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Tom Petty’s 10 Most Memorable Songs

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I am no musician, but I know what I like. I write about songs that deserve to be played forever.


Rock and roll lost an immense talent on October 2, 2017, when Tom Petty died of a cardiac arrest. It was a shock to hear the news, because Tom hadn’t been ill, and he wasn’t elderly. I remember when I got his cassette tape back in the 1980s. The album was Damn the Torpedoes, and the song that caused me to buy the album was “Refugee.” After that album, Tom began to roll with hit after hit after hit. He did it either with the band or on solo albums.

Although I enjoyed his music, I didn’t really know much about him. I then saw the documentary on Netflix entitled Tom Petty: Runnin’ Down a Dream, and that documentary told the story of how he formed his band, how they became famous, and all the highs and lows of being a successful rock band. It is a great movie, and a must-see for any fan of Tom and his music.

When you think of Tom Petty, what songs come to mind? Here are some of the most memorable songs that he recorded.

1. “Runnin Down a Dream”

This song came from the album Full Moon Fever in 1989. The song reached number 23 in Canada and the US on the Billboard charts. The song is the perfect road song. It grooves with the guitar riffs and the steady drum beat. The song was written by Tom Petty, Mike Campbell, and Jeff Lynne. In the lyrics he gives a nod to one of his inspirations, Del Shannon, with the lines,

It was a beautiful day, the sun beat down
I had the radio on, I was drivin'
Trees flew by, me and Del were singin' little Runaway
I was flyin'

The song was used in the video game Grand Theft Auto San Andreas. It's a great way to live forever in classic games.


2. “Free Fallin”

This another great song that came from the album Full Moon Fever. This was the first solo album that Tom made, and it is a wonderful album. Tom Petty wrote the song along with Jeff Lynne (from ELO fame) Jeff produced the album. Tom and Jeff were sitting around trying to come up with a song, and according to Wikipedia he got Tom to say free falling. The song was written in just two days.

Tom Petty said the song wasn’t about any person in particular, it is just things he saw while riding along Ventura Boulevard. The song reached number 7 on Billboard. It is a song that everyone knows the lyrics to. It's great to play when you want to get into a certain mellow mood.


3. “American Girl”

This is the second song from the Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers debut album Damn The Torpedoes. It didn’t chart in the US until 1994. The album came out in 1977. The song was written by Tom Petty around the time they signed their first recording contract. An interesting fact is the song was recorded on July 4, 1976—how ironic due to the title of the song.

Tom Petty said that he was influenced by music from the sixties and the group The Byrds. In the movie, Tom Petty: Runnin Down a Dream, Roger McGuinn (from the Byrds) is given the song by his manager. Roger asks him “When did I record that?” His manager said, “It isn’t you “and Roger said, “I know, who is it?” Roger must have liked it because he recorded his own version of it on the album Thunderbyrd in 1977. The song mimics Roger’s 12-string guitar playing by having Tom and Mike mirroring each other playing the guitar. It is a great sound. Tom also used a Bo Diddley beat in the song. All his musical influences bonded perfectly together to create a magical rock song.


4. “Refugee”

The second single that came from Damn the Torpedoes, this song reached number 15 on the Billboard charts. This song wasn’t easy to write. Mike Campbell create the music for the song and gave the cassette to Tom. Mike had been listening to Mick Taylor on his album Crusade 1967. Mike would practice playing it and he said it rubbed off on him. Tom created the lyrics and the rest is history. It is a hard driving rock song.


5. “You Don’t Know How It Feels”

This song comes from the second solo album by Tom Petty called Wildflowers which was released in 1994. This song ended up number 13 in the Billboard Top 100. The drum part is reminiscent of Queen’s song, “Another One Bites the Dust”, and the harmonica has that Bob Dylan, Beatles, Neil Young vibe. This song just grooves.


6. “You Got Lucky”

This song reached number 20 on the Billboard charts. It is a little different sound for the band with synthesizers being in the forefront instead of guitars. Tom Petty and the band made some great music videos, and this song is no exception. The inspiration for the video was from the movie Mad Max 2 which was released in 1981. The lyrics are so self-assured and confident. The singer sings,

"If you can do better than go, just go but remember good love is hard to find, good love is hard to find, you got lucky babe when I found you."

It has lines that everyone would love to say to a love gone wrong.


7. “Don’t Do Me Like That”

The song is from the fantastic album Damn the Tornadoes. It was the first single from the album released in 1979. Wikipedia states that Tom was ready to give the song to the J Geils Band, but the producer Jimmy Iovine felt like it would be a hit, and it sure was. The song reached number 10 on the Billboard Hot Songs chart. This song has the beat, it has the organ, guitar, and a jamming drum beat all mingled together to make the perfect song. Tom’s vocal sells the song even more. If you can’t move to this song, you have no love of music.


8. “Don’t Come Around Here No More”

This is from Tom Petty and the Heart Breaker’s album Southern Accents released in 1985. The song was written by Tom and Dave Stewart from the Eurhythmics. This song came about when Dave met Stevie Nicks at a party. He didn’t know she was with Fleetwood Mac. Stevie invited him to a party at her house. She had broken up with Joe Walsh, and when he showed up at her house she told him, “Don’t Come Around Here No More.” It is a great line, and the video is very clever with an Alice in Wonderland theme. The words in the song make it clear that Tom wants nothing more to do with his ex-love, even though she can’t seem to stop trying to make things right. What a song.


9. “I Won’t Back Down”

A song from Tom Petty’s first solo album Full Moon Fever in 1989. It was written by Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne they make a great song writing team. The song ended up Number 12 on the Billboard Top 100. A song of defiance with great lyrics “I will stand my ground and I won’t back down.” It appealed to sports events where it was played, and it was used on American radio after the attack on America on 9/11. I think all of America felt that love of country, and this song spoke about not letting anyone or anything break us down. We all have that fighting spirit from time to time and this song epitomizes it.


10.“Stop Dragging my Heart Around”

A duet with Tom Petty and Stevie Nicks. It came from Stevie Nick’s album Bella Donna which was released in 1981. The song was originally recorded by Tom and his band, but the producers of Tom’s album Hard Promises thought it was more of a song from a female’s point of view. Later Tom did put it on his boxed set Playback in 1995. Stevie would have been a great member of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. In the film Tom Petty: Runnin Down a Dream, she said if Tom had asked her to join his band she would have. Stevie is great in Fleetwood Mac, but one wonders how much greater she might have been with Tom and his band.

Tom Petty recorded some great music that doesn’t sound dated. He gave us sounds from that period of music he loved the sixties, he also loved Elvis, and he created this sound that can only be described as magical. Tom Petty crafted beautiful lyrics, he created wonderful music, and he found the world of music video which gave the fan a movie to go with the song. Tom Petty and his band will keep the pulse of rock and roll beating from here to eternity.

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