Playlists and Petty Parties

Tom Petty Wild Buffalo

and how to find your local Petty Party

I asked Bay Area writer and Jambase editor Dennis Cook to make me a Tom Petty playlist to celebrate the heartfelt Tom Petty Tribute nights I’ll be MCing up here in Seattle, Everett, and Bellingham. Far less than 24 hours later he sent me this must have Spotify playlist for any true Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers fan.

I asked Dennis for his take on a Tom Petty playlist for a few reasons, but chiefly because Tom is sometimes a victim of his own success in terms of hearing his Top 40 hits for the 700th time. In a world of streaming, where the aggregation has brought the single back to the forefront for many of the wrong reasons, the role of a DJ and mix tape operator is now that of the mystic at the oasis.

It’s a shaman’s role to create such a trance that allows you to be reintroduced to your favorite artists of all time. That’s why Dennis Cook is still in his Bay Area kitchen baking these personalized Mojo cakes, filling baskets for the desert islands of our own existence. A good mixtape can be sort of a psychedelic experience. You get to see the other side of something. 

In Dennis Cook’s Tom Petty playlist the hits and more familiar songs may tie together this quilt. But the sheer, almost tragic beauty of this collection is that even with a songwriter such as Tom, who has reached the highest and clearest mountain top, we have so many overlooked many little masterpieces. It’s those twin forces of economics and a showman’s allegiance to recreate past glories, that gradually shift career artists towards presenting the Greatest Hits package on tour. The larger the audience, the greater the mob hungers for the familiar. The more perilous it becomes to skip ‘American Girl.’

Tom was an oddity amongst his late seventies class in that he won over several subsequent generations and filled amphitheater seats with songs that 20 somethings kept connecting with deeply, like the last fresh toke from the promise of the sixties, as they got their MTV. But it was those songs he unleashed on Damn The Torpedoes in 1979 on his long approach to 30 that finally broke him into the mainstream. Petty was then on his third album, and had been slugging it out on his journey from Gainesville to the cracked and tony hills above Los Angeles. Songs like ‘Refugee,’ ‘Here Comes My Girl,’ and ‘Don’t Do Me Like That’ would still be hits today, yet they were throwbacks even then.

He wasn’t Punk, his music wasn’t New Wave. It was the sound of instant classic Rock & Roll. This was a Southern Rock band baptized by the British on a collision course with Bob Dylan and MTV. Along the way there would be limos full of lawyers as he fought his label over keeping his records $8.98 and his right to be free.

For my generation, after all those fights we were too young to Google or understand, we fell so madly for Wildflowers. We heard new possibilities in its intimacy and Rubenesque simplicity. We adopted Tom as our very own cool dope smoking uncle with a San Fernando Southern drawl and these songs that let us strum along and discover summer with Wildflowers spinning in our first car. We worked for several hours at part time jobs to purchase what we used to call Compact Discs. Wildflowers was one of the must haves that included “All Eyez on Me,” “Vitology,” and “Check Your Head.” Tom Petty was vital and hooked into VH1 for a very long time. He was there before Music TV and all the CDs, and he still stood there long after all the Towers fell, except for a few stores in Japan. 

It’s not until a master finally passes that we sometimes finally take account of the true depth of his or her work. For me those songs on this playlist are ‘Free Girl Now’ from Echo (1999) and ‘Can’t Stop The Sun’ from The Last DJ (2002).

It’s amazing how much the world has changed since Tom’s Last DJ album told the true story of the rise of centralized Corporate radio playlists just as Napster hit the music industry like an iceberg in the North Atlantic. That ship has sunk and as recording artists most of us are moving about blindly, fishing for schools of data in our homemade submarines. Yet by the time Tom left this world, the power had shifted to a new wave of DJs and new quandaries for new artists trying to find their way onto the hierarchy of Spotify. These are the new DJs…for now. If life was fair Dennis Cook would be a Spotify King. But his mix, among the millions, is still yours. 

Tues Dec 5th KEXP Presents: Petty Party with Low Hums at Tractor Tavern
Wed Dec 6th KEXP Presents: Petty Party with American Girls at Tractor Tavern
Sat Dec 9th Everett Music Initiative Presents: Petty Party with Low Hums at Scuttlebutt Brewing in Everett
Fri Dec 22nd The Anniversary Boys Present Petty at Wild Buffalo in Bellingham