As you might’ve heard, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers scored their first #1 album this year, with Hypnotic Eye. Thing is, it’s merely pretty good in the grand scheme of the Petty canon. It garnered a lot of positive of reviews, but when it comes down to it, the fact that Petty just now got a #1 album probably has more to do with the fact that his fanbase is of the age where they still buy records, more so than this being, like, on the artistic or commercial level of Full Moon Fever or Damn The Torpedoes. Also, as it turns out, there was a lot of other great Tom Petty music released this year by people other than Tom Petty, and having nothing to do with Tom Petty aside from the fact that they recall some of the highest points of his classic era. In fact, these Tom Petty records that Tom Petty didn’t release are way better than Hypnotic Eye, and some of them are amongst the best albums of the year, period. This is beside the fact that one of the breakout singles of the year, Sam Smith’s “Stay With Me,” hinges on a chorus that’s essentially a slowed down version of “I Won’t Back Down.” (Also, now that I think about it, I don’t like this song very much and I wish everyone would stop covering it before I have to write a list about it.) So, on that note, we here at Stereogum have decided to bring you the definitive ranking of the top 5 Tom Petty albums of the year that Tom Petty did not release and had no involvement in whatsoever.
5. Nude Beach – 77
Well, the name says a lot here. Nude Beach’s third album is appealingly committed to the sounds of the late ’70s — a cursory Twitter search reveals tons of people comparing it to some mixture of Petty, Elvis Costello, and occasionally the Jam. For some reason, people talk about Nude Beach like they’re a punk band and like 77 is some kind of signifier for that, but the Petty stuff is what sticks out most. From the vocal deliveries of guitarist Chuck Betz and drummer Ryan Naideau, to the way these songs jangle and pulse akin to Petty classics like “American Girl” and “Even The Losers,” 77 is an album that is steeped in early career Petty-isms, making for a really infectious double album. (An infectious double album!)
RIYL: Any of Petty’s first three records.
Pettyest Track: Pretty much the whole damn thing, honestly, but here’s “Can’t Get Enough.”
4. Jenny Lewis – The Voyager
Ryan Adams, who appears later on this list, produced Jenny Lewis’ newest offering, and though The Voyager’s sounds and vibe are different than DRA’s self-titled turn, you can feel a lot of similar elements at play. There are ’80s classic rock riffs mingling with Lewis’ soft-rock stylings; “She’s Not Me” seriously recalls Petty, and its guitar intro approaches that same humid reverb tone Adams used all over his own album. Lewis doesn’t have a Petty-esque vocal style in the way that Nude Beach or the War On Drugs do, but the structures and melodies here owe something to Full Moon Fever-era Petty — the glossy, acoustic-y pop side of the man. The chorus of “You Can’t Outrun ‘Em,” in particular, is totally Petty, and the whole song has this insistent mid-pace rush like “Love Is A Long Road.”
RIYL: Full Moon Fever
Pettyest Track: “You Can’t Outrun ‘Em”
3. The Hold Steady – Teeth Dreams
Of all the records on this list, the Hold Steady’s Teeth Dreams might sound the least like Petty on the surface, but it might be the most thoroughly imbued with his whole ethos. The thing about the Hold Steady is that their classic rock-isms come very much out of the Petty realm (as opposed to, say, the Zeppelin realm). They’ve long been refining a particular brand of raw yet anthemic rock music (basically: Springsteen meets the Replacements), and this is the cleanest they’ve ever let the production get. Everything here is slick and compact — the Hold Steady have aged up to Born In The U.S.A.-era Bruce, and they’ve also picked up a few Petty records along the way. These are big songs, with lots of great late-’70s organs and guitar crunch, but Craig Finn is the kind of singer that belongs in a sweaty club or bar, not belting out to the rafters in an arena. Petty is, of course, a huge legacy name, but he has that kind of voice, too — even the songs that reach for the big moments are anchored by his pinched, sometimes sing-speak approach, and the Hold Steady have matured toward a similar compromise.
RIYL: Damn The Torpedoes
Pettyest Track: “Wait A While” (but shout out to “The Ambassador,” too)
2. Ryan Adams – Ryan Adams
Everything comes back around again. At least, in the time of poptimism and YouTube and general cultural free-for-all, it does. This year, we wound up with a whole bunch of records that dug into the ’80s, but not the usual hip touchstones of New Order or the Smiths. Instead, the sounds of early-’80s boomer rock seemed to be a recurring influence in general, whether solo Don Henley or Dire Straits or John Cougar Mellencamp. And, of course, Tom Petty fits right in that mold. Out of any of the records that played with that sound, Ryan Adams’ self-titled LP might’ve been the most surprising. As the obvious joke went: After so many years bristling at people mistaking him for Bryan Adams, DRA’s put out a record that does have a few songs that sounds like Bryan Adams — or at the very least dig deep into early-’80s heartland rock as a dominant muse. (Adams told Buzzfeed he was inspired by Don Henley and Bruce Hornsby deep cuts.) All over Ryan Adams, there’s production and instrumentation that recall Petty’s early-’80s records: the way the organ and guitar sit alongside each other on “Gimme Something Good”; the jangle of “Feels Like Fire.” The former in particular makes sense, considering Heartbreakers co-founder and keyboardist Benmont Tench played all over this record. But it’s that aforementioned guitar tone Adams has recently come to favor, which is indebted to all sorts of prime Mike Campbell licks from the likes of Hard Promises or Long After Dark, that really signals Adams’ Petty phase.
RIYL: Hard Promises or Long After Dark
Pettyest Track: “Stay With Me”
1. The War On Drugs – Lost In The Dream
Much like Ryan Adams, the War On Drugs’ Lost In The Dream has often been discussed with relation to how it quotes ’80s classic rock. Unlike Adams’ record, though, Adam Granduciel has that stuff in his DNA, but isn’t making songs that could have been plausibly released back in the Reagan era. Rather, these are stretched, mutated interpretations of that stuff. There’s a whole lot of Neil Young and Dylan and Springsteen in the mix, too, but Granduciel’s Dylanesque vocals are of the style inherited from generations of other Dylanesque singers — i.e., it sounds like he grew up hearing major, major Petty hits, which he probably did. Musically, there’s a fair share of Petty-isms here, too, with Granduciel’s guitar often finding some cross-section of Mark Knopfler and Mike Campbell. It’s different than Nude Beach or Adams or Lewis, where songs sound like they could literally be Petty songs, though. You can hear the man’s influence, whether direct or received, all over Lost In The Dream, but like everything else on this record it comes off as a distant, psychedelic echo of some memory you can’t quite locate.
RIYL: Southern Accents
Pettyest Track: “Eyes To The Wind”