Over a 50+ year career, Tom Petty released 13 studio albums, a greatest hits and multiple live albums with the Heartbreakers as well as three solo albums. He also released four albums with Mudcrutch and two albums with the Traveling Wilburys.
He was born on October 20, 1950 and raised in Gainesville, Florida where he became a rock & roll fan after meeting Elvis Presley at the age of 10. The Beatles and the Byrds inspired him as well so he began playing guitar to escape an abusive homelife.
When he was 17 he quit school and became the front man and songwriter for Mudcrutch a local rock band. Petty was offered a solo recording contract after Mudcrutch disbanded so he recruited two former band members, guitarist Mike Campbell and keyboardist Benmont Tench to form a band. The duo had been in a band with drummer Stan Lynch and bass guitarist Ron Blair who also became members of the Heartbreakers.
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers released their self titled debut album in 1976 during the disco craze when punk emerged to reinvent rock. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers played hard edged rock & roll with infectious hooks until Petty’s death in 2017 at the age of 66. They were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2002. It’s hard to find a bad Tom Petty album and this list is limited to only the albums released with the Heartbreakers and the 3 solo albums.
Here are Blues Rock Review’s top 10 Tom Petty albums.
In 2010, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers released Mojo their 12th studio album eight years after The Last DJ in 2002. The overall sound of the album is blues based and recorded in the old style of everyone together in the studio. The hits from the album are “First Flash of Freedom,” “I Should Have Known It,” “Don’t Pull Me Over” and “Good Enough.”
9. The Last DJ
The Last DJ is the 11th studio album by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and was released in 2002. The theme of the album is greed in the music industry which since then has reached unheard of levels with front section seats at some concerts costing over $10,000. Ironically Ron Blair replaced Howie Epstein who replaced Blair 20 years earlier. The Last DJ reached #9 on the “Billboard 200 Chart” but critics gave the album lukewarm reviews.
8. Hypnotic Eye
Hypnotic Eye was the 13th and final album that Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers recorded together and it was released in 2014. Petty died of an accidental overdose in 2017. The opening song is a driving rhythm with Petty and the band playing full tilt to allow him to spit out the lyrics to “American Dream Plan B.” The rest of the album follows suit with highlights like “Red River,” “U Get Me High,” “Forgotten Man” and “Fault Lines.” It was produced by Tom Petty, Mike Campbell and Ryan Ulyate and went straight to #1 when it was released on the “Reprise” record label.
7. Hard Promises
Hard Promises was released by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers in 1981. It was the last album that Ron Blair was the full time bass player before he was replaced by Howie Epstein. Stevie Nicks provided backing vocals on both “Insider” and “You Can Still Change Your Mind.” Its release was controversial because of the battle that Petty had with the record label over increasing the cost by a dollar. At the time vinyl albums normally cost $8.98 and MCA, the distributor wanted to charge $9.98 but Petty got his way in the end. It was produced by Petty and Jimmy Lovine and hit singles like “The Waiting” and “A Woman In Love” helped it to reach #5 on “Billboard’s 200” and become platinum.
6. Into the Great Wide Open
The Heartbreakers seventh studio album was Into the Great Wide Open which was produced by Jeff Lynne and released in 1991. It was right after the Traveling Wilbury period and Lynne co-wrote eight of the songs with Petty and two with Campbell. The first single released from the album was “Learning to Fly” which reached #1 on “Billboard’s Mainstream Rock Tracks” and it was co-written by Petty and Lynne. The album received mixed reviews from critics but reached double platinum.
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers released Echo, their 10th studio album in 1999. It was the last album recorded with bassist/vocals Howie Epstein, who died in 2023 and it was the first to include Scott Thurston. All the songs on the album were written by Petty except for “I Don’t Wanna Fight” which was written by guitarist Mike Campbell, who also sang lead on it. It was the last album collaboration with Rick Rubin and produced three hits on Billboard’s Mainstream Rock Track in 1999; “Free Girl Now,” “Room at the Top” and “Swingin’.”
Tom Petty’s second solo album, Wildflowers which was released in 1994 was his first on the Warner Brothers record label as well as the first time that Rick Rubin produced his album. Petty explains in “The Making of Wildflowers” documentary available for free on YouTube about how he wrote the entire song in a moment of inspiration as a “stream of consciousness.” Longtime drummer Stan Lynch was fired and Steve Ferrone replaced him for the album. Radio hits from Wildflowers included, “You Don’t Know How It Feels,” “You Wreck Me,” “It’s Good To Be King” and “A Higher Place.”
3. Damn the Torpedoes
Damn the Torpedoes is the Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ third studio album and was released in 1979. It reached #2 on the Billboard Chart and was certified triple platinum. Petty either wrote or co-wrote all but two of the nine cuts. “Don’t Do Me Like That” was the first single released from the album followed by two songs co-written by Petty and Campbell. “Refugee” was the second single released from the album and according to co-writer Mike Campbell it was difficult to play after it was first written and took 100 takes to perfect. The third single release was “Here Comes My Girl.” It was a hook laden album that made an indelible mark on the music memory of every listener.
2. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers Greatest Hits
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers Greatest Hits was released in 1993 and was his last on the MCA label. The album is an excellent introduction to Tom Petty since it contains all his hits from 1979’s Damn the Torpedoes to 1991’s Into the Great Wide Open. To fulfill his contract for one more record for MCA during the Wildflower sessions, Petty took time out to record two new songs go on the Greatest Hits album, “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” and a cover of “Thunderclap Newman’s” 1971 hit “Something in the Air.” The album reached 12x Platinum in U.S. sales and “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” was a #1 hit on “Billboard’s Mainstream Rock” and became one of Petty’s most popular songs.
1. Full Moon Fever
Tom Petty’s Full Moon Fever was released in 1989 and features some of his bandmates from The Traveling Wilburys as well as the Heartbreakers. Roy Orbison appeared on the album the year before he died along with George Harrison and Jeff Lynne who played an important part in both the writing and recording. Three songs hit #1, “I Won’t Back Down,” “Runnin’ Down a Dream” and “Free Fallin’.”