Bullz-Eye’s Best of 2010: Staff Writer Scott Malchus’ picks

Each year, when I sort through my favorite songs, I have trouble ranking them because each one has a different meaning to me. I always wind up creating a mixtape (or a playlist, for you younger readers) of those songs and arrange them so that the music flows like a great album or concert set. Without further ado, here’s my mix of the twenty songs I returned to for repeated listens throughout 2010.

“Fade Like a Shadow,” KT Tunstall
Tunstall continues to produce pop gems that are spirited, bright and full of life. This single from her latest, Tiger Suit, has everything you want in a single: a passionate delivery, a great melodic hook, and a unique rhythm that helps it stand out from other songs. A great way to kick off a mix tape.

“I Should Have Known It,” Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers
The lead single from Mojo has that vintage Petty snarl and bite. The rest of the album may be a mixed bag, but this great rocker builds to kick-ass guitar jam and stands up with some of their best.

Read the rest after the jump...

Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers: Classic Albums: “Damn the Torpedoes”

When Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers entered the studio to record their important third album, 1979’s Damn the Torpedoes, they hired Jimmy Iovine, the brash New Yorker who had been involved with several other important third records, like Bruce Springsteen’s Born to Run (as an engineer) and Patti Smith’s Easter, to co-produce the album. Iovine’s drive and perfectionism were ideal for bringing out the best in the band and capturing the Heartbreakers’ blend of British Invasion rhythms and Byrds-like jangle and help them rise beyond cult favorites to superstar status. The making of Damn the Torpedoes would become an enormous challenge for the band, not only in the studio, as egos clashed, but with their record company, who at one point threatened not to release the album. The story behind this important album, one that is credited with “saving rock ‘n roll” from disco, is laid out in this superb Classic Albums DVD from Eagle Vision, another in their long line of excellent documentaries about important records in rock history.

You know the songs: “Refugee,” “Don’t Do Me Like That,” “Here Comes My Girl,” and “Even the Losers.” To this day, these songs are played constantly on rock radio. What’s fascinating about this DVD is learning how those songs came together, to hear Petty, guitarist Mike Campbell, keyboardist Benmont Tench and Iovine discuss the methods they went about piecing the songs together from riffs, to getting the band to play them just right during the recording process. It’s also nice to hear from the engineer on the record, the legendary Shelly Yakus, on how he came up with some of the record’s signature sounds, including the distinct quality of Stan Lynch’s drums.

The feuds between Lynch and Iovine were constant, with the producer grinding the band’s drummer about the way he played. At one point, Lynch left, was fired or quit. As Tench makes clear, many talented drummers came in to audition, but none of them were right for the Heartbreakers – none of them were Stan Lynch. Unfortunately, Lynch is the only original member of the band who did not provide a current interview for this DVD. As we understand it, he has a “been there done that” attitude about discussing his days with the Heartbreakers (he wouldn’t even get involved with “Runnin’ Down a Dream,” the monumental Peter Bogdanovich-directed documentary from 2008). However, the producers dug up some old interviews with Lynch to insert at the right moments so that the accounts of making this historical album were not one-sided. It was also nice to hear Tench and bassist Ron Blair speak so fondly about Lynch, with Blair even holding out hope that someday he may jam with them again.

In addition to the details about the making of Damn the Torpedoes, getting to watch the band members listen to the original tapes for the first time in years and to have Tench explain how he and Yakus happened upon some of the beautiful textures Tench added to the mix, there is the history of the band’s struggles with their record company. When the band’s original contract with ABC records was sold to MCA, Petty refused to just join the new label (especially a huge corporation) without his consent. At one point he filed for bankruptcy as he battled MCA, who threatened to not let him release Damn the Torpedoes.  Fortunately, Danny Bramson’s fledgling label, Backstreet Records, stepped in to help foster a deal between Petty and MCA and things were smoothed out.

Of course, the album was released to great critical acclaim, it spawned numerous hits, and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers broke through to the mainstream. The DVD captures all of the joy and excitement of the band’s success and is a must-see for any fan of the Heartbreakers and good music in general. (Eagle Vision 2010)

Click here to purchase Classic Albums: Damn the Torpedoes from Amazon


Summerfest: Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers w/ZZ Top

Virtually every summer, my wife and I make the trek from our home in California to Wisconsin for Milwaukee’s Summerfest. I grew up in a nearby suburb and the 11-day Summerfest is an institution. With 11 stages, 700 bands and around a million visitors, it’s one of the largest, if not the largest music fest in the world.

Kicking off our 2010 Summerfest was Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers with special guest ZZ Top. Tom Petty has always been a ‘safe bet’ in terms of an entertaining concert experience. His set list is consistently loaded with familiar hits and with his 35 years and 15 albums, he has a large oeuvre to draw from. Last night, he started off strong with “Listen to Her Heart,” “You Don’t Know How It Feels,” “I Won’t Back Down,” and “Free Fallin'” before covering Fleetwood Mac’s “Oh Well.” The band played two more big hits — “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” and “Breakdown” — before moving through four tracks from their new album, Mojo. From a pure concertgoer standpoint, this setup gave attendees an opportunity to head to the concession stand without missing any major songs. Some artists will try to keep fans in their seats by sprinkling in new music with old hits, and it can make it difficult to know when to hit the proverbial head.

After the Mojo interlude, the band closed the main set with an acoustic version of “Learning to Fly,” a blistering rendition of “Don’t Come Around Here No More” and the tried but true “Refugee.” As an encore, they played “Running Down a Dream,” “Mystic Eyes” (Them cover) and “American Girl.”

ZZ Top opened, and while they’re getting on in years, they still sound great. The underrated “Waitin’ for the Bus / Jesus Just Left Chicago” medley was a personal highlight, but all of their ’80s singles (“Legs,” “Sharp Dressed Man,” “Cheap Sunglasses,” etc.) sound better in person without all the crappy production so prevalent in that era. They closed with “La Grange” and “Tush,” so it turned out to be a very satisfying greatest hits setlist.

Photo from fOTOGLIF


Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers: The Live Anthology

RIYL: The Byrds, Bob Dylan, Kings of Leon

Tom Petty set the standard for greatest hits compilations in 1993 when he released the aptly-titled Greatest Hits, which included 16 of his biggest singles, a soon-to-be-smash (“Mary Jane’s Last Dance”), and a very worthwhile cover (Thunderclap Newman’s “Something in the Air”). While some might argue that 1983’s “Change of Heart” (peaking at #21) and 1987’s “Jammin’ Me” (#18) were technically bigger hits than some of the singles that were included, no Petty fan worth his salt is going to argue that those two tunes held up better than the likes of “Listen to Her Heart” (#59) or “Here Comes My Girl” (#59).

Fast forward two years to Petty’s first box set, 1995’s Playback, which was a hodgepodge of hit singles, live tracks and rarities. The set wasn’t very cohesive, but it was important because of its excellent sixth disc (“Nobody’s Children”), which featured 11 leftover tracks from 1986 to 1993 – maybe the most productive span of Petty’s career.

Then there was 2000’s Anthology: Through the Years, which was essentially an expansion of the Greatest Hits disc, though, oddly enough, it didn’t include anything from post-Greatest Hits albums Wildflowers (“You Don’t Know How It Feels,” “It’s Good to Be King,” “You Wreck Me”), She’s The One (“Walls”) or Echo (“Free Girl Now,” “Room At the Top”).

petty live

So now we have The Live Anthology, which comes in several different formats – the standard set (48 tracks on 4 CDs), the deluxe set (62 tracks on 5 CDs, including a 14-track bonus disc, two DVDs, a Blu-Ray disc, a vinyl re-master of of the ’76 Official Live Leg, and more, only available at Best Buy), and a vinyl deluxe box set (51 tracks pressed on seven 180-gram audiophile quality vinyl LPs). This review is of the digital version of the standard set, which is the first live release from Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers since 1986’s Pack Up the Plantation-Live!

Eleven songs in the set are live versions of tracks included on both Greatest Hits and Anthology. (Think big hits like “Refugee” and “American Girl.”) Most of these tracks are relatively faithful interpretations of the studio versions, save for the beautiful “Learning to Fly” and “I Won’t Back Down,” which Petty often plays in concert with a much sparser production. Both tunes are well worth a listen.

Nine album tracks from The Live Anthology also made my recommended Tom Petty Deep Cuts playlist, and are welcome additions here. It’s hard to pick favorites, but it’s nice to see “Angel Dream (No. 2)” and “Have Love Will Travel” get some live love, and “Dreamville” is an especially impressive live performance. “Southern Accents” is vastly improved from the album version since it’s without the irritating, echoing cross stick that was used in the studio.

Considering that the set has been culled together from hundreds of hours of live recordings from 1979 to 2007, the most impressive thing is how cohesive each disc sounds when played start to finish. It’s almost as if the listener gets four individual, hour-long sets from the Heartbreakers. The band has never been afraid to dive into a cover or two, as evidenced by the the presence of Fleetwood Mac’s “Oh Well,” the Zombies’ “I Want You Back Again,” Booker T. and the MGs “Green Onions,” the Grateful Dead’s “Friend of the Devil,” the Dave Clark Five’s “Any Way You Want It” and more.

The Live Anthology is by no means definitive, but it provides a good, in-depth look at one of the greatest live acts of the last thirty years. Moreover, it’s available at the band’s website for $18.49, which is a nice deal for almost four hours of music. (Reprise, 2009)


The scoop on Tom Petty and the Heartbreaker’s SuperHighway Tour

Perhaps the greatest reward an older artist can have is the satisfaction of knowing a massive representation of their work is available for all to experience. Some musicians quit their bands or go on hiatus, only to reunite for all the wrong reasons. Others simply slap together one or several predictable compilations. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers will never succumb to this level of triviality. The band has been together since 1976, constantly touring and recording. In watching them perform at last year’s Super Bowl, it’s obvious how important they are to American music.

Over the years, the band has created an impressive catalogue of studio albums, but their live act also continues to earn heaps of praise. On November 24, Reprise Records will unveil The Live Anthology, a 4-disc box set (also available for download) containing 48 tracks compiled by Tom Petty, Mike Campbell, and Ryan Ulyate from three decades worth of live material. The package also looks spectacular, featuring artwork from Shepard Fairey, who recently designed the “HOPE” poster for Obama’s presidential campaign.

Come November 22, Best Buy will have the honor of exclusively selling the deluxe version in the U.S. In addition to the standard package, buyers will receive an extra disc of live material, two previously unavailable DVDs, a Blu-ray disc featuring all 62 songs in pristine 96K 24-bit audio, and a seven LP vinyl box set of 51 tracks. Damn.

Still, retrospectives the size of Smart cars are nothing new. Tom Petty knows this, so instead of simply treating his fans to a delectable live package, his team created a one-of-a-kind sensation to up to the ante. It’s called the SuperHighway Tour, an online experience that augments The Live Anthology. By purchasing a “ticket” to the SuperHighway Tour, fans can access commentary, vintage photos, and a virtual merchandise booth, all the while surfing through its visually stunning website.

Here’s how the label describes it:

Fans will also be able to share their photos and stories from their favorite Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers shows. Then on the album’s November 24 release, ticketholders will receive the remaining 24 tracks on The Live Anthology, thereby completing the digital album.

Access to the Superhighway Tour will be available to fans that purchase “tickets” from Ticketmaster.com or through the Superhighway Tour box office.

Tickets for the entire 8-week Superhighway Tour are on sale now through Ticketmaster.com and TomPettySuperHighwayTour.com. The price of a Superhighway Tour ticket includes all 48 The Live Anthology digital tracks plus the 8-week online experience for $24.98 without any additional service fees. Downloads will be available in 256kbps MP3 or FLAC formats – fan’s choice.

A FREE PREVIEW of the SuperHighway Tour is now available at http://www.tompettysuperhighwaytour.com and includes a FREE DOWNLOAD of a track from the 1981 run of shows at Los Angeles’ Forum.

The release of The Live Anthology comes on the heels of two sold out tours, the Grammy winning documentary Runnin’ Down A Dream (directed by Peter Bogdanovich), and a headline performance at the Super Bowl XLII halftime show. Now, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers – one of rock and roll’s greatest touring bands – will mark their unparalleled string of success with the release of this landmark collection of live recordings that is unlike anything previously available – the band’s story told through the music alone.

The producers made no fixes or overdubs, letting the newly mixed original recordings showcase the invention, spontaneity, craft, and the musicianship that has made Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers among the most celebrated live performers of their time. Along with powerful interpretations of their own classic hits and originals, The Live Anthology features the band tackling some of their best-loved cover material, from classics to obscure beauties to unexpected adaptations. The theme from Goldfinger, the Zombies’ “I Want You Back Again,” the Grateful Dead’s “Friend of the Devil,” early Fleetwood Mac’s “Oh Well,” Booker T. and the MGs’ “Green Onions,” James Brown’s “Good, Good Lovin'” and many more. Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers travel wide, paying their musical debts through song and showing just how confidently the band moves across genres and over time.

It’s like going to a concert and avoiding the long lines, body odor, and drunken idiots. Seriously though, this is an innovative idea — one that guarantees weeks of staring at your computer and rocking out like you’re actually in attendance.