Rock icon's songs captured the determination, drive, and optimism of the American working man.
Tom Petty has passed away at the age of 66, and there are many today who are echoing the thoughts of writer Tom Hoopes, who credits Petty with writing “the soundtrack to my life.”
The Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, who recently celebrated 40 years of heading up The Heartbreakers, was a rock icon responsible for a number of classic hits since the 1970s. His 2014 album Hypnotic Eye reached #1 on Billboard’s Top 200. In honor of Petty’s body of work, which included a recurring role as “Lucky” in King of the Hill, we have assembled a list of some of our favorite Tom Petty hits.
1 – Free Fallin’
Of course “Free Fallin'” should be on the top of the list. This is easily Petty’s greatest hit. It enjoyed commercial success long before Jerry McGuire featured Tom Cruise singing along in an iconic scene.
“Free Fallin'” was released on Petty’s 1989 album Full Moon Fever, the tracks of which were all written by Petty and his guitarist Jeff Lynne. The duo wrote and recorded this classic hit in 2 days.
2 – I Won’t Back Down
Another hit from his 1989 album Full Moon Fever.
Petty’s music often captured the determination, drive and optimism the working man, but none more so than “I Won’t Back Down.” In an interview with Mojo magazine, Petty recalled the day they recorded this song:
“At the session George Harrison sang and played the guitar. I had a terrible cold that day, and George went to the store and bought a ginger root, boiled it and had me stick my head in the pot to get the ginger steam to open up my sinuses, and then I ran in and did the take.”
3 – American Girl
“American Girl” was Petty’s first hit with Tom Petty and the Hearbreakers from their self-titled debut album, in 1976. It debuted in the UK, reaching #40, but it did not chart in the US until it was re-released in 1994.
In an interview with Rolling Stone, Petty recounted the inspiration for writing “American Girl”:
“I don’t remember exactly. I was living in an apartment where I was right by the freeway. And the cars would go by. In Encino, near Leon Russell’s house. And I remember thinking that that sounded like the ocean to me. That was my ocean. My Malibu. Where I heard the waves crash, but it was just the cars going by. I think that must have inspired the lyric.”
4 – Refugee
“Refugee” was released in 1980 as the second single from Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ third album, Damn the Torpedoes. The Tune peaked at number 15 on Billboard’s Hot 100.
5 – Learning to Fly
“Learning to Fly” was another song Petty wrote with Jeff Lynne. It was released in 1991 on Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ eighth album, Into the Great Wide Open. The song follows a standard “rock” pattern, but with an unusual cadence, which is perhaps what led it to number 28 on Billboard’s Hot 100.