this video was supposedly stolen and put on auction.
34. “The Last DJ”
2002’s The Last DJ was Tom Petty’s invective against the greed of the music industry. Petty never lost his rebellious spirit.
“The Last DJ” sets the tone with its story of a lonely DJ who bucks the system and has the courage to go his own way.
“There goes the last DJ/who plays what he wants to play/and says what he wants to say” is as relevant as any line in the most acclaimed Tom Petty songs.
33. “Southern Accents”
Southern Accents was Tom Petty’s tribute to his heritage. It features some of the most well-written Tom Petty songs of the 80s.
Johnny Cash, assisted by Petty, covered “Southern Accents” for his American III: Unchained. He stripped it of its 80s excesses and got to the heart of its message even better than the original.
32. “Learning to Fly”
“Learning to Fly” is another example of how the most quintessential Tom Petty songs speak so eloquently about the human condition.
Who can’t relate to the line “I’m learning to fly/but I ain’t got wings/coming down/is the hardest thing”?
The evocative ballad, which was the first single from 191’s Into the Great Wide Open, hit #28 on the Billboard Hot 100.
31. “Honey Bee”
That riff tho. My goodness.
“Honey Bee” is one of many fantastic album tracks from Wildflowers. The fun, irreverent lyrics are perfect for the straightforward rocker.
It’s another one of those classic fun Tom Petty songs.
30. “You Got Lucky”
As with “Don’t Come Around Here No More,” Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers showed that they could thrive in the 80s with “You Got Lucky.”
The minor key feel of this love song contrasts with its big, 80s production. Benmont Tench played some of his coolest synth work here.
29. “Tweeter and the Monkey Man” [Traveling Wilburys]
Tom Petty had a great sense of humor. So did Bob Dylan. Put them together, and you get songs like hilarious “Tweeter and the Monkey Man.”
The humorous story song – which lightly mocks Bruce Springsteen by quoting many of his songs and using his style – is from 80s supergroup the Traveling Wilbury’s self-titled debut.
The band famously also included Beatle George Harrison, Roy Orbison, and Electric Light Orchestra member Jeff Lynne.
Like “Yer So Bad” and “Girl On LSD,” “Tweeter and the Monkeyman” is one of the most humorous Tom Petty songs.
28. “Ways to Be Wicked”
“Ways to be Wicked” shows how effortlessly Petty, along with his right-hand man, Heartbreakers guitarist Mike Campbell, could write classic upbeat rock songs in the 70s.
The band could have used it for its own hit, but they had so much material that they gave it to country rock band Lone Justice.
27. “Even the Losers”
Next on our list of best Tom Petty songs is one of his signature tunes, “Even the Losers.”
It’s no wonder he’s so universally loved, as his lyrics are always so dang relatable. “Even the losers/get lucky sometimes” is the mantra of many.
“Even the Losers” can be found on Petty’s 1979 breakthrough Damn the Torpedoes. Surprisingly, it never got released as a single.
26. “Here Comes My Girl”
“Here Comes My Girl” is an actual single from Damn the Torpedoes, but it stalled on the Billboard chart at #59.
Petty recites the lyrics of the first half of the verses, which gives it a nice touch. You also gotta love that Byrds-like jangle.
25. “Into the Great Wide Open”
Yes, that’s Johnny Depp in the famous video for “Into the Great Wide Open.” Petty was always known for his great music videos.
“Into the Great Wide Open,” perhaps the most iconic of the many Tom Petty songs that tell a story, is about the rise and eventual fall of a West Coast rock star.
Mike Campbell’s slide guitar evokes Beatles guitarist George Harrison.
24. “It’s Good to Be King”
Speaking of great Petty videos, “It’s Good to Be King” is one of his most underrated.
A single from Wildflowers, the song reeks of sadness, making it an interesting choice. It does rock, though, and it’s pretty catchy.
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers often stretched this song to over 10 minutes in their live shows.
23. “Don’t Do Me Like That”
“Don’t Do Me Like That” is another top 10 single from Damn the Torpedoes. See why we called it his breakthrough? It’s safe to say that producer Jimmy Iovine got the most out of the group.
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers drummer Stan Lynch also shines on this one.
Another track to check out from this classic: “Shadow of a Doubt (Complex Kid).”
22. “I Need to Know”
Who says Tom Petty can’t play fast?
“I Need to Know” is a timebomb of a song. It’s kind of punk-y and kind of new wave-y, which makes sense since it was released when both genres were at their peak.
The furious track was the first single from Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ sophomore release, You’re Gonna Get It.
21. “The Best of Everything”
Beautiful ballad “The Best of Everything” was first released on Southern Accents. A more stripped-down version was featured on a box set of the same name in 2019.
One of the finest Tom Petty songs, in addition to one of his most gorgeous, “The Best of Everything” is a goodbye letter to a lost love.
I only wish that my feelings towards my exes were as delicate as “I wish you the best of everything in the world/and, honey, I hope you found/whatever you were looking for.”
20. “Room at the Top”
Tom Petty’s 1999 album Echo is an undervalued entry in his catalog. Going through a divorce brought him to new emotional depths.
This shows in its opener, “Room at the Top.” It builds from an emotive love song into a driving, heavy track.
19. “Stop Dragging My Heart Around”
What song did Tom Petty release in the 80s with Stevie Nicks? There were three, “I Will Run to You,” “Insider,” and the most popular, “Stop Dragging My Heart Around.”
The song got Stevie Nicks’ solo career after her initial run in Fleetwood Mac off to a running start.
18. “End of the Line” [Traveling Wilburys]
Each member of the Wilburys gets a spot to shine on “End of the Line.” One of their most popular songs, it surprisingly only hit #62 on the Billboard charts, though it reached #2 on the Album Rock Tracks chart.
In the song, Petty growls the first half of the verses with his usual aplomb.
17. “House in the Woods”
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers drummer Steve Ferrone, who took over for Stan Lynch in the mid-90s, is the star of “House in the Woods.” It’s one of the top drum performances in rock history.
The heavy, slow grinding rock track fits the sadness that fills Wildflowers. “Oh, my love/what can I do/but trust you?” Petty pleads behind weeping pedal steel guitar.
The sentiment is clearly one of longing rather than certainty, as in many Tom Petty songs.
16. “The Waiting”
Did Tom Petty have any #1 hits? While he never reached the summit of the Billboard Hot 100, he did have a handful that topped the Mainstream Rock charts, including “The Waiting.”
“The waiting is the hardest part” is another of Petty’s most relatable lyrics. It was supposedly influenced by something Janis Joplin said, though the exact quote isn’t known.
The feel of “Breakdown” is like nothing else in Tom Petty’s catalog. The slow groover features soulful verses before breaking out into one of his smoothest choruses.
“Breakdown” can be found on Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ first album, their self-titled debut. He clearly came out of the gate strong.
Another track from the record, “The Wild One, Forever,” narrowly missed making this best Tom Petty songs list.
14. “Handle With Care” [Traveling Wilburys]
The Traveling Wilburys started out as a hastily assembled band meant to only record one George Harrison b-side, “Handle With Care.”
Clearly, things didn’t go as planned.
The supergroup was one of the rock highlights of the 80s.
Harrison’s lament about stardom, Petty shares vocal duties during the chorus, though his voice is most prevalent, especially at the beginning.
Roy Orbison kinda steals the show with his heartbreaking harmony on “to leeeeaaann on.”
13. “Angel Dream (No. 4)”
“Angel Dream (No. 4)” is a stunning love song Petty wrote for his second wife, Dana York.
It first appeared on 1996’s She’s the One but eventually got its due as the title track from a re-imagined version of the album released in 2021.
Not only is “Angel Dream” one of the greatest Tom Petty songs, it’s one of the greatest love songs of the 90s. The experimental sound only adds to its charm.
“Rebels” is the standout track from Petty’s homage to his southern roots, Southern Accents.
Once again, it’s a song that can relate to anyone that sees themselves on the outside looking in.
It has a perfect chorus to scream along to when you’re feeling defiant (“Hey hey hey!/I was born a rebel”).
11. “Walls (Circus)”
“Some days are diamonds/some days are rocks.”
Petty got the first line on this standout from She’s the One from his friend Johnny Cash, who he worked with through his connection to producer Rick Rubin.
Another one of his coolest (and weirdest) videos, “Walls” again shows the depth of the sadness of his mid-90s period. “You’ve got a heart so big/it could crush this town/but I can’t hold out forever/even walls fall down.”
10. “You Wreck Me”
We begin our top 10 Tom Petty songs with a stone cold classic, “You Wreck Me,” one of the greatest songs Tom Petty and Mike Campbell wrote together.
The absolutely rocking Wildflowers single is based on a simple riff of three power chords, but it’s all the song needs.
Changing the lyrics from “you rock me” to “you wreck me” was one of Petty’s better decisions.
Damn the Torpedoes has so many of the most iconic Tom Petty songs that it’s practically a greatest hits album.
“Refugee” is seminal early Petty. The organ-led song swings and has another great sing-along chorus. Tom Petty bassist Ron Blair stands out on this one as well.
8. “You Don’t Know How It Feels”
How many #1 hits did Tom Petty have? If you’re talking about the Mainstream Rock chart, he had ten. “You Don’t Know How It Feels” was the last in his lifetime.
One of Tom Petty’s signature songs, it’s famous for the first lines of its not-exactly-radio-friendly chorus, “let’s get to the point/let’s roll another joint.”
Famously, it was obscured on MTV by the phrase being played backward.
“You don’t know how it feels/to be me” is the motto of Loser Trios everywhere.
7. “Runnin’ Down a Dream”
“Runnin’ Down a Dream” features another super rad riff from Heartbreakers’ guitarist Mike Campbell.
One of Petty’s most popular songs, it has another message of defiance via a rocking chorus that it’s cathartic to sing along to.
6. “Free Fallin'”
What is Tom Petty’s best-selling song? That’d easily be “Free Fallin’.”
Taken from Petty’s first solo album, 1989’s Full Moon Fever, it’s still a standard today.
5. “Crawling Back to You”
Okay, twist my arm, I’ll tell you: “Crawling Back to You” is my favorite Tom Petty song.
The mid-tempo ballad is just so beautiful, both in its understated music and gorgeously longing lyrics.
It features one of Petty’s most endearing bridges, lyrically and musically (“hey baby/there’s something in your eyes/trying to say to me/I’m gonna be alright/if I believe in you/it’s all I want to do”).
4. “I Won’t Back Down”
Tom Petty was already a huge star when he released Full Moon Fever, but the album catapulted him even further.
Hits like “Free Fallin'” and “I Won’t Back Down” showed that he still had his plenty left in the tank, even after his classic 70s/early 80s era.
“I Won’t Back Down” is an anthem, plain and simple. It sounds just as fresh over 30 years later.
3. “American Girl”
“American Girl” is the quintessential Tom Petty song. The fast, jangle pop track came out of nowhere in the late 70s to immediately catapult him into the national consciousness.
It was a great show closer. Indeed, it was the last song Tom Petty ever played live.
When it comes to classic rock n’ roll, it’s hard to get any better.
2. “Mary Jane’s Last Dance”
“Mary Jane’s Last Dance” won the MTV Video Music Award for Best Male Video for good reason. The memorable clip features Petty as a mortician who dresses up a dead woman (Kim Basinger) as his bride and dances around with her.
The song itself is one of Petty’s most haunting. “Tired of screwing up/tired of going down/tired of myself/tired of this town” is one of his darkest lyrics.
It was his first top 20 single on the Billboard Hot 100 in the 90s, topping out at #14. The Red Hot Chili Peppers stole the chord progression and feel for their “Dani California.”
More than one of the greatest Tom Petty songs, “Wildflowers” is one of the best love songs of all time.
The delicate acoustic ballad is subtle and powerful, both in its lyrics and performance.
“You belong among the wildflowers/you belong somewhere close to me/far away from your trouble and worries/you belong somewhere you feel free” are some of the most poignant lyrics in rock music. He had clearly learned something from Bob Dylan.
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