10 Best Tom Petty Songs of All Time (2023)

Let’s talk about Tom Petty, a legend in the rock and roll scene. He was born in Gainesville, Florida, on October 20, 1950, and had a tough childhood dealing with an abusive home life. But music came to his rescue, and he found solace in playing the guitar, inspired by greats like Elvis Presley and the Beatles.

At the age of 17, Petty quit school to join Mudcrutch, a band where he found his footing as the frontman and songwriter. After the band’s disbandment, he was offered a solo recording contract and got together with former band members Mike Campbell (guitar) and Benmont Tench (keyboards). The trio teamed up with Ron Blair (bass) and Stan Lynch (drums) and called themselves Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. In 1976, they released their self-titled debut album, which took the rock scene by storm.

The band played a hard-edged style of rock and roll that was infectious and had a way of hooking you in. This was during the time of the disco craze and the reinvention of rock by the punk genre. The band drew inspiration from 1960s artists like the Beatles and the Byrds.

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers went on to release 13 studio albums, along with three solo albums and additional albums with the Traveling Wilbury’s and Mudcrutch. Unfortunately, Petty passed away in 2017 at the age of 66, leaving behind a rich legacy of music that will be cherished forever.

In 2002, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers were rightfully inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, solidifying their status as a legendary band.

So, without further ado, here are our Top 10 Tom Petty Songs list. Enjoy!

10. “American Girl”

If you’re a fan of classic rock, you’ve probably heard Tom Petty’s “American Girl.” It’s one of his most popular songs, despite the fact that it was never a hit when it was first released in 1976 on Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers’ debut album.

Interestingly, “American Girl” became the last song that Tom Petty ever performed live. He played it at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles on September 25, 2017, in what turned out to be his final concert before his untimely death.

The song’s lyrics have been interpreted in various ways over the years. Some people think it’s about a girl who committed suicide at the University of Florida, while others believe it’s simply a story about a girl who found the strength to move on from a difficult situation.

According to Petty himself, the latter interpretation is closer to the truth. He said that “American Girl” is about a girl who was searching for a way to break free from her current circumstances, and eventually found the courage to do so.

Despite never being a hit, “American Girl” has become one of Tom Petty’s most beloved songs. It’s been used in countless films and TV programs over the years, and has even been covered by other artists.

So, next time you hear “American Girl” on the radio or in a movie, you’ll know a little bit more about the story behind the song.

9. “Here Comes My Girl”

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ third album, Damn the Torpedoes, marked their major label debut. One of the album’s standout tracks was “Here Comes My Girl,” which had an interesting origin story. Mike Campbell, the band’s guitarist, wrote and recorded the demo for both “Refuge” and “Here Comes My Girl” in the same week. He passed the tape to Petty, who quickly came up with the catchy chorus. 

However, Petty struggled to find the right verses for the song. It wasn’t until he started to half-talk like the Shangri-Las, who had a hit with “Leader of the Pack,” that he found the inspiration he needed. The result was a breakthrough hit that still resonates with fans today.

8. “Mary Jane’s Last Dance”

Have you ever wondered about the meaning behind the classic Tom Petty song “Mary Jane’s Last Dance”? Well, it turns out that the title might not be as straightforward as you thought.

Contrary to popular belief, the song might not be about marijuana after all. In a recent interview, Mike Campbell, the guitarist and co-writer of the song, revealed that there are actually multiple interpretations.

Originally, the song was titled “Indiana Girl” and was first written in Campbell’s garage. However, the lyrics didn’t quite come together until it took on a “deeper meaning” over time.

Some speculate that the song could be about Petty’s divorce proceedings with his wife Jane at the time, making it a goodbye song of sorts. Others suggest that it could be about the numbing effect that smoking pot can have.

But ultimately, the meaning of the song is left up to the listener to decide. So next time you find yourself singing along to “Mary Jane’s Last Dance”, you can ponder its true meaning for yourself.

7. “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around”

Back in 1980, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers were working on their Hard Promises album while Fleetwood Mac’s Stevie Nicks was recording her first solo album. Nicks was a huge fan of the Heartbreakers and had even wanted to join the band, but she settled for a collaboration with Tom Petty instead.

The result was the hit song “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around”, which Petty co-wrote with guitarist Mike Campbell. The song appeared on Nicks’s solo album Bella Donna and featured Petty and Nicks co-singing with the Heartbreakers as the backup band.

The track was a huge success and remains a beloved classic to this day. It’s a testament to the creative chemistry between these two music legends, and a reminder of the magic that can happen when great artists come together to make music.

6. “Refugee”

Let’s talk about the classic rock hit “Refugee” by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. It was actually released back in 1979, as part of their third album called “Damn the Torpedoes”.

The idea for the song came from the band’s guitarist Mike Campbell, who was inspired by Mick Taylor’s guitar playing in John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers. After recording a tape of his idea, he passed it along to Tom Petty who quickly wrote the lyrics in just 10 minutes!

But getting the song just right took some serious effort. In fact, the band recorded over 100 takes in the studio before they were satisfied with the final product. And even then, they still had some doubts about it.

Despite the challenges, “Refugee” went on to become a big hit and a fan favorite. It’s one of those classic songs that just never gets old. So next time you hear it on the radio, crank up the volume and sing along!

5. “Southern Accents”

“Southern Accents” is the title track of Petty’s 1985 album. Petty wrote the song one morning at 4:00 AM while sitting at the piano in the studio. It was recorded with just piano, bass, and “side-stick on the drums.” It was also the first time Petty used strings on an album. Johnny Cash later did a fantastic rendition of the song on his American II: Unchained album in 1996.

4. “The Waiting”

“The Waiting” was released in 1981 as part of the Hard Promises album. Petty was inspired to write the song after hearing Janis Joplin’s interview about how waiting for the next performance was the most challenging part of being on stage. The song talks about the period of anticipation before the fulfillment of your expectations, which can be difficult. It’s a relatable feeling that many of us have experienced.

3. “Free Fallin’”

“Free Fallin'” was released in 1989 on his first solo album, Full Moon Fever, which he made without his band, the Heartbreakers. Petty co-wrote the song with Jeff Lynne, who was a member of the Traveling Wilbury’s along with Petty, Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison, and George Harrison.

Despite its simple three-chord structure, “Free Fallin'” has a double meaning that can be interpreted positively or negatively. It’s a catchy tune that has been covered by many other artists over the years.

2. “Runnin’ Down a Dream”

“Runnin’ Down a Dream” was released in 1989 as part of the Full Moon Fever album. It was written collaboratively by Petty, Jeff Lynne, and Mike Campbell. The song talks about the universal concept of chasing one’s dreams and the never-ending journey to fulfill them. The song not only has great lyrics but also features Campbell’s fantastic guitar playing that makes the song soar.

1. “I Won’t Back Down”

“I Won’t Back Down” is another hit from Full Moon Fever that was co-written by Petty and Lynne. The song was inspired by a traumatic experience Petty had when an arsonist tried to burn down his house with his family inside. Petty used the lyrics as “self therapy” to cope with the fear and uncertainty of the situation.

Despite Petty’s initial reservations that the song was too personal to connect with listeners, it became a radio hit and a universal anthem for standing up against adversity. The video for the song features Ringo Starr on drums and George Harrison on acoustic guitar, along with Petty, Lynne, Campbell, and Phil Jones.

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