For some fans, the recent death of Tom Petty remains a shock. The even more recent reports of the musician’s cause of death have probably not helped to soothe that shock. In the event of a performer’s passing, in some cases, fans can take comfort in the person’s body of work. Whether that is true or not, what remains is that Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ “Greatest Hits” is a stellar collection of hits that captures the band’s American sound.
“Greatest Hits” is a 2016 vinyl version of a collection of “greats” that was released in 1993. The 1993 and 2016 versions are rather comprehensive “greatest hits” collections because they contain material not previously included on other compilations of the band’s work. The set includes “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” which made it all the way to No. 1 on Billboard’s Mainstream Rock Tracks chart. Also added is Petty’s cover of Thunderclap Newman’s “Something in the Air.” The updated “Greatest Hits” also includes tracks from Petty’s solo album, “Full Moon Fever.”
“Breakdown” by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
The song is believed by some to be about a toxic relationship. A more popular, and arguably more logical interpretation is that it’s about two people who have reached an impasse in their romantic relationship, and the narrator wants things to progress already. The confidence of the narrator is found in Petty’s delivery and the lines “It’s alright if you love me/it’s alright if you don’t/I’m not afraid of you running away, honey/ I get the feeling you won’t.”
Those lines don’t indicate a person who is fed up with the other person. There is ambivalence, maybe, or are listeners mistaking that for cool?
Offsetting the lyrics perfectly is the instrumentation. The song begins with a high-pitched, almost aggrieved guitar riff. It is deeply nuanced, as in it sounds as though it contains layers upon layers of notes. In that way, it is like the lyrics. While the sound is sparse, it is not relaxed. Most listeners are correct that there is tension between the two people, and the instrumentation reflects it well.
The music and lyrics complement each other. In the chorus, the song rises to a near-shout and the guitars and drums follow. The guitar solo, too, retains that bundle of chords sound.
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers: “I Need to Know”
Sometimes it seems as if “I Need to Know” by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers is not discussed often enough. Where “Breakdown” succeeded in its cool confidence, “I Need to Know” shakes listeners with its demands. The lyrics are accusatory and full of rumor. The narrator fears he will be dumped, and just wants to know for once and for all, which is going to be?
Of course, Americans didn’t invent interpersonal relationships, but Petty and the Heartbreakers crafted and performed songs that sounded so American and seemed to take place in American settings that their approach to rock music seems embedded in the nation’s fabric. This is, after all, the same band that offered audiences a song called “American Girl.”
The instrumentation matches the almost angry stance of the lyrics. The backing vocals echo the lead singer’s question, and the driving guitar and drums are offset by a keyboard or piano line that symbolizes the singer’s nagging doubt.
Longtime fans of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers will need this set in their collections. Those who are more recent fans will appreciate the history lesson of the band that comes with the placement of each song. Disc 1 starts with “American Girl” and moves throughout the 1970s. The singing, the instrumentation, and the lyrical content all resonate with listeners from all over the globe, but the style is distinctly American.