The List: Six essential late-career Tom Petty tracks

Joel Oliphint

As you likely know by now, Tom Petty went into cardiac arrest and died on Monday, Oct. 2, at the age of 66. Whether solo or with the Heartbreakers, Petty was the consummate chill-dude rocker. In an instantly relatable, idiosyncratic voice and with an empathetic eye, he wrote songs about losers and loners, and he treated these characters not as victims but as resilient humans who stand their ground, run down dreams, fall, get back up and learn to fly. There is still no better artist to drive to with the windows down than Tom Petty.

Of course, the best place to start is Petty's 1993Greatest Hits anthology, which is perhaps the all-time best compilation of greatest hits by any artist. That 18-track CD alone made my high school BMG subscription worth the money. But if you stop at 1993, you miss out on more than two decades of also-great Petty songs. Don't overlook these six songs from the latter half of the gone-too-soon artist's career.


Petty's 1994 album,Wildflowers, is fantastic from front to back. But the title track showcases the prettier side of Petty, and when his voice is put up as high in the mix as it is here, his phrasing, intonation and way with words rightfully take center stage and hit even harder.

“Crawling Back to You”

“You Don't Know How it Feels” was the bigWildflowers single, and it holds up, but I'm partial to “You Wreck Me” when I want some crunchy guitars and “Crawling Back to You” when I'm feeling “tired of being tired.”

“Walls (Circus)”

You'd be forgiven for thinking the soundtrack to the 1996 Edward Burns film “She's the One” is a hard pass, but then you'd miss out on some modern classics. Lindsey Buckingham provides harmonies to this richly layered pop gem about someone with “a heart so big it could crush this town,” if only the person would let the walls fall down.


The rare Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers track that tops six minutes, this title track from 1999 albumEcho is a melancholic look at the end of a relationship that still manages to feel anthemic.

“Flirting with Time”

Petty's 2006 solo album,Highway Companion, plays like a mash-up ofWildflowers andFull Moon Fever, and this jangle-pop tune boasts big, strummy guitars that sound more like pianos. In the chorus, Petty accuses his baby of “flirting with time” — a phrase that's so simple and natural-sounding you almost don't notice how good it is.

“Fault Lines”

2014 recordHypnotic Eye marked Petty's first No. 1 album, and on it, the Heartbreakers sounded more raw and energized than they had in years. Blasts of fuzz infuse “Fault Lines,” a muscle-y, Zep-indebted tune that finds Petty's nasal tenor in perfect form as he admits to “a few of my own fault lines running under my life.”