Tom Petty’s very first retrospective, “Greatest Hits” (1993) would become one of his best-selling albums ever. It included all the seminal tracks he recorded both with the Heartbreakers and as a solo artist. These include “American Girl” and “Breakdown” from the debut, the four best tracks from the breakthrough album “Damn The Torpedoes” (Refugee”, “Here Comes My Girl”, “Even The Losers” and the ultra-successful “Don’t Do Me Like That” – is it me, or it has been slightly remixed?) and the sole hit from “Southern Accents”, “Don’t Come Around Here No More”. It also has two of his best ‘80s tracks in the shape of “The Waiting” and the synth-soaked “You Got Lucky”.
Finally, “Learning To Fly” and “Into The Great Wide Open” come from “Into The Great Wide Open” (1991) and the three best cuts from Petty’s only solo album up to that point (“Full Moon Fever”, 1989) are featured (“I Won’t Back Down”, “Running Down A Dream” and the dizzying “Free Falling”).
The disc offers two new songs: “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” (which had been around for a long time, and was finally recorded with Rick Rubin at the helm), and a disappointing cover of Speedy Keen’s “Something In The Air” (a ‘60s artist discovered and nurtured by Pete Townshend – the song was just not right for Petty and the boys. The only person who sounds truly into it is Benmont Tench). But at least the other new song was phenomenal, and I have no doubt that the success of the compilation was more than partially fueled by it.
“Greatest Hits” was remastered and reissued in 2008; “Something In The Air” was booted and replaced with “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around”, Tom’s duet with Stevie Nicks from her 1981 album “Bella Donna”. I frankly feel there were better cuts around – if they wanted to get a duet in they could have included “Insider” (which Petty also cut with Nicks; it was actually his first duet ever), or something like “Jammin’ Me” (a song Petty co-wrote with Bob Dylan in 1986).
Still, the album is as close to perfect as it can be, as it compiles some of the best guitar-oriented music of its time. Although some live anthologies and further compilations were to be issued (including a very elegant and rich boxed set named “Playback” in 1995), this “best of” disc will never become obsolete for the mere reason that it captures Petty’s bigger contributions to the canon of popular music. He is still pumping out good albums – he will live by his “I Won’t Back Down” mantra until the very end. But the very beginning of his brilliant career (as captured here) will always have an appeal that he won’t reproduce again, notwithstanding the excellence of albums like “Echo” and the brand-new “Mojo”.
Would I recommend purchase of this compilation: Yes
Do I feel like digging deeper into his catalog after listening to it: Yes