Cosmic Debris — February 1996

Reviews:  TOM PETTY AND THE HEARTBREAKERS — Playback 1973-1993 (MCA)
By Steve Marshall
Cosmic Debris — February 1996

This past November, MCA released a new 6CD box set from Tom Petty and The  Heartbreakers entitled “Playback”. A veritable gold mine for Petty fans,  “Playback” contains a whopping 92 tracks – 42 of them previously unreleased.  The individual CDs (each with their own title) are packaged to look like mini-albums, complete with gatefold covers & protective inner sleeves. The CDs themselves look like reel-to-reel tapes.

The first three CDs chronicle Petty’s career from 1976 though 1993’s  “Greatest Hits” album. Disc one, “The Big Jangle”, features material from  the band’s self-titled debut through 1981’s “Hard Promises” album. With  such songs as “Breakdown”, “Refugee”, “Here Comes My Girl” and “A Woman  in Love”, “The Big Jangle” contains just about every early Heartbreakers  tune ever played on the radio. You can really hear The Byrds’ influence  in Petty’s music on this CD.

Disc two, “Spoiled & Mistreated”, covers the years 1982 through 1987. Songs  like “You Got Lucky” and “Don’t Come Around Here No More” find the band  treading on more experimental ground. The disc also includes Petty’s cover  of The Byrds’ “So You Want to Be a Rock & Roll Star”, and the poignant  38-second instrumental Mike Campbell tune, “Mike’s Life/Mike’s World”.

The third disc, “Good Booty” finds the band in it’s most successful period,  1989 through 1993. Even though The Heartbreakers don’t all appear on the  tracks from Full Moon Fever (arguably his best album), the album is well  represented on the box’s third CD. “Good Booty” also includes “Mary Jane’s  Last Dance” and “Christmas All Over Again”.

 The last three CDs in “Playback” are the real gems here though. All of the  tracks on these discs are previously unreleased in the U.S. Disc four, “The  Other Sides”, consists of fifteen B-sides, including several cover songs.  The live version of “Psychotic Reaction” features drummer Stan Lynch on  vocals. Other songs covered on “The Other Sides” include Nick Lowe’s  “Crackin’ Up”, and a live version of the 1959 Eddie Cochran hit, “Somethin’  Else”.

The box’s last two discs, “Through the Cracks” and “Nobody’s Children”, are  made up of various early performances, demos, outtakes, & alternate versions.  One of the highlights on the fifth disc, “Through the Cracks” is the 1974  version of “Don’t Do Me Like That” performed by Mudcrutch (Petty’s  pre-Heartbreakers band). “Through the Cracks” also features a demo of “Stop  Draggin’ My Heart Around” – without Stevie Nicks, and the box set’s earliest  track, “On the Street” (recorded in 1973 in keyboardist Benmont Tench’s  parents’ living room).

From the 1973 Mudcrutch track, “Up in Mississippi Tonight”, to the two  Elvis Presley covers (recorded during sessions for the 1993 “Greatest  Hits” album), the sixth disc  contains a wealth of unreleased material.  Also included on this CD are Petty’s original versions of “Got My Mind  Made Up” (later recorded by Bob Dylan) and “Ways to be Wicked” (later  recorded by Lone Justice).

The booklet included with the box is very informative, and chock full of  rare photos. The liner notes, written by Bill Flanagan, provide a  comprehensive look at the band’s history. There are also extensive notes  taken from various interviews with the band for each track. “Playback” is  an excellent testimonial to one of America’s finest bands, Tom Petty and  the Heartbreakers.

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