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 a fine testimonial to one of America's finest bands, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.

© 1996 Steve Marshall