5 Greatest Tom Petty Collaborations

5 Greatest Tom Petty Collaborations

Posted 8 Aug 2020
tom petty, bob dylan
Bob Dylan & Tom Petty in 1986. Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images.

On Tom Petty’s long-awaited posthumous release, Wildflowers: All The Rest, is a demo version of his classic hit “You Don’t Know How It Feels.” The lead single from the collection of outtakes recorded during studio sessions of Petty’s acclaimed 1994 hit record, Wildflowers, is similar in structure to the original but with a more stripped back feel. This could be attributed to producer Rick Rubin, with the demo reminiscent of his work with Johnny Cash on the American series of albums.

While written by Petty, “You Don’t Know How It Feels” – along with the rest of the songs on Wildflowers – was a collaborative effort between Petty and his band, The Heartbreakers. Like his contemporary Bruce Springsteen, Petty was always happy to share the limelight with not only his own band but also many other artists he collaborated with throughout his impressive career. To illustrate Petty’s varied body of work, here are five of his greatest collaborations with some of music’s biggest stars.

“Sea Of Heartbreak” by Johnny Cash

Not many are aware that Petty played a major role in Johnny Cash’s American II: Unchained album. While Cash’s first collaboration with producer Rick Rubin featured just Cash, the follow-up has the Man in Black backed by an array of famous musicians. Along with guest spots from Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Flea and Fleetwood Mac’s Lindsay Buckingham and Mick Fleetwood, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers played the instruments on all of the tracks on the album. While Petty provides admirable support throughout, it’s on the cover of Don Gibson’s “Sea Of Heartbreak” where he shines. Not only does he feature on guitar, but also provides harmonies, with his one-of-a-kind voice gelling perfectly with Cash’s gruff baritone. For a song about heartbreak, this is a rather cheery track, with the addition of Petty only adding to its greatness.

“Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around” by Stevie Nicks

Originally recorded as a track for Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers fourth studio album, Hard Promises, “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around” ended up becoming arguably the biggest hit of Stevie Nick’s solo career. The story goes, Petty and the Heartbreakers’ guitarist Mike Campbell had written the song for their band when producer, Jimmy Iovine heard them playing it in the studio. At the time Iovine was also working with Nicks on her solo album and looking for a song that could be used as the album’s first single. Hearing Petty play the song in rehearsals, he persuaded him to let Nicks record a version for her debut. Nicks' version is a duet with Petty that became a monster hit, sending her debut album, Bella Donna to the top of the charts. The original Nicks-less version would remain in the vault until a few years back when it appeared on a Tom Petty box set.

“Last Night” by Traveling Wilburys

When people talk of music supergroups, it doesn’t get any bigger than the Traveling Wilburys. Spawned during the recording sessions of George Harrison’s 1987 Cloud Nine album, the group consisted of Harrison, Bob Dylan, Jeff Lynne, Roy Orbison and Tom Petty. Somehow this ensemble of stylistically diverse musicians managed to record an album that not only sounds cohesive but also shines a light on each members' skill set. While it’s hard to choose one song from the album, as they are all incredible, Petty’s greatest contribution as a singer-songwriter is on the bubbly “Last Night.” Petty and Orbison share vocal duties as they sing about meeting the woman of their dreams, only for things to turn sour. While musically fantastic, hearing Petty and Orbison on the same track is an absolute delight.

“Scare Easy” by Mudcrutch

Before he found success with the Heartbreakers, one of Petty’s first bands was country-rock outfit, Mudcrutch. Formed in 1970 by Petty, vocalist Jim Lenahan, drummer Randall Marsh and future Heartbreaker’s Mike Campbell and Benmont Tench, the band only released one official single, the poor-selling “Depot Street,” before disbanding in 1975. Thirty two years later, Petty would reform the band with all five original members, recording two albums before his tragic passing in 2017. “Scare Easy” is easily the standout track from the two albums. Indebted to the laconic sounds of the late ‘70s, Petty’s voice is in full swing as he laments a lost love over tight instrumentation with hints of contemporary rock.

“Band Of The Hand” by Bob Dylan

Before working with Bob Dylan as part of the Traveling Wilburys, Petty helped out his old friend on the soundtrack to the film, Band Of The Hand. Not only did he produce the album, but he also leant his voice to lead single “Band Of The Hand.” The song's lyrics reflect those of the film, about a group of delinquents who embark on a journey of revenge after a drug dealer kills their friend. Dylan and Petty share vocals for the first time and their chemistry is evident, with the Heartbreakers providing the instrumentation and Stevie Nicks one of the backing vocalists.

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