The stories behind our favorite Tom Petty songs

Because most of us have one

From the vast majority of articles and posts that have popped up in his commemoration, here’s a short list of some of our most beloved Petty songs — and the stories of why.

American Girl

“Reminds me of good times with my friends when we were teens. We did landscaping jobs and we would bring a big speaker with us and blast music while we worked.”

“During his concert in Seattle, it was his encore song, and people were absolutely losing their minds — dancing on the dugouts of Safeco Field, running up and down the stairs, just going wild. It made me see why there was such a backlash against rock n roll in the early days of the genre, when it was considered the “devil’s music” — everyone just seemed to lose their inhibitions and just BE. I was absolutely breathless. Hearing that song takes me back to that moment.” — suntbone

“When I was studying abroad in London, this subway guitarist invited a couple of us to his show later that night and when we rolled in, he played American Girl as a thank you.”

Don’t Come Around Here No more

“I saw him perform at Red Rocks in Colorado in 2005. The Black Crowes were opening for him. I went in liking him but wouldn’t call myself a fan. I knew his music and enjoyed it, but didn’t own any albums or seek him out. Seeing him live changed everything. I was blown away and the whole night was magical.
Plus there was a storm brewing over downtown Denver in the distance near the end of the concert. On more than one occasion in the chorus of “Don’t Come Around Here No More,” during the “Hey!” exclamation, lightning struck right on the beat. And the crowd went wild. It was like he was orchestrating the heavens.” — aimelaine

Free Falling

“Plays on the radio all the time, and makes good phone hold music.”

“ It’s my summer windows open early morning song… not super loud, I like the neighbours.” — eatscakesandleaves

“My mom used to have a playlist of songs that she’d blast in the living room, and we’d just clean the house and listen to the music. She loved Tom Petty so much and had a bunch of different songs from him. But every time Free Falling came on she’d sing the first part to me, saying it was about me. I still cry every time I hear it because it brings me back to those days.” — Bellamermie

“It makes me fee invigorated” — ApricotPickles

“Free balling.” — HiramgJones

I Won’t Back Down

“I grew up listening to Tom Petty as my dad is a big fan.” — ConnieC60

Learning to Fly

“When he performs it live, it’s the most emotional thing. First time I saw it live I had tears streaming down my face.”

Mary Jane’s Last Dance

“Anytime Mary Jane’s Last Dance comes on unexpectedly on the radio as you’re cruising through the night, windows down, and not a worry in the world. Man, you know that feeling.” — cumbomb

“It gives me a lot of nostalgia for times gone by, singing with my father in his old Chevrolet.” — planetearthisblu

“My mom always liked Petty when I was a kid and I have nice memories of us listening to him together.” — sleekkills

“That song makes me nostalgic for singing songs with my dad when he picked me up from school every day.” — marxistqueen_

“Its just such a summer song.” — devinsaw


“I can feel the guitar when I listen to the song. Playing it on guitar, especially the solo is amazing. Some songs just resonate with you.” — sanjeetsuhag

“It basically says man up you ain’t the only one who’s had it tough.”

“No matter how high the highs of the chorus, or how impassioned Petty’s growls, for me this song is about easing in the clutch and shifting the guitar into fourth gear.”

Something Good’s Coming

“I always listen to this song when I feel like there’s nothing worth fighting for anymore. Thank you, Tom.” — zanathewolf


“It was my father/daughter dance song at my wedding.” — authoritative-figure

“It was on a very emotional episode of Parks and Rec and I met a lot of my good friends through that show, and it’s just a lovely lovely lovely song.” — monalisas-madhats

Zombie Zoo

“Not one of the big hits, but it was on the album that my mom played in the car all the time. It’s hard to say why I liked it, but I guess as a kid I always sort of looked up to “alternative” teenagers, and I liked the images.”


Breakdown is my favorite. As of, like, the last six months.

It wasn’t really on my radar until I worked at the bar, but sometimes it comes up on our playlist, and goddamn if that fucking song doesn’t nestle right in under the hide of my skin as I’m stretching forward to run a rag over those stainless steel counters, or watching the slow tumble of frothy beer head overflowing the edge of a pint glass, or turning the lights down for the later-night crowd, or eying them as they sit, timing when to walk up and ask them, “hey, hon… what’ll it be?” Or wondering the same question of myself, when it’s slow. (And on that note, I guess I would like Something Good’s Coming, too.)

Anyway, Breakdown is baller.

But regardless of our favorite, most of us have one.

And reddit user CatsAndCaffeine may have put it best with:

“RIP Heartbreaker. You’ll live on forever in every road trip singalong for the rest of my life.”

Same, sister. Same.

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