Skip to main content

Some Great Tom Petty Songs

Petty fan since 1993. No other artist has made me laugh and cry, inspired, or given me more perspective than he has. Truly a legend.


I've been a Tom Petty fan since 1993. No other artist has inspired me, given me perspective, made me laugh, and brought me to tears like he did. Truly a legend, Petty's songs spin simple, folksy lyrics into catchy tunes that tell a story. In an era where most music is pre-packaged, his songs are a breath of fresh air. These songs are the soundtrack to my life.

"Free Fallin'"

Supposedly, Tom told his friend the first few lyrics to make him laugh: "She's a good girl, loves her mama, loves Jesus, and America too". I'm not sure why, but I'm glad he did.

When this song plays, somehow everybody knows the lyrics. Of course, it gets funnier as the night goes on and the people who have had a lot to drink, bellow out the chorus enthusiastically and loudly. Good thing it's an awesome song!

This song reminds me of every type-A, perfect grade personality in high school—they seem put together, but are they? Is it all an act? Do they have a dark side? Maybe a secret obsession? Are they burnt out?

Or, is it a glimpse into someone's real life?—how life can be strange and gritty?

With lyrics like:

"All the vampires walking through the valley, move west down Ventura Boulevard".

"I'm gonna free fall out into nothing. I'm gonna leave this world for a while."



"Breakdown" is all of us. We've all been there—a break up. You see it in the other persons' face. A love lost, but you still care about each other. It's heartbreaking, it's raw, it's emotional. Tonight, you'll enjoy each others' company and tomorrow, you'll be strangers. Coupled with a broody undertones, and you have a hit.

With lyrics like:

"There is no sense in pretending. Your eyes give you away. Something inside you is feeling like I do. We said all there is to say."

"Breakdown, now I'm standing here, can't you see? Breakdown, it's alright. It's alright. It's alright."

Scroll to Continue

Read More From Spinditty


"You Don't Know How It Feels"

This song seems like a conversation around the campfire, with a wonderful lead harmonica. A nice, breezy talk about past loves, how time flies, and perhaps a father in poor health: "He's still trying to beat the clock". Maybe a conversation with his father, which is why he says: "You don't know how it feels".

With lyrics like:

"People come, people go. Some grow young, some grow cold".

"Think of me what you will. I got a little space to fill".

"I Won't Back Down"

Interestingly, the song "Stay With Me", sung by Sam Smith was so close to this song that Tom earned royalties from it.

This is one of my favorite Petty songs, and one of my favorite songs of all-time. As cheesy as it sounds, I listen to this song in times of struggle, and it brings out my own internal warrior. It gets me pumped up, and reminds me of the light at the end of the tunnel.

A song never struck such a chord at the 9/11 Tribute Concert, where the nation was still reeling, shocked from the events that took place only a few days prior. It became everything we wanted to say in that moment; the fear, the grief, the anger. The song united us as a country, even for a moment, and brought us back to our roots of guerilla rebellion. "I Won't Back Down" became an anthem of American defiance.

With lyrics like:

"You can stand me up at the gates of hell, but I won't back down".

"No I'll stand my ground. I won't be turned around".

"I will stand my ground. And I won't back down".


"Mary Jane's Last Dance"

Ah. This one. This song also makes my favorites. I first saw the music video in third grade and I was mesmerized. Absolutely mesmerized. It was Kim Basinger in a Weekend At Bernie's type-situation, with dark undertones, spooky lyrics, and a killer guitar break. It was beautiful.

I always thought this song was a reference to addiction, and of course, we all know what Mary Jane can be a reference to.

Then, there's Mary Jane. She's the new girl who gets the guys, but it seems like she breaks down towards the end. I wonder about her home life. We already know her mother's not around. Is she getting into trouble? Is she an alcoholic? It makes me wonder what would become of Mary Jane after eighteen.

Or, is it simply small town living and you feel like you're stuck?

Also, why did Tom choose the name, "Mary Jane" specifically? We know the name "Mary" through the Bible, and that Mary was a virgin and Mary Magdalene was not. Does Mary represent a Mary or Mary Magdalene-type person? (Notice the middle name in both Mary Jane and Mary Magdalene.)

Does Mary represent a girl-next-door figure, all-American female? Do we know someone like her? Is this a story of her growing up?

With lyrics like:

" more time to kill the pain. I feel summer creeping in and I'm tired of this town again".

"I don't know what I've been told. You never slow down; you never grow old. Tired of screwing up, tired of going down, tired of myself, tired of this town".


"Learning to Fly"

This song reminds me of the ups and downs of life—good and bad things will happen, but we needed to stay grounded. He could be referencing birth through adulthood, which is why the song starts out on "a dirty road", and "all alone".

I found myself listening to this song a lot during college, when the future seems unclear for most. The common, and most disheartening question is: What am I going to be when I grow up? Tom basically says that we don't have to decide; we just keep moving forward. That life is a journey. Thanks, Tom.

With lyrics like:

"I'm learning to fly, but I ain't got wings. Coming down is the hardest thing".

"So I've started out, for God knows where. Guess I know, when I'll get there."


"Into the Great Wide Open"

This song may very well be Tom Petty's autobiography. He's possibly talking about when he was younger, green, and paying his dues in different bands. Maybe he yearns for his childhood, like most of us do, before we had major responsibilities. Luckily, I don't think he was the kind of person to live with regret.

With lyrics like:

"The future was wide open".

"They made a record and it went in the chart. The sky was the limit."


"Stop Draggin' My Heart Around"

Truth be told, these are not my favorite lyrics, but I love me some Stevie Nicks. Stevie and Tom's voices sound really great in harmony. There was also a rumor (Ha! Rumours...Fleetwood Mac joke) that they dated in some capacity. This song was also on Stevie's debut solo album.

On a side note, I read that Stevie's song "Edge of Seventeen" was inspired after Tom's wife told her that she knew him "from the age of seventeen". Cool, huh?

"Stop Dragging My Heart Around" is that one guy that was either the "bad guy" you had a crush on, or a boyfriend that wasn't good for you, or both. Either way, you can't just cut him from your life completely. You can't help yourself. I get it.

With lyrics like:

"It's hard to think about what you've wanted. It's hard to think about what you've lost
This doesn't have to be the big get even.This doesn't have to be anything at all".

"Baby, you could never look me in the eye. Yeah, you buckle with the weight of the words".

Can't get enough Petty? I don't blame you.


Hope you're still writing and rocking, Mr. Petty, wherever you are. We'll keep enjoying your work.

© 2017 Lauren Sutton

Related Articles