Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Good On Its Own, Hell After Six Months Of Classic Rock: Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers Greatest Hits

The Good: Excellent lyrics, Good melodies, Holds up well
The Bad: Some limitations as far as sound, Liner notes
The Basics: With its memorable songs and great writing, Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers Greatest Hits rocks consistently.

To this day, I remain somewhat baffled that Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers' Greatest Hits include songs from when Tom Petty's solo endeavor without the Heartbreakers. I suppose the Heartbreakers are just glad he came back, like the other two guys in Genesis are whenever Phil Collins returns to them. Anyway, Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers Greatest Hits is an impressive collection of classic rock songs from 1976 - 1993. I suppose we're almost due for a follow-up album in the next couple of years, as Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers have been busy since '93.

With eighteen tracks, this album is an excellent use of the medium. Seventeen of the eighteen tracks are written or co-written by Tom Petty (the final track on the album is a cover of "Something In The Air" by John Keene), which pretty much puts the creative responsibility for the music on his shoulders. He's an able writer and no two tracks on this disc sound quite the same, which is good. Petty is a decent poet and his lines range from love, flirtation, desire to vengeance ("Don't Come Around Here No More") to simple observations on the state of losers.

For those who haven't heard the music of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, this is pretty standard rock in the classic rock vein. The instruments are more or less limited to guitars, keyboards, bass, and drums. It's not the most creative medium and while no two songs on this album sound quite the same, the music is very limited in its range and scope because it uses so few instruments. "Don't Come Around Here No More," seems to stretch the sound of the band more than any other track. The rest is pretty much keyboard or guitar dominated.

And, problematically, some of the tunes are terribly repetitive. "Don't Do Me Like That" has one of the most tedious tunes when listened to frequently. This might just be because the refrain (the title of the song, in this case) is repeated about a thousand times throughout the song. And that leads to perhaps the most serious problem which is not really a problem with the album.

I was condemned for a time to listen to only classic rock while at work. I say "condemned" because unless one has the most amazing classic rock station in the world, there is a very finite supply of the stuff and most classic rock stations end up playing the same hundred-fifty songs over and over again. That might not seem bad until one considers - outside the ones with excessive guitar solos - most classic rock songs average three and a half minutes, which means if one is working a twelve hour day, one is hearing those same songs every day. After six months, I left that job, in part because I could not stand the music.

How does this relate to this album? All but the last two songs ("Mary Jane's Last Dance" – reviewed here - and "Something In The Air") are in VERY regular rotation on just about every classic rock station. This album is almost a terrible investment because in the average day channel surfing on the radio, you'll hear all of these songs. And you'll probably hear "Free Fallin'" about eight times. I suppose owning the album gives one the control over listening to it when one wants. I'll probably dust mine off in another few months.

That's not to say it's a bad album, either. This is a group that rocks. Tom Petty has an awesome voice, even when it's gravely ("You Got Lucky") or stretching his range ("Learning To Fly"). Sometimes, he's downright soothing, like on "Into The Great Wide Open." And it's surprising how well the defiant anthem "I Won't Back Down" works from Tom Petty, which - having heard it butchered by some high schoolers - is VERY well.

I grew up with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers "Don't Come Around Here No More" and after tracks, so when I bought the album (years ago now), there were only seven of the eighteen songs I had heard and liked. The other ten grew on me (I've never gotten into "American Girl," which ironically opens the album) and it's easy to see that Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers have talent.

Maybe that's why they are so represented on the classic rock stations. This is a great investment for anyone who loves rock and roll but does not want to listen to the radio. And, honestly, it is impressive for a group that uses - generally - so few instruments to have a collection of songs that truly sound so different from one another.

The best song is "Into The Great Wide Open" (though "Refugee" is pretty amazing), the weakest track is "American Girl," which sounds like a lucky hit to me.

For other compilation albums by classic rockers, check out my reviews of:
Words And Music - John Mellencamp
All The Best - Tina Turner
Chronicle - Creedence Clearwater Revival


Check out how this album stacks up against others I have reviewed by visiting my Music Review Index Page where the works are organized best to worst!

© 2012, 2006 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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