Monday, February 1, 2010

Tom Petty 10: Greatest Hits, Playback and Anthology

After he jumped ship to a new label, Petty’s old label felt entitled to put out a hits album. This being the modern age, of course, sixteen tracks fans already loved and owned were accompanied by two brand new ones. One of them, “Mary Jane’s Last Dance”, immediately became a huge hit and radio staple for the next fifteen years and counting. (So much so that the Red Hot Chili Peppers were criticized for the similarity of their “Dani California” to “Mary Jane”; Petty didn’t complain much, since he’d gotten away with copping the feel of “Waiting For The Sun” by the Jayhawks.) The other new song was a cover of Thunderclap Newman’s “Something In The Air”—close enough for a carbon copy.
Greatest Hits covered all the bases, despite the absence of anything from Let Me Up (I’ve Had Enough). It had strong legs for the rest of the century and well into the next one, but when it was reissued in 2008, “Something In The Air” was dropped in favor of “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around”, the Stevie Nicks single featuring the Heartbreakers.

As Petty continued to have success elsewhere, MCA kept digging for gold on their own property. They really stretched themselves for Playback, a six-CD box set with three discs of album tracks, one disc of B-sides and two discs of outtakes. It was a nice idea; each of the discs comes in a little cardboard album-style sleeve with its own title, while the booklet includes an overview, track notes and individual credits. Splitting the tracks up between the familiar and the not-so keep the flow going, and some of the unheard tracks are pretty entertaining, from early Mudcrutch recordings, alternate takes like the original non-Stevie version of “Stop Draggin’” and a pile of final sessions with Stan Lynch for the Greatest Hits album. But none of the discs were filled to capacity; the three non-rarities discs in Playback could have been cut back to two just fine, a few B-sides were AWOL and even the outtakes discs might have worked better as one.

The idea of two discs of hits must have occurred to somebody in marketing, because at the century’s end appeared Anthology: Through The Years, featuring everything from Greatest Hits except “Something In The Air” and various album tracks that hadn’t made it to the box set. Some of the better selections for the time were “Stop Draggin’” (the Stevie version), “Waiting For Tonight” featuring the Bangles (inexcusably left off Full Moon Fever but included on Playback) and “Surrender”, an old Heartbreakers chestnut not recorded to Petty’s satisfaction until 2000.

So if you want to dive into the catalog, your work’s cut out for you. Start with the Greatest Hits or splurge for the Anthology. But that will only take you up to 1993; Petty has yet to authorize a collection of hits from the period to follow.

Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers Greatest Hits (1993)—4
2008 remastered CD: same as 1993, plus 1 extra track (and minus 1 track)
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers Playback (1995)—
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers Anthology: Through The Years (2000)—4

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