Beginning in 1976, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers were one of America's finest rock & roll bands ever, combining the ringing guitars of the Byrds with the gritty rhythmic drive of the Rolling Stones.
Petty's tales of American losers and dreamers were simple and direct, but emotionally charged. The Heartbreakers were a lean, tight band that could handle hard rock & roll and melodic pop equally well. The group gained critical attention and solid sales with their first album, but 1979's Damn the Torpedos was their commercial breakthrough, selling over two million copies; it couldn't have come at a better time, since Petty filed for bankruptcy before its release.
During the '80s, Petty sold consistently well, as he expanded his sound with the release of each album. In 1989, he released his first solo album, Full Moon Fever, which became his biggest hit yet. That momentum carried over into the next Heartbreakers release, 1991's Into the Great Wide Open, which went platinum. As they were preparing their next album, the group released a greatest-hits album in 1993 that contained the hit single "Mary Jane's Last Dance." Greatest Hits was the last album the group released on MCA Records. In 1994, Petty began a new contract with Warner Bros, releasing Wildflowers toward the end of that year; Wildflowers became another multi-platinum success for him. In 1995, MCA Records released a five-disc box set called Playback.
In the summer of 1996, Petty & the Heartbreakers released Songs and Music from She's the One. The Rick Rubin production Echo followed three years later. The year 2002 saw the release of The Last DJ, a scathing attack on the corporate greed inherent in the music business. It was followed in 2006 by a Petty solo album, Highway Companion. Another Heartbreakers album, Mojo, appeared on Reprise Records in 2010. Returning to their rehearsal space, The Clubhouse, in 2011, Petty & the Heartbreakers spent time demo'ing and recording what would become their 13th studio album. The harder, rockier Hypnotic Eye was released in July 2014, and became the first number one album in their career. On October 2, 2017, Petty was found at his home in cardiac arrest, and he died at a hospital in Santa Monica later that day. Nearly a year later, his family and band released the box set An American Treasure as a tribute to the departed rocker. A double-disc hits collection, The Best of Everything, followed in March 2019. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine