Study Guide

Free Fallin'

Free Fallin' Introduction

In a Nutshell

Tom Petty's "Free Fallin'" may be the most fun breakup song of all time. There's something exhilarating about singing along, off key, at the top of your lungs (just ask Tom Cruise). This may just be the ultimate tune for celebrating liberation from a relationship that's been holding you down.

But are you really free? Or are you just free falling? And how will you know the difference until you hit the ground?

About the Song

ArtistPetty, Tom
Year1989
LabelMCA Records
Writer(s)Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne
Producer(s)Jeff Lynne, Tom Petty, Mike Campbell
Musician(s)Tom Petty (vocals, guitar), Mike Campbell (guitar), Jeff Lynne (bass), Phil Jones (drums)
Learn to playChords
AlbumFull Moon Fever

Music Video

Influences on Petty, Tom

Tom Petty enjoyed decades of success until his death late in 2017 and it couldn't have come without some powerful influences. And it started with the King himself. As Billboard reports:

And for all this, we have Elvis to thank. As an 11-year-old growing up in Gainesville, Fla., Petty briefly met the King in an encounter that changed his life.
"Everything became pretty clear at that moment," Petty says. Being a rock star "looked like a great job."
He subsequently traded his beloved Wham-O slingshot for a box of Presley singles and never looked back.
[...]
"You weren't prepared to have your life changed in a minute. It really had that sort of impact. It wasn't like meeting Jesus, but it was close."
(Source)

Along with the King, Petty had a few other "a-ha" moments growing up, including seeing the Beatles play live on the Ed Sullivan Show: "That was when the world turned to color from black and white. All of a sudden Technicolor. I was 13 or 14, and I knew exactly what I wanted to do with my life, no question. It still baffles me a little bit as to why the lightning bolt hit me, but it did." (Source)

Aside from idolizing Elvis and the Beatles, Petty was heavily influenced by some of his contemporaries, including Jeff Lynne from the Electric Light Orchestra (who helped him along when he was writing "Free Fallin'") as well as Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, and others.

When the Heartbreakers broke up briefly in the late 1980s, Petty got an amazing opportunity: He was invited to be part of a new band with his musical heroes, Bob Dylan, George Harrison (of the Beatles), and Roy Orbison. They called themselves the Traveling Wilburys and many have hailed them as the greatest rock "supergroup" of all time. Petty loved playing with the Wilburys. 

"That was a really good, good place for me to be at that time in my life," Petty later said. "I really kind of felt like friends took me in. The nicest thing about the Wilburys for all of us was that not any one of us had to carry the load. I think it freed us all a great deal. George had wanted a band for a long time; he hated being a solo artist. It was George's dream. And I'm just glad it got to come true for him. We were proud being Wilburys and it was a lot of fun, but the greatest thing to me was there were some really long-lasting friendships made, and that's a kind of gift that you just don't get all the time." (Source)

Influenced by Petty, Tom

Bon Jovi
Cage the Elephant
Dave Grohl
The Strokes

Free Fallin' Resources

Movies & TV

Los Angeles: Everywhere All At Once (2007)
A comprehensive visual trip through the city of angels.

Runnin' Down a Dream (2007)
Peter Bogdanovich directs this feature-length documentary breaking down the long history of Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers.

Websites

Tom Petty's Official Website
Even after Petty's death, this website is a tribute to his career, complete with photos and video.

Tom Petty's Discography
This section of the site, called "Playback," has a little blurb on each one of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers' hits.

The Museum of the San Fernando Valley
Here's a blog archive of news and information regarding the San Fernando Valley.

Daphe Carr, "Tom Petty's Los Angeles," LA Weekly (2008)
This article chronicles every place in LA that made its way into a Petty song.

Melinda Newman, "Tom Petty, a Portrait of the Artist," Billboard (2005)
This is one of the greatest interviews out there with Petty.

Mike Sager, "What I've Learned: Tom Petty," Esquire (2006)
Here's a series of quotes from the man who made refugees and rebels cool.

Video & Audio

"Free Fallin'" Music Video
The video starts out with a sweet-16 party for the main girl and everyone is dressed in styles of the 1950s. Then she leaves home, and the next thing we know, the cars and clothes have changed and she's become a teen from the 1980s. We dare you not to sing along.

"Don't Come Around Here No More" Music Video
Here's the famous video in which Petty is dressed like the Mad Hatter.