BY DAVE STEINFELD
At first glance, you might ask yourself if The Best of Everything — which is subtitled “The Definitive Career Spanning Hits Collection” — was necessary. After all, there are already several other Petty anthologies including An American Treasure, which just arrived last fall and includes four discs. But An American Treasure — while comprehensive in scope — focuses mainly on deep cuts, live renditions and previously unreleased material. So being that there is little if any overlap between these two collections, the answer is a resounding “yes.” The Best of Everything serves a purpose and does it well.
Tom Petty’s death — on October 2nd, 2017 — left a gaping hole in the world of rock and roll. True, we’ve lost other plenty of other rockers, some quite recently. But there was something special about Petty. Back in the late ‘70s, when many music fans embraced either the corporate rock status quo or the more groundbreaking sounds of punk and New Wave, Petty was one of the few artists who could claim fans from both camps. And the ability to appeal to people of disparate interests and backgrounds never really left him. Petty and his Heartbreaker cohorts were unabashedly influenced by the artists who came before them (The Byrds, The Rolling Stones etc.) but they synthesized those influences into something that was fresh and perfectly in step with the times. And there was always something appealingly “normal” about Petty. He knew he was good but he lacked the arrogance of someone like Mick Jagger. He was Rock Star as Everyman and could be as critical of himself as he often was about the music business.
Likewise, The Heartbreakers were a tight and talented group of “regular guys” from Gainesville, FLA who happened to hit the big time. Mike Campbell was the perfect right hand man for Petty, an underrated lead guitarist capable of casually unleashing great solos and an adept co-writer as well. Keyboardist Benmont Tench was the son of a judge and probably the most intellectual Heartbreaker. Musically, he provided an essential component — which is no mean feat in a guitar-based band. Ron Blair’s rock star looks belied his penchant for stage fright and general shyness but he was a solid musician (check out the bass line in “American Girl”) and has the distinction of being both the first and third bassist in the band, following the sadly departed Howie Epstein. And while Stan Lynch fell out with Petty in the ’90s, there’s no question that he was an integral part of the band early on with his larger-than-life personality and drumming. In this writer’s opinion, The Heartbreakers were probably the greatest American band of the past 50 years.
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers released their self-titled debut at the end of 1976. Over the next 40 years or so, they would provide the soundtrack to millions of American lives. Some albums may have sold better than others, some may have even been better than others, but Petty never made a bad record — which is more than most artists who have been around for four decades can say. Even the albums that were spotty had their moments.
Which is where The Best of Everything comes in. It offers 38 tracks spread across two CDs (or four sides of vinyl). There are also some great photos, plus liner notes from Cameron Crowe. Admittedly, you don’t get many previously unreleased songs here — just two, in fact. But the quality of the music that you do get is so consistently top-notch that this hardly matters. The Best of Everything collects material from Petty’s solo career, his later efforts with Mudcrutch (TP, Campbell, Tench, Tom Leadon, and Randall Marsh) and, of course, plenty of stuff with The Heartbreakers. The songs aren’t arranged chronologically but this is an advantage in a way because it makes the listener realize that Petty was writing great songs throughout his career, even after he stopped being a regular presence on the charts. Most of the big hits (“Free Fallin’, ”Refugee,” “American Girl,” “Don’t Come Around Here No More,” etc.) appear on Disc 1. But there are some on Disc 2 as well, along with some excellent lesser known songs.
Even at 38 tracks, not all of Petty’s best work is represented and naturally fans will argue about what should or shouldn’t have made the cut (I, for one, wouldn’t have minded a couple more songs from Echo or Long After Dark). But again, this is a minor complaint. The number of great songs here is truly striking — as is the variety of those songs. Witness the title track from 1985’s Southern Accents, a breakthrough ballad that even this Connecticut Yankee can appreciate… The biting commentary of “The Last DJ,” which was banned by Clear Channel for telling some inconvenient truths about the music business… The Zeppelin-esque blues-rock of “I Should Have Known It” from 2010’s Mojo… Sad, beautiful ballads like “Room at the Top” and “Dreamville”…. And the back to basics rock and roll of “You Wreck Me” from Petty’s massively popular solo disc, Wildflowers.
Taken as a whole, The Best of Everything offers ample proof that Tom Petty was one of the most important and consistent figures in American rock and roll. These lines from “Walls,” a deceptively simple single from the overlooked She’s the One soundtrack, provides a fitting epitaph:
“Some things are over
Some things go on
Part of me you carry
Part of me is gone.”
RIP, Tom. We’ll never forget you.