KEXP Video Roundup: Happy Birthday, Tom Petty

photo by Judy Dean / judydeanimages.com

In the weeks since Tom Petty‘s sudden death, dozens of musicians have honored the rocker by covering his songs. The breadth and depth of these tributes is awe-inspiring: Sure, artists have gravitated toward the hits — “American Girl,” “Don’t Come Around Here No More,” “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” and “Free Fallin'” — but musicians have also given plenty of shine to deeper cuts and fan favorites, such as selections from his 1994 album Wildflowers.

To commemorate what would’ve been Petty’s 67th birthday (October 20), here are 22 covers of his songs. This list isn’t comprehensive — for example, Death Cab For Cutie’s take on “Free Fallin'” is a tough one to track down — but they do span eras, genres, and approaches. More importantly, all of these takes honor Petty’s rebellious spirit and highlight his knack for meticulous songwriting.

Rarely-seen photos of Tom Petty shared via a KEXP donor. Photographer Judy Dean grew up in the Los Angeles in the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s. As a young teenager, she was in the audience of the legendary TAMI Show, which fueled a life-long love of rock n’ roll. She would go on to photograph rock acts whenever she could, including the Rolling Stones, Neil Young, Humble Pie, and Tom Petty. These photos were recently discovered by her son, years after she passed away in 2001.

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Grace Jones – “Breakdown”

On her 1980 LP Warm Leatherette, Jones put a blues- and reggae-infused stamp on this early Heartbreakers tune. This particular take has additional lyrics that reiterate the song’s plea for a clean relationship break: “You say goodbye right now/I’ll still survive somehow/Why should we let this drag on?”

Pearl Jam – “I Won’t Back Down”

Pearl Jam has covered “I Won’t Back Down” for decades. During the band’s show at The Gorge on July 23, 2006, Eddie Vedder opened encore one with a delicate acoustic take on the tune.

Margo Price – “Mary Jane’s Last Dance”

After Petty died, Margo Price started performing a cover of his easygoing, genre-blending 1994 hit during her sets. Unsurprisingly, it’s a perfect match for her own chameleonic brand of Americana.

Fleet Foxes’ Robin Pecknold – “Don’t Come Around Here No More”

Robin Pecknold added hints of gorgeous psychedelia to this haunting solo acoustic cover of Petty’s mid-’80s classic.

Father John Misty – “To Find a Friend”

Speaking of acoustic tributes: Father John Misty chose this Wildflowers deep cut, which is about a man whose mid-life crisis came back to haunt him, to honor Petty.

The National – “Damaged By Love”


Damaged by Love singing Petty songs all day long. Thank you for all this incredible music.

A post shared by Bryce Dessner (@brycedessner) on

Bryce Dessner and Matt Berninger did a short but sweet acoustic snippet of Petty’s “Damaged By Love” to honor the songwriter. “Thank you for all this incredible music,” Dessner wrote along with the video.

Ryan Adams – “Even The Losers”

During their recent Austin City Limits set, Ryan Adams and his road-worn band exuded emotional weariness on a faithful cover of this anthem for the downtrodden and lovelorn.

Wilco – “Listen To Her Heart”

Wilco covered “The Waiting” in the wake of Petty’s passing, but are clearly long-time fans: Back in 1995, the band put a rowdy, barnstorming spin on this early Heartbreakers’ hit. Jeff Tweedy’s voice is ragged with longing, and the late Jay Bennett contributes a noisy, distorted guitar solo.

Against Me! – “Runnin’ Down a Dream”

One-time Florida resident Laura Jane Grace is an avowed Petty acolyte. In fact, she prefaced this careening, life-affirming live cover of “Runnin’ Down a Dream” by noting she bought a Rickenbacker guitar because of Petty.

Emmylou Harris, Steve Earle, Dave Matthews & Patty Griffin – “Refugee”

The recent Lampedusa: Concerts for Refugees held at the Moore Theatre opened with the venerable songwriters collaborating on a powerful acoustic version of Petty’s hit. Hearing the group sing lyrics such as “You don’t have to live like a refugee” in defiant unison is particularly goosebump-inducing.

The War On Drugs – “Time To Move On”

Yet another Wildflowers song gets the tribute treatment, this time thanks to heartland synth mavens the War on Drugs, who bring Dylan-esque gravitas to the deep cut.

Rosanne Cash – “Never Be You”

Cash took this Petty-penned tune to No. 1 on the country charts in the ’80s — and became visibly emotional during the sparse acoustic version she did in tribute at a recent show.

Johnny Cash — “I Won’t Back Down”

Was there a better song tailor-made for the country legend than “I Won’t Back Down”? (Answer: No.) That Petty himself added organs and his inimitable backing vocals to this rootsy take just add to the song’s rebellious tone.

Lone Justice – “Ways to Be Wicked”

“Ways to Be Wicked” was co-written by Petty and guitarist Mike Campbell, which in hindsight is obvious; the laissez-faire twang, buoyant organ, and Maria McKee’s emotive holler all bear the imprint of the Heartbreakers.

Matthew Sweet & Susanna Hoffs – “Here Comes My Girl”

Matthew Sweet and Susanna Hoffs’ covers albums have yielded a ton of gems — including this sunny, earnest take on “Here Comes My Girl.”

Avett Brothers and Valient Thorr’s Valient Himself – “Don’t Do Me Like That”

On paper, the pairing of folk-rock titans Avett Brothers and Valient Himself, the frontman of heavy metal marauders Valient Thorr, seems completely incongruous. This exuberant cover of Petty’s “Don’t Do Me Like That,” however, works like an absolute charm.

The Replacements – “Breakdown”

Future Petty tourmates the Replacements covered his “Breakdown” in spectacularly sloppy, abbreviated fashion on this legendary 1985 live effort, The Shit Hits the Fans. Later, Petty would return the homage (favor?) and nick a line from “I’ll Be You” for “Into The Great Wide Open.”

Shearwater and Sharon Van Etten – “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around”

Shearwater and Sharon Van Etten tackle one of the greatest rock duets of all time—and nail the song’s gritty romantic turmoil, thanks to urgent vocal deliveries and down-and-dirty rock riffage.

Coldplay featuring R.E.M.’s Peter Buck – “Free Fallin'”

The night Petty passed, Coldplay and special guest Peter Buck held a cathartic, communal cryfest to this indelible classic.

Titus Andronicus – “American Girl”

“American Girl” is a go-to love cover for dozens of acts. Leave it to Titus Andronicus, however, to turn the beloved tune into a chaotic, ramshackle and completely celebratory sing-along.

Adalita & J Mascis – “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around”

Come for the sinewy lead vocals of Australian musician Adalita; stay for the effortless, liquid guitar shredding of Dinosaur Jr’s J Mascis.

The Gaslight Anthem – “Refugee”

The Gaslight Anthem inject “Refugee” with the requisite raucous guitar swagger and steely, us-against-the-world vocal delivery.

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