On October 20, Tom Petty was supposed to turn 68 years old. Instead, last year, a week after completing his band’s 40th anniversary tour—during which, we learned, he was playing through pain every night—an accidental overdose closed his songbook.
The first posthumous release, the aptly-titled Tom Petty: An American Treasure, arrived at the end of September. Its 60 tracks are a mix of demos, live songs, alternate takes, and a variety of deep cuts. It’s sort of an odd mix. It’s not the instant gratification of a greatest hits disc, nor is it as unique as the previous all-live box set. Still, it certainly delivers. Taken individually, the tracks include a number of gems. As a whole, it is a fitting testament to Petty’s gift: an American treasure indeed. The following is a completely subjective list of 10 shiny coins in this treasure chest.
“Listen To Her Heart” / “Anything That’s Rock ‘N’ Roll” (live)
These early live tracks illustrate how and why TP&HP got grouped in with the New Wave bands. The guitars are pointier, the riffs cut, and everything has a bit more of an edge to it. It’s noticeable even when Petty is introducing the new song to the crowd; the voice would eventually mellow into a southern drawl but here it’s a more of a snarl.
“Lost In Your Eyes” (outtake)
This was recorded by Petty’s pre-Heartbreakers band, Mudcrutch, in 1975 but it has elements that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on records that would come 15-plus years later. Amazing how fully-formed they were even then.
“Even the Losers” (live)
Petty was always public about not wanting to just trot out the hits during tours, but also was aware of what the fans wanted to hear. His way around that, oftentimes, was to strip the song down to its skeleton. This 1989 recording shows how his brilliant storytelling can make an acoustic version into an anthem. It helps when you have an arena singing along with every word.
“Keeping Me Alive” (unreleased)
This, along with “Keep A Little Soul” (also included in the set), were recorded during sessions for Long After Dark. “Soul…” is rock solid, but one can imagine it not making the final cut because there were similar songs already slotted. I have no idea how this didn’t end up on some record along the line.
“The Apartment Song” (demo)
With Stevie Nicks adding harmonies and some counterlines, this demo, in many ways, has more going on than the final version that ended up on Full Moon Fever.
“Rebels” (alternate version)
This song famously lead Petty to punch a wall in frustration as he struggled to get it just right. This version, with a livelier horn section and (I think) a slightly faster tempo comes off a bit more like a celebration than the official version which sounded more defiant.
“King of the Hill” (early take)
Dude, it’s Tom Petty singing with Roger McGuinn.
“Lonesome Dave” (outtake)
A loose rocking and rolling tune, it sounds like yet more evidence of Petty’s Elvis worship. Driven by Stan Lynch’s drumming, it also is highlighted by deft Benmont Tench (piano) and Mike Campbell (guitar) solos. One could imagine the band breaking this out at a Gainesville house party to get everyone dancing, despite the fact they recorded it in search of a track to add to their greatest hits album.
“I Don’t Belong” (outtake)
This comes from the batch of songs written for the (underrated) Echo album. Therefore, the lyrics are not the cheeriest in the batch. Musically, though, it sounds like it could have fit right in on one of the Travelling Wilburys’ records.
“Two Men Talking” (outtake)
This entire collection is a testament to Petty, but it also showcases the amazing musicians he played alongside throughout his career. In the later years, the whole gang seemed more likely to break out of the 3:30 radio-hit format and let the band flex its considerable muscle. This is a formidable example of just that.