The Great Songs: Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers – Even the Losers

by Eric Melin on January 12, 2011

in Columns,The Great Songs

Back in 1994, my band Truck Stop Love was featured on a Tom Petty tribute record called “You Got Lucky.” (This was back in the time when people bought a lot of compilation CDs — you know — before the advent of the iPod “shuffle.”)

We appeared on an episode of ABC In Concert where some of the other bands performed Petty tunes at the House of Blues in L.A., and I got interviewed. “Why a Petty tribute?” I was surprised by how eloquent my answer was at that young age. It was something like: “When you grow up, you go through all different phases of the kind of music you like. But after you’ve explored everything, you always come back to somebody like Tom Petty — just good, old-fashioned great songwriting.”

Petty-Damn-Torpedoes-LPThat really sums it up for me for this journeyman songwriter. Now Petty has his ups and down, like any songwriter, but the amount of great material from the 1970s forward is pretty astounding. Again, none of it mind-blowing — just simple pop tunes with big hooks, pure guitar sounds, and healthy dose of sincerity and lackadaisical twang.

“Even the Losers” is my favorite Petty song (from his best record, 1979’s “Damn the Torpedoes”). After a bizarre opening that sounds like another song ending, it kicks in with that that sweet hollow-body guitar sound (he and lead guitarist Mike Campbell never sounded better together than on this record) and heads right into the verse. Easily reminiscent of The Byrds, it’s bright and alive with youthful exuberance.

Petty’s lyrics tell the tale of a kid who had a brief wondrous moment with a girl that was way out of his league. They “smoked cigarettes” and “stared at the moon” on her roof. She kissed like fire. What a night. But alas, it was too good to last.

His take? “Even the losers get lucky sometimes.” It’s a perfect mix of wistful nostalgia and real heartbreak.

Anyway, apparently, ABC didn’t think I was so eloquent. They didn’t use my interview snippet on the air. Everclear was getting really popular at the moment, so they used Art instead. No hard feelings, though. We had our moment in the sun. The losers do get lucky sometimes.

The Great Songs series so far:

The Great Songs: Big Star – Thirteen

The Great Songs: The Kinks – Waterloo Sunset

The Great Songs: The Jayhawks – Blue

The Great Songs: Pavement – Summer Babe

The Great Songs: The Zombies – Care of Cell 44

The Great Songs: The O’Jays – Back Stabbers

The Great Songs: Queen & David Bowie – Under Pressure

The Great Songs: George Jones – He Stopped Loving Her Today

The Great Songs: Joy Division – Love Will Tear Us Apart

The Great Songs: KISS – Deuce

The Great Songs: The Flying Burrito Brothers – Hot Burrito #1

The Great Songs: The Flaming Lips – Do You Realize??

The Great Songs: Pink Floyd – Astronomy Domine

The Great Songs: The Beach Boys – Surf’s Up

The Great Songs: Marvin Gaye – Let’s Get it On

The Great Songs: Slayer – Angel of Death

The Great Songs: Elvis Costello & The Attractions – Beyond Belief

The Great Songs: The Replacements – Unsatisfied

The Great Songs: Cheap Trick – Surrender

The Great Songs: Guided by Voices – Motor Away

The Great Songs: The Louvin Brothers – Knoxville Girl

The Great Songs: Badfinger – Baby Blue

The Great Songs: Ray Charles – That Lucky Old Sun

The Great Songs: Television – Marquee Moon

The Great Songs: Neil Young and Crazy Horse – Cortez the Killer

The Great Songs: David Bowie – Life On Mars?

The Great Songs: Thin Lizzy – The Cowboy Song

The Great Songs: The Delfonics – Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind This Time)

The Great Songs: The Beatles – She Said She Said

The Great Songs: The Velvet Underground – Heroin

The Great Songs: The Flamin’ Groovies – Shake Some Action

Eric is the Editor-in-Chief of and writes for The Pitch. He’s former President of the KCFCC, and drummer for The Dead Girls, Ultimate Fakebook, and Truck Stop Love . He is also Air Guitar World Champion Mean Melin. Eric goes to 11. Follow him at:

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Reed January 12, 2011 at 9:32 am

Great posing and an excellent choice to add to the Great Songs compendium. Petty’s vocal approach to this one has a yearning that sounds forlorn, hence the nostalgia factor. He’s exuberantly bummed out. Love this song!


2 Rich Yarges January 12, 2011 at 6:19 pm

Classic! Great Post Bobbie. I had this album in my car last fall for about month and listend to it over and over again. It’s one of the Great Ones.


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