Tom Petty - Free Fallin' [Single/Album Version]Details

"Well, it's a very southern California song, you know. It mentions Mulholland Drive and Reseda and Ventura Boulevard-- all those places. That was one of the first songs we did. And it was just written because I had to drive down Ventura Boulevard and over Mulholland every day to get to Mike's house. And that's how Free Fallin' came about. There's a lot going on out there on that street if you ever drive up and down it a lot and see it at night and... I think it's becoming more action oriented, really, than it used to be in the old days like Hollywood or Sunset, but these days I find Ventura Boulevard much more interesting."
Tom Petty (1989 April 24 - In The Studio radio show)

t's... it's great. Do you fancy writing a song together up at my house?' So I said, 'Yeah, lovely.' So, a few days later... I think I went to a party at his house first and then we were at... we sat down and wrote Free Fallin' and recorded it and, uh, and mixed it. I didn't know I was going do anymore, really, I thought that's it."
Jeff Lynne (circa early 1989 - Saturday Sequence BBC Radio 1 interview by Roger Scott)

"The [Full Moon Fever] album's opener, Free Falling [sic], is the strongest track, and it's the most stoned sounding song I've heard in a long time. It floats over visions of California, full of good girls who love Elvis, and bad guys who break their hearts."
Maria Hanna with contributions by Andrew Whiteside (1989 - Face The Music fanzine #6)

"It was a good one. Lucky, really. We just went 'round and, uh, just strummed the guitars together, y'know, two acoustics until we came up with a riff. And then we thought of some words. Tom thinks up the words mostly."
Jeff Lynne (June 23, 1990 - Timothy White's Rock Stars: Jeff Lynne's Musical Chairs)

"Meanwhile, the Jeff co-penned Tom Petty track Free Fallin' only made the bottom reaches of the Top 75, despite the added attractions of a limited edition 7-inch US Strange Behaviour Tour Wallet, and a 5-inch CD single in a stiff plastic wallet sleeve with 5-page biog, featuring a live version of Free Fallin', in addition to the more usual formats."
Andrew Whiteside (1990 - Face The Music fanzine #7)

"The song really inspired the video. The song was really about those places, y'know, the San Fernando Valley and MulHolland Drive and skateboarders and all... and vampires. Julien Temple was a very talented director, really. Helped me quite a bit with that."
Tom Petty (1991 August 7 - Rockline)

"MTV’s exposure of the Full Moon Fever videos helped introduce Petty to a new generation of fans. 'We were beginning to see the same faces for a while there,' says Petty. 'It was incredible to find so many young people who didn’t know anything about us, or me, who were discovering the whole trip because they liked Free Fallin' or I Won’t Back Down. I think I laughed for an entire year.' [...] The neighborhood [where Tom Petty lives] is a charming one in the suburban San Fernando Valley — Petty is just a short drive from some of the Valley spots he immortalized in Free Fallin’. [...] Some of the [Into The Great Wide Open] album is very much in keeping with Full Moon Fever – one track, the delicate All the Wrong Reasons, sounds enough like Free Fallin’ that at least one Heartbreaker has taken to calling it Refallin’."
David Wild (August 8, 1991 - Rolling Stone #610)

"I was driving in Beverly Hills and this horn kept blowing. And I thought, 'Who the hell's that?' And it was Tom. He was going, 'Pull over. I wanna have a word with ya.' We pulled over and he said, 'Oh, I really like what you did with George's album. Do you fancy doing something together?' I said, 'Oh, that'd be nice, y'know.' So I went 'round his house and we sort of... Just sat 'round strumming, you know, like we do. We came up with Free Fallin' which was amazing."
Jeff Lynne (1994 - Tom Petty: Going Home documentary)

"One of Petty's most compelling pieces, Freefallin' became an anthem-- or maybe an anti-anthem-- in the early 90's. Tom told the story of writing it in a 1989 interview: 'Bugs, a roadie who's been with us since the day we started, bought me this Yamaha keyboard. I said, Man, why'd you buy that? It's expensive! He said, If you write one song on it, it'll pay for itself. So he charged it to me and left it there. Jeff Lynne was over one night and I started playing with it. I played...' Petty hummed the opening chords of Freefallin' plus five more, a busy pattern. 'Jeff goes, Wait. What was that-- just play that first part over and over. Okay, I did. And Jeff's just sitting there smiling and he says, Go on, sing something. So just to make Jeff smile I sang, She's a good girl, loves her mama. From there I wrote the first and second verses completely spontaneously. We were smart enough to have a cassette on. Jeff said, Go up on the chorus, take your voice up a whole octave, what'll that sound like? I said, What do I sing? Jeff said, I'm freefallin'. So I sang, I'm freeee... He said, Wo, there's power in that, that's good. I wrote the third verse after he left and brought it in and showed it to him the next day. It all fit together and we were really excited. We were running over to [Mike Campbell's] with the song. Mike hardly knew Jeff, we just showed up and said, We gotta do a record right now! We gotta get this song down. Mike said sure and we did. Axl Rose called and asked me, Where did you get that line about the vampires in the valley? When I'm driving I sometimes see these shadowy-looking people just off the sidewalks, around the post office. I always thought of them as vampires for some reason.'"
Bill Flanagan (1995 liner notes for Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers - Playback)

"Now [Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne] met again at a red traffic light. Jeff: 'Actually it was in Beverly Hills, just down by Santa Monica Boulevard. I heard this horn blowing and it was Tom in his red Corvette and he says Pull Over! So we pulled over. He said: I've just been playing George's album and it's great. Do you fancy us writing a song together up at my house? So I said: Yeah, lovely. A few days later, I went to a party at his first house and then we sat down and wrote Free Fallin' and recorded it and mixed it. I didn't know I was going to do any more-- I thought that was probably it.' [...] Tom recalls the birth of Free Fallin': 'A roadie bought me this Yamaha keyboard. Jeff Lynne was over one night and I started playing it. Jeff goes, Wait, what was that-- just play that first part over and over. Okay, I did. And Jeff's just sitting there smiling and said, Go on, sing something. So just to make Jeff smile I sang, She's a good girl, loves her mama. And from there I wrote the first and second verses complete spontaneously.'"
Patrik Guttenbacher, Marc Haines, & Alexander von Petersdorff (1996 Unexpected Messages)

"I'd only known [Tom Petty] a little while, but I figured we should try and write some songs together. And [Free Fallin'] was one of the first ones we did. We got these three chords and we just played with them. The old three-chord trick, with the one suspended one at the end! Tom was singing in a certain register, and I think I came up with the idea to have him go up an octave when he sang the punch line. He said it was my idea, anyway. The thing about that song is that it was done so quickly-- in almost a day and a half. I think maybe there are three tracks of acoustic guitar on there. Possibly one of them was a 12-string. I really can't remember."
Jeff Lynne (2001 - Guitar World Acoustic No. 45)

"And Jeff came back the next day [after having helped with some chord sequences for Yer So Bad and agreeing to produce it]. We hadn't gone to [Mike Campbell's home] yet. And that evening we wrote Free Fallin'. And that was a pretty big rush. And then he left and I wrote the last verse about Mulholland and all that. And so he came back the next day and I showed him that I had finished the song. And he was really jazzed, and said, 'Let's go record it.' So I took Jeff to Mike's. And there was just enough room to get the three of us into the room with the recording console. It was this little bedroom that as so small, it was so jammed with recording gear and a recording console, that Bugs had to stand in the hall outside the door. Because it was that small. It was so funky, nobody would ever believe it. We ran mike cables out to the garage. Which was a real garage. We pulled the cars out. And we recorded it that way. The first track we did was Free Fallin'. [It took] one day [to record]. Maybe two. [Phil Jones played drums on it.] He had been around a long time. He was a drummer, a good friend of ours, and he played percussion on a lot of our albums and on a tour in '81. Free Fallin' took one day, maybe two. It was Christmas, so we didn't know where the band was. I think Stanley was in Florida. And so that became a solo record. And that was a real kind of weird thing for me, because it was a big deal for the Heartbreakers. I remember calling Howie because I thought we had better get as many of [The Heartbreakers] as we can. The we had really made the track, and we had done the bass. But maybe Howie could come and sing, and this would smooth the wound over to have them come in. And I guess they had already talked among themselves, and they were pissed about it. This is pure conjecture on my part, but I think they had probably talked among themselves, Stanley and Ben and Howie. That was a vibe. So I got to Mike's, and Howie was sitting outside the door of the bedroom. And he seemed kind of preoccupied, like he could be in those days. He was waiting, almost like a doctor waiting in the waiting room. And he said, 'You don't really need me for this, do you?' And he said, 'I don't like it.' I said, 'Well, if you don't like it, I don't need you.' And he said, 'Okay, I'm gonna go,' and he left. Right then I went, well, this is going to be a Tom Petty solo record, because I like it. And I'm not going to go through this vibe, and there really no room for them on this anyway. And Mike engineered the track; we didn't have an engineer. Jeff [played bass.] The next day we recorded Yer So Bad. So we mixed those two songs. While we were mixing Free Fallin' we wrote I Won't Back Down. [...] [The record companies] always wanted something more upbeat for singles. Very rarely did they put out a ballad for a single. I don't think ever. Free Fallin' was the first time, I think, that I ever had a ballad out for a single. And even then it was the third single from the album. They didn't want to do it because they didn't think anyone outside of Southern California would relate to it. And I said, 'No, you're wrong, they will.' Yeah, I was [right]. [...] Yes I did [write Free Fallin' with Jeff Lynne]. It was, I think, the first we wrote together. When we really got nose to nose and wrote a song. Jeff came over, and I had a little electric keyboard that Bugs had bought. I really gave him hell about buying it. I said, 'Why would you waste money on this? I would never play something like this.' He said, 'Well, look, take it into the house, if you write one song on it, it will pay for itself.' And I thought, 'Well, okay,' and Jeff was over and I had the little keyboard. And I started playing on it, and I had this riff. This little chord pattern that we would know as Free Fallin'. But I had a couple of notes more on the riff. And Jeff looked up, and said, 'Oh, that's good. Can you leave out that last chord there and see what it does?' And when I did that, it made this nice round of chords. And so I was just trying really to make Jeff smile, as I was ad-libbing these words. You know, 'She's a good girl/loves her mama/loves Jesus/and America too.' And Jeff smiled. I kept going. And I got right up to the chorus bit, and I didn't know what to sing, and he said [in a British accent] 'free fallin'.' And I tried to sing it, but I couldn't get 'Free Fallin'' to fit into the line. So I just sang 'Free...' And then in the next line I sang 'Free Fallin'.' And then he perked up and said, 'That's good-- that's great!' But take your voice up an octave when you do it, when you go to the chorus. And bang, there it was. Free Fallin'. I was very excited. I loved the song. So Jeff went home and I sat there for a while and I finished the last verse alone, the one about flying out over Mulholland and writing the girl's name in the sky. And he came around the next day, and I played it for him. And he said, 'Man, you stayed up and finished the song. That's incredible, it's great.' And so this is how these things happen. And it's turned out to be probably the most famous song I ever wrote. And there's not a day goes by that somebody doesn't hum Free Fallin' to me, or I don't hear it somewhere. It's become synonymous with me, I guess. But it was really only thirty minutes of my life. [Laughs.] We wrote [I Won't Back Down] as we were mixing Free Fallin'. I remember coming home after we cut Free Fallin' and Yer So Bad. And having those two tracks on cassette, and I must have played them for two hours, over and over, just sitting there on the bathroom floor, feeling, wow, this is so great. It was really exciting. [...] Free Fallin' is three chords the entire song."
Tom Petty (November 1, 2005 - Conversations With Tom Petty)

"Free Fallin' broke my heart about my life and his life and about who we were and that we simply could not change that."
Stevie Nicks (March 20, 2006 - Billboard)

"There was a lot of emotion in Even the Losers, Free Fallin', and Won't Back Down [sic]."
Nils Lofgren (March 20, 2006 - Billboard)

"I love Free Fallin'. We were lucky: my wife and I and [former Warner Bros. chairman/CEO] Mo Ostin and his wife were all up at Mo's house having dinner with George [Harrison], Tom and Jeff [Lynne]. They brought their acoustic guitars with them... It was kind of like being in Nashville or something. You had these three gigantic guitars in this big living room with wood ceilings. Tom played Free Fallin'. I have to imagine it was one of the first times. It was just unreal to hear it that way. I remember saying, 'Do it again, do it again.' I just had to hear it again. It was a fantastic presentation of a song."
Lenny Waronker (March 20, 2006 - Billboard)

"Mr. Petty's Free Fallin' is 'a great song with an advertising-friendly hook,' says McCann's Mr. Boris."
Brian Steinberg and Ethan Smith (June 9, 2006 - Wall Street Journal)

"Jeff and I had written You Got It for Roy. We had just done Free Fallin', and George was with us for I Won't Back Down. I had been on the road for two years backing up Bob. So we were all in the same circle and the group just naturally materialized. It was George's band, really. He was the leader; the whole idea for the band was his idea."
Tom Petty (June 1, 2007 - MSN Music)

"It was quite a low key for him on that song [Free Fallin']. I suggested that he just go up a whole octave at a certain point. And it just clicked. The whole song just locked into place."
Jeff Lynne (2007 - Runnin' Down A Dream book)

"I ad-libbed the song for the most part, but Jeff played a key role in the writing. For one thing, the title was his, Free Fallin'. He volunteered that to me when I was stuck for a title. I don't remember it that well, but I think Jeff had at least some of the tune. I know for certain that he suggested I take it an octave up at the chorus. This made it happen. Suddenly that title was given incredible musical support. So I gave him credit for it, for sure. [...] I'd written a couple songs with Jeff, and now he was going to help me record them. I called Mike Campbell. He had a studio in his house that we've done a lot of work in. In a makeshift fashion, he had crammed this gear into a bedroom, M. C. Studios. The guest bedroom. We wanted to cut right away because Jeff was going to go back to England. We went over to Mike's. The rest of the Heartbreakers weren't even in town. I rounded up a drummer friend, Phil Jones, someone we've known for a long time. He played the drums and Mike, Jeff, and I played the rest of the instruments. This song was Yer So Bad. The next day we recorded the second song, which was Free Fallin'. Two good days of work, I'd say. [...] The Heartbreakers didn't like the idea of working with Jeff. They didn't want to work that way, maybe that was it. I remember calling Howie, and he came over to Mike's. When I arrived at the session there's Howie sitting outside looking irritated. I said, 'Well, we'll probably be getting to the bass pretty quick.' Then he tells me that he didn't really like this song. I said, 'Okay, if you don't like the song, you don't need to play on the song.' He said, 'Right. Bye.' It was Free Fallin', and I already knew that it was one of the best songs I've come up with. No one was going to shake my sense for what I was hearing in that one."
Tom Petty (2007 - Runnin' Down A Dream book)

"Tom asked if I would listen something, and I said sure. He put on the album with Free Fallin'. I jumped up and shouted and laughed. It was just great. And he said, 'I'm glad you like it because the record company doesn't want to release it.' He told me that they felt it was inconsistent with his image. I fired off a letter to the president saying he should fire his ass."
Denny Cordell (2007 - Runnin' Down A Dream book)

"I remember I had a nanny, like this crazy nanny when I was in high school. We were driving around in my mother's car, and I found a cassette that said Free Fallin' on it. I put it in the tape player and it just had that one track, Free Fallin'. They hadn't really cut it. It was a demo. Me and a friend were in the car. We were like, 'Fuck, that's a good song. Play it again.' We just played it all week, over time, in carpool when we were going home. I would come in the house and say, 'God, that's a good song.'"
Adria Petty (2007 - Runnin' Down A Dream book)

"It sucked. They put on Free Fallin' and Tom started singing. I was like, 'Oh, God, how lovely.' I tried to get my hands on it, but they wouldn't let me. They wouldn't let me near it. They wouldn't let me near it."
Benmont Tench (2007 - Runnin' Down A Dream book)

"One time Howie [Epstein] came down to the studio. And he was sitting outside the door looking really irritated. I came out and I said, 'Well, we're going to get to the bass really soon.' And [not wanting to play it] he said, 'It's not that, I don't like this song.' And I was like, 'you don't like the song?' And he said, 'no.' And I said, 'Well, if you don't like the song, you don't have to play on it.' And he's like, 'Right. Bye!' It was Free Fallin'."
Tom Petty (2007 - Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers: Runnin' Down A Dream)

"Free Fallin', that was a huge song. You know, that was one of those songs that came out and stopped the clock. It's just that kind of suspended, swinging chord structure that makes you feel like you're floating up in the air and coming down. And then the lyric is so beautiful. And again has the fantastic combination of being specific, but still open, not abstract, but open, so that you don't know all of the details and you can fill them in for yourself."
Bill Flanagan (2007 - Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers: Runnin' Down A Dream)

"[The Heartbreakers] didn't like anything on [Petty's 1989 solo album] Full Moon Fever -- 'they' meaning everyone but Mike. I remember [bassist] Howie Epstein came to the sessions. I was playing Free Fallin', and he said, 'I don't like that song.' I said, 'If you don't like it, you won't have to play on it.' 'OK, I won't. Bye.' That wouldn't have worked as a Heartbreakers album. Benmont didn't like I Won't Back Down when he first heard it. And they didn't get [co-producer] Jeff Lynne."
Tom Petty (December 10, 2009 - Rolling Stone #1093)

"You know, we played guitars quite a bit, hanging around and we wrote a couple of songs together. I had one and he helped me finish it off. And the next song we wrote was Free Fallin'. And so we had the two songs. It was the Christmas holidays, there weren't many people around so we called Mike Campbell 'cause he had his studio. We went over there and just made those records. He was just kind of leaning over the piano as I remember it and he said 'free falling'. You know, and I sang it, but I could only get half the word in. [Sings 'free!'] And then I put in 'free fallin'' He said, 'That's it!' [Laughs]"
Tom Petty (Summer 2012 - Mr Blue Sky: The Story of Jeff Lynne and ELO documentary)

"Along with ELO and many others [on the Mr Blue Sky: The Story of Jeff Lynne and ELO documentary], there's... Petty's Into the Great Wide Open and Full Moon Fever (Lynne co-wrote Free Fallin')"
Erik Pedersen (September 13, 2012 - Hollywood Reporter)

"Tom just stopped me in the street one day in Beverley Hills somewhere and he said, 'I've just been listening to George Harrison's new album. I love it. I'm having a barbecue. Do you wanna come?' I couldn't go so he said, 'do you fancy writing some songs together and see what we come up with?' and I said, 'yeah, I'd love to!' So I went round his house the next day and after we wrote one, we then wrote, believe it or not, Free Fallin' which was such a big hit for him."
Jeff Lynne (October 9, 2012 - Roll Over Beethoven: Jeff Lynne's Favourite Albums article in The Quietus)

"I helped [Tom Petty] finish one song [Yer So Bad]. And the next one we did was Free Fallin' I believe. And that was pretty good, the second go. [Laughs] And then I think we did I Won't Back Down after that. And it was just going so well, I just had to do the whole album."
Jeff Lynne (October 29, 2012 - Deep Tracks SiriusXM radio show)

"[For Free Fallin'] I remember I was on guitar and Tom was on guitar and we were just strumming in Tom's house. I got this riff going and Tom had this tune going that's really good. 'She's a good girl...' and all that, it was really good. And we came to the chorus and I suggested to Tom, 'free falling right there, see what that sounds like.' And he explains on the documentary actually that he couldn't fit it in so he does it, and I suggest, 'do the free falling after.' And it worked perfectly and Tom sang it beautifully as you know."
Jeff Lynne (November 30, 2012 - The Adam Carolla Show)

"Free Fallin' was the second song we wrote for that album [Full Moon Fever], and it was a huge hit."
Jeff Lynne (December 2012 - Classic Rock magazine)

"But the next one we wrote [after Yer So Bad] was Free Fallin'. Well, I sat down at a little keyboard, and I had kind of the main lick [for Free Fallin'], and I think even with that Jeff said, 'if you trim a bar off of that, it'll be better.' And so I did, and he was right. Then I just same most of the song right off the top of my head, the lyrics and the melody. He was very helpful with the chorus. He had that line 'free falling' and I couldn't quite see how it would work. I couldn't get it all in one phrase. But thank God he did. So we finished that up and decided to record them. We recorded those two songs very fast; I think we did them in two days. I remember coming home with these two tracks on a cassette and playing them over and over, just saying, 'Wow, this is really good.' I had to talk Jeff into finishing the album with me."
Tom Petty (January 2013 - Goldmine magazine)

"Hot on the heels of that success [the Traveling Wilburys' Volume One], Lynne helped Petty and Mike Campbell produce an even bigger hit in 1989, Petty’s first solo album, Full Moon Fever, which went 6x platinum and yielded not just several hit singles, but lasting classics such as Free Fallin’ and I Won’t Back Down."
Steven Gaydos (April 23, 2015 - Variety)

"Not only did Jeff produce [the Full Moon Fever album], but he co-wrote several of the songs on the album, including the one that has become Petty's most beloved, Free-Fallin' [sic]."
Paul Zollo (April 29, 2015 - American Songwriter)

"Next on the agenda was a new album for the youngest Traveling Wilbury, but the foundations for it had been laid some time before George brought them together. Jeff was driving by Santa Monica Boulevard one day and trying to tune into a station on the radio, when he heard somebody repeatedly sounding his horn. Looking around, he saw Tom in his (little) red Corvette, telling him to pull over. Both had met already in England when Tom and The Heartbreakers were playing one of their gigs there. Tom said he had been listening to Cloud Nine, and loved it. He was about to do a solo album, with Mike Campbell helping out, and how did Jeff fancy writing some songs with him? So Jeff went round to his house a few days later, they sat down together with their guitars, and between them they wrote Free Fallin', recorded it and mixed it. [...] Of the other twelve [songs on Full Moon Fever], Jeff co-wrote seven, including the singles I Won’t Back Down, Runnin’ Down A Dream, and Free Fallin. The latter came about very spontaneously. Both musicians were socialising one evening when a roadie bought Tom a Yamaha keyboard, and he started playing the first thing that came into his head on it. 'Wait, what was that—just play the first part over and over,' Jeff urged him. He did so, and Jeff nodded his approval, telling him to sing something. 'She’s a good girl, loves her mama,' Tom sang. From there he wrote the rest of the first and second verses off the top of his head."
John Van der Kiste (August 2015 - Jeff Lynne: Electric Light Orchestra - Before and After)

"The second song we did was Free Fallin', just sitting there, two guitars. The next one we did was I Won't Back Down. So it was amazing. They're like standards in America, those songs."
Jeff Lynne (October 25, 2015 - My Planet Rocks)

"Free Fallin' (1989): One day, I saw Tom stopped at a streetlight in Los Angeles. I had met him once before, and he said, 'Jeff, pull over.' When I did, he said, 'I just listened to George's album. What about coming over and writing some tunes together?' Free Fallin' was probably the second song we wrote. I got the chords, and we both fleshed out the chorus. Everyone who heard it knew it was a hit. It was Tom's first solo album, Full Moon Fever, and I didn't realise it would be such a big thing for the Heartbreakers, Tom going off on his own. Mike [Campbell] was there, but I played keyboards and bass and told the drummer what to play. The thing is, Tom got a great record out of it. It's still my favourite record that I made with anybody. It's so simple and fresh, and it's got no bullshit."
Jeff Lynne (January 21, 2016 - Rolling Stone article entitled: 'ELO's Jeff Lynne: My Life in 15 Songs')

"Jeff Lynne and I were sitting around with the idea of writing a song and I was playing the keyboard and I just happened to hit on that main riff [of Free Fallin'], the intro of the song, and I think Jeff said something like, ‘That’s a really good riff but there’s one chord too many,’ so I think I cut it back a chord and then, really just to amuse Jeff, honestly, I just sang that first verse. Then he starts laughing. Honestly, I thought I was just amusing Jeff but then I got to the chorus of the song and he leaned over to me and said the word, ‘freefalling.’ And I went to sing that and he said, ‘No, take your voice up and see how that feels.’ So I took my voice up an octave or two, but I couldn’t get the whole word in. So I sang ‘freeee,’ then ‘free falling.’ And we both knew at that moment that I’d hit on something pretty good. It was that fast. He had to go somewhere, and I wrote the last verse and kind of just polished the rest of the song and when I saw him the next day I played him the song and he was like, ‘Wow, you did that last night?’ And I was like, ‘Yeah.’ And he said. ‘We’ve got to go cut this,’ and we just took off to Mike Campbell’s studio where we knew we could get in and get it done that day. So we went in and made the record that day. I don’t know the girl in Free Fallin' is. I was having to make this drive every day. The studio was in the valley and I was driving from Beverly Hills to the valley and back every day and on that drive I just used to look at Ventura Boulevard, and just life’s great pageant was going in up and down that street. And I tried to grab a little bit of these characters on the road and it was kind of how I saw it. It’s pretty true of that time and that era, I remember...maybe it’s still that way, I don’t know. The skateboarders and the shoppers and the young kids in the trendiest possible clothes and the auto-tellers and the drive-thru banks. It’s a scene, it’s a never-ending scene. I thought, you could probably start at one end of this road and by the time you got to the end of it you could purchase everything you could ever need in your life. It was kind of like that. [...] With Free Fallin' I was very lucky because it came very quickly and we recorded that song in a day and we went very soon after that, maybe the next day or two, to another studio to mix the tracks -- because I like to just finish the song, I don’t like songs to sit around not be mixed and all of that -- and while they were working on some technical stuff in the mix room Jeff and I took our guitars into a little vocal booth they had off to the side and we wrote I Won’t Back Down while they were mixing Free Fallin'.' So we came out of that saying, ‘We think we’ve got another one,’ and we went back and did that one in the next day or two."
Tom Petty (June 7, 2016 - Billboard)

"My favorite moment was when I managed to fit John's voice into that track that we'd recorded. We'd actually recorded the track, and then put John in afterwards 'cause you couldn't play to a wild cassette. 'Cause the cassette was a mono cassette with piano and voice stuck together, y'know; you couldn't separate them. That was why it was so difficult. One great thing Paul did was ghost John's vocal, underneath, y'know, just to give it a bit more depth, a bit more substance because the cassette voice was so spiky, y'know. And it suddenly took shape. And suddenly, you could hear it at last, this record with him, with John singing it. It as fabulous. And I'll always remember Paul, he came over and he gave me a big hug and he said, 'Well done, Jeff.' And I was happy with that. I was thrilled."
Jeff Lynne (June 26, 2016 - The First Time With...)

"I'll get you one even better than that. You can wear overalls with no underwear. You know what I"m saying? You're like Tom Petty in Free Fallin'."
Mike Wolfe (October, 2016 - American Pickers episode Twin At All Costs)

"Even his vocal approach mirrored that of the earlier Lynne-produced solo project. 'I think my voice sounds better, fuller, that way,' Petty told the [Chicago Tribune]. 'That started from me singing to Jeff Lynne on the sofa a few years ago and he’d say, I want your voice to sound just like that on the record. We first did that on Free Fallin‘ (from Full Moon Fever), and I thought it was such a nice warm sound – without any special effects on the voice, just naked – that I stayed with it [on later albums].'"
Nick DeRiso (July 2, 2016 - Ultimate Classic Rock)

"[At the the 2017 Musicares Person Of The Year gala]: 'I had written this song, Free Fallin', and taken it to my label, and they rejected the record,' Petty said. "That had never happened to me before and I was like, Wow, what do I do? And I forgot about it.' But after an industry dinner one night at record executive Mo Ostin's house, George Harrison 'was like, Let's get the guitars out and sing a little bit. Let's do that Free Fallin', Tom. We did it and (music producer) Lenny Waronker was like, That's a hit. I said Well, my record company won't put it out,' Petty continued. 'And Mo says, I'll (expletive) put it out.'"
Patrick Ryan (February 11, 2017 - USA Today)

"Free Fallin', the opening track [of Full Moon Fever], must have blasted through pop and classic rock radio stations since it hit the circuit. The innocence of youth is encapsulated lucidly in a tale of living by one’s convictions and decisions."
N. Rama Lohan (April 3, 2017 -

"'Free Fallin', Tom Petty - I remember hearing that, and probably at the time, I didn't think, Yea, that's going to last forever,' said another Brit, Rick Astley. 'There's just something in it, though-- a melodic change over the chords, whatever it is, I don't know. But you just go, Yeah, I get it. It might not be my favorite record, but I get that. We're going to hear that forever,'"
Jay Cridlin (April 26, 2017 - Tampa Bay Times)

"In my chapter on the power of the lyric, I chose a song by another Dylan devotee, Tom Petty, analyzing the words to one of his most popular and evocative songs, Free Fallin’ a song he wrote with Jeff Lynne.
Here is that chapter:
There may be no more efficient form of short writing than the song lyric. The words do not stand alone, of course. They have plenty of company. A melody and repetition of sound make the words memorable. The lyrics often tell a story. That story can be rendered in a music video or through a dramatic stage performance. The song may be used to help score a movie. Written for an opera, for example, the lyrics become part of a multimedia extravaganza, the effect — as in Verdi — of which is to capture and express an entire national artistic culture. Cue the elephants.
Many great lyrics are taken for granted and not appreciated as poetry in their own right. A few lyrics deserve the close reading we might apply to higher forms of art, such as a poem by Ezra Pound. To test this theory, I will interpret the lyrics of a Tom Petty song, Free Falling (sometimes rendered Free Fallin’). [Editor's Note: it is always rendered as Free Fallin' as Free Falling is not correct at all.] I’ve played its three chords on guitar and piano and have tried to sing its lyrics of 150 words, although I can’t hit Petty’s high notes. I find these lyrics haunting, profound through and beneath the surface of sound. Most important for our purposes, this piece of short writing is efficient beyond measure, so economical, in fact, that it leads us to the edge of a great abyss.
She’s a good girl, loves her mama
Loves Jesus and America too
She’s a good girl, crazy ‘bout Elvis
Loves horses and her boyfriend too
Stories have few essential requirements, but one of them involves the identification and evolution of a human character, formed on the page by a quilt of what Tom Wolfe called 'status details,' or, more commonly, character traits. Petty doesn’t offer us much in his first stanza in the way of particularity. He asks us to settle for a litany of common, almost clichéd characteristics. God, mother, horses, form a kind of baseline, drawn, as we will learn, by a greatly flawed narrator, another staple of modern fiction.
The half line that gets me every time — so much so that I appear to hear it above the rest — is 'crazy ‘bout Elvis.' She could love the Beatles or the Byrds but chooses Elvis to love, a bad boy in his own right, whose addictions will lead to an early grave. Think of the phrase 'crazy ‘bout Elvis' as a kind of grace note — that is, a small, almost exquisite ornament in music, most surprising when it turns out to be the only decoration.
It’s a long day livin’ in Reseda
There’s a freeway runnin’ through the yard
And I’m a bad boy, ‘cause I don’t even miss her
I’m a bad boy for breakin’ her heart
A story needs a setting, and this one serves in both literal and symbolic ways. Poets know that place-names are powerful, and Reseda, a working-class suburb of Los Angeles, has the sound of 'receding' in it, a kind of annihilation by subtraction. That freeway runs a little too close for comfort. Usually, the poorest folks in town live closest to the highway or the airport or the railroad tracks, a kind of lifeline to freedom that remains inaccessible.
Just below the surface here is the joke that California is so cluttered with people and traffic that the freeway is not free at all but a clotted artery of the body politic, a society all revved up but going nowhere. That last line reverberates with some kind of dark humor and self-effacement, as Petty leads a great band known as the Heartbreakers. And I’m free, I’m free fallin’, fallin’
In this simple chorus, Petty puts into play some very sophisticated moves, both poetically and musically. I experience it as a form of binary energy, an on/off switch, a double helix of language in which the words alliterate, form connections, but then break away at the level of semantics and narrative.
A free fall is a common expression of physical weightlessness, a state in physics and art where an object or person seems to defy gravity even while plummeting to the ground. Petty, quite dramatically, puts his vocal range to good use, hitting his highest note on the elongated vowel of 'free.' But each time he repeats 'fallin’,' the notes go down in pitch.
All the vampires walkin’ through the valley
Move west down Ventura Blvd.
And all the bad boys are standing in the shadows
All the good girls are home with broken hearts
This is my favorite stanza, linked and separated by alliteration. The first quartet includes 'vampires,' 'valley,' 'Ventura,' and even 'Blvd.,' where those v’s pile up like crashed cars in a smoky fog. There is even time and space here for what critics call intertextuality, the evocation of one text by another. 'Though I walk through that valley of the shadow of death,' reads the Twenty-third Psalm, but here the allusion packs some irony. Instead of comforting and consoling, the world of the narrator is gloomy and tragic, haunted by the walking dead of the San Fernando Valley.
And I’m free, I’m free fallin’
I wanna glide down over Mulholland
I wanna write her name in the sky
I wanna free fall out into nothin’
Gonna leave this world for a while
In this final stanza the voice of the narrator tells a story of despair, of drug use or suicide perhaps, of escape from responsibility and the requirements of love. And yet the diction is a language of light, those liquid l sounds in 'glide' and 'Mulholland,' the creativity and romance signified by skywriting, but then comes the nihilism of 'free fall out into nothin’' and the painful euphemism of leaving the world 'for a while.'
We can make the interpretation of this text even more granular in the tension between the names of those iconic California streets, Venture and Mulholland.
If that initial capital V looks like a valley, with all its symbolic connotations of depression and despair, that M is its counterpart, two mountain peaks with a valley in the middle, a launching place in the hills above Hollywood, a land of dreams and of lost boys and girls.
Consider the lessons we can draw from such an analysis of song lyrics. What practices and language moves can we apply to our own writing?
  • Using simple words to build dramatic ideas.
  • Depend on character, conflict, scenes, setting, and narrators, no matter how short the story form.
  • In music and writing, use repetition to hold narrative and thematic elements together, as in a chain, and make them memorable.
  • Use a short text to remind readers of other short texts, enriching the experience of narrative.
  • Remember that literal language benefits from its coexistence with figurative words, from metaphors to literary allusions to sound imagery to symbolism and more.
And remember, most of all, that while the answer may be blowin’ in the wind, you don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows."Roy Peter Clark (June 7, 2017 - The Poynter Institute website)

"I knew when it was a Free Fallin' [that it would be a hit] because that record got made [and] nobody told me [about it]. So, I'm, like, planning to start a Heartbreakers record. And I called up Bugs, whose the crew chief, and said, 'So Wednesday...' This was like Monday or something. 'So, what time Wednesday?' And Bugs goes, 'What?' I said, 'Well, they said we're going to start a record on Wednesday.' And he goes, 'Well, nobody told you?' I'm like, 'Told me what?' He said, 'Tom's making a solo record with Mike and Jeff Lynne. He's not using the band.' I'm like, 'What?' And so at the same time, my good friend and business manager, Bernie Goodfeet(?) and I were talking and I said, 'Dammit! Grrr!' He said, 'Great. It'll take them six weeks. Now you can go to rehab.' [Laughs] And I'm like, 'I don't need to...' And my friend, Debbie Gold who just passed away said, 'Yeah, now you can go to rehab.' And so that solo record saved my life. So fresh out of rehab, after a few months in rehab, I walk and go over to see how they're doing and just say hi. And I walk in and he's putting the vocal on Free Fallin'. They don't have the background vocals on or anything, but they have] the guitars, drums and bass. And he's standing in the control room, just a couple of speakers andnot using headphones. And I walk in and the song starts and he sings the first couple of lines. And I've known Tom for a long time. And I've seen him bring in a song. And I've seen him actually make up songs on the spot. And I was like, 'Okay this is one.' And he finishes the take and I thought, 'That's fantastic! Can I play something on it? You know, I'd really like to play something on it.' And Jeff kind of shuddered because he knows that I play organ and he hates Hammonds. And he's like, 'Maybe a Fox Continental.' And I dropped it. But I knew that was special. I really knew that was special. I really wanted to play on that."
Benmont Tench (June 12, 2017 - Sound Opinions (

"Tom Petty, an old-fashioned rock superstar and everyman who drew upon the Byrds, the Beatles and other bands he worshipped as a boy and produced new classics such as Free Fallin', Refugee and American Girl, has died. He was 66."
Unknown (October 2, 2017 -

"Veteran U.S. rocker Tom Petty, whose vibrant guitar riffs, distinctly raw, nasal vocals and slick song lyrics graced such hits as Refugee, Free Fallin’ and American Girl, has died following a heart attack. He was 66. "
Piya Sinha-Roy (October 2, 2017 - Reuters)

"Free Fallin' is truly one of the greatest pieces of American art. So perfect & sad."
Ezra Koenig (October 2, 2017 - Twitter)

"The pristine Jeff Lynne production of Full Moon Fever summed up an era in the best way. The kick and the snare were crisp as razor wire. The 12 string guitars rang out like a gorgeous wonder. Of course, Free Falling [sic] was the super smash..."
Mark Ronson (October 2, 2017 - Instagram)

"Tom Petty wrote countless memorable songs, many of them chronicling a litany of women who came to vivid life in his lyrics — American Girl, Mary Jane of Last Dance with Mary Jane, and the various 'girls' and 'babes' who populate his songs. Perhaps none loom so large as the 'good girl who loves her mama' at the heart of Free Fallin’, Petty’s highest-charting solo single released in 1989. 'I don’t know the girl in Free Fallin’,' Petty, who died Monday after suffering a heart attack, revealed in an interview with Billboard ahead of his 2016 induction into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. Explaining the song’s origins and the inspiration for its characters, he said he was inspired by his daily drive to the music studio and everyone he saw along Ventura Boulevard on his way. 'I tried to grab a little bit of these characters on the road and it was kind of how I saw it. It’s pretty true of that time and that era, I remember. The skateboarders and the shoppers and the young kids in the trendiest possible clothes and the auto-tellers and the drive-thru banks. It’s a scene, it’s a never-ending scene.' In the same interview, he also revealed that he originally came up with the song’s signature chord riff and opening lyrics as a way of amusing Electric Light Orchestra’s Jeff Lynne. 'Jeff Lynne and I were sitting around with the idea of writing a song and I was playing the keyboard and I just happened to hit on that main riff, the intro of the song, and I think Jeff said something like, That’s a really good riff but there’s one chord too many, so I think I cut it back a chord and then, really just to amuse Jeff, honestly, I just sang that first verse. Then he starts laughing,' he said. 'Honestly, I thought I was just amusing Jeff but then I got to the chorus of the song and he leaned over to me and said the word, freefalling. And I went to sing that and he said, No, take your voice up and see how that feels. So I took my voice up an octave or two, but I couldn’t get the whole word in. So I sang freeee, then free falling. And we both knew at that moment that I’d hit on something pretty good. It was that fast.'"
Maureen Lee Lenker (October 3, 2017 - Entertainment Weekly)

"Mr. Petty’s songs were staples of FM rock radio through decades, and with hits like Refugee, Don’t Come Around Here No More, Free Fallin’ and Into the Great Wide Open, Mr. Petty sold millions of albums and headlined arenas and festivals well into 2017. [...] With the Top 10 hit Free Fallin’, it became Mr. Petty’s most popular album, selling 5million copies in the United States alone."
Jon Pareles (October 3, 2017 - New York Times)

"Petty was best known as the lead singer of Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers, and his hits included American Girl, Breakdown, Free Fallin', Learning to Fly and Refugee. [...] Petty also found solo success in 1989 with his album Full Moon Fever, which featured one of his most popular songs, Free Fallin', co-written with Jeff Lynne."
Unknown (October 3, 2017 - BBC News)

"[Petty] scored only two top-10 hits, Don’t Do Me Like That (1979) and Free Fallin’ (1989), but those accomplishments barely hint at the breadth of his success and influence."
Greg Kot (October 3, 2017 - Chicago Tribune)

"Thomas Earl Petty fell in love with music at a young age after a chance encounter with Elvis Presley, and was the voice behind celebrated hits like Free Fallin’ and Don’t Do Me Like That."
Unknown (October 3, 2017 -

"It's hard to believe that one of Petty's most famous track was written and record in two single days, however, its free-wheeling nature is a testament to the fact. Co-written alongside regular collaborator ELO's Jeff Lynne, Free Fallin' is a drive down a sunset-strewn highway in song form taken from his debut solo record. It remains Petty's longest-charting track enjoying a resurgence in the mid-nineties thanks to Tom Cruise's rendition in Cameron Crowe film Jerry Maguire."
Jacob Stolworthy (October 3, 2017 - The Independent)

"Tom Petty likely isn’t thrilled that Free Fallin’ is the defining song of his career. 'There's not a day that goes by that someone doesn't hum Free Fallin' to me, or I don't hear it somewhere, he once said, describing how he wrote the song in a half-hour window. 'But it was really only 30 minutes of my life.' Let it be a testament to Petty’s rock ‘n’roll genius, then, that he could record a song that dwarfs entire bands’ careers faster than it took to write this + story."
Maeve McDermott (October 3, 2017 - USA Today)

"[Full Moon Fever] yielded Free Fallin', still the biggest hit of his career save his 1981 duet with Stevie Nicks, Stop Draggin' My Heart Around."
Steve kandell (October 3, 2017 - GQ magazine)

"Tom Petty, an old-fashioned rock superstar and everyman who drew upon the Byrds, the Beatles and other bands he worshipped as a boy and produced new classics such as Free Fallin', Refugee and American Girl, has died. He was 66."
Hillel Italie (October 3, 2017 - Associated Press)

"Full Moon Fever, the solo album that Mr. Petty released in 1989, is his second front-to-back classic LP (the first was Damn the Torpedoes, a decade before). Several of its songs, including the pleasantly defiant I Won’t Back Down, the delightfully bizarre Runnin’ Down a Dream and a spot-on cover of the Byrds’ I’ll Feel a Whole Lot Better [sic], are among his strongest work. But the best and most important song on Full Moon Fever is Free Fallin’, the Top 10 hit that jumpstarted the second act of Mr. Petty’s career. It’s essentially an update on American Girl, veering between awe-struck longing for the narrator’s dream lover and biting sarcasm toward the same. But it’s a much kinder song: This time, he’s self-aware enough to acknowledge his own role in breaking her heart, and to admit he misses her. Free Fallin’ marks the moment when Tom Petty proved he could handle the ’90s."
Simon Vozick-Levinson (October 3, 2017 - The New York Times)

"1989's Free Fallin' appeared on Petty's debut solo album, Full Moon Fever, and peaked at No. 7 on the Billboard Hot 100. Originally, Petty began singing the song's first verse ('She's a good girl, loves her mama Loves Jesus and America too') just to make Jeff Lynne laugh, Billboard reported. 'With Free Fallin' I was very lucky, because it came very quickly and we recorded that song in a day,' he said. However, the singer once told Esquire that the song's popularity dulled it a bit for him, personally. 'Maybe it would be one of my favorites if it hadn't become this huge anthem,' he said, 'but I'm grateful that people like it.'"
Lesley Messer and Michael Rothman (October 3, 2017 - ABC News)

"The singer behind major hits such as Free Fallin’, Refugee and Runnin’ Down a Dream passed away just one week after completing his 40th anniversary tour, according to The Guardian. [...] In 1989, Petty released his first solo album, Full Down Fever. The album included major hits I Won’t Back Down, Free Fallin’ and Runnin’ Down a Dream. [...] Free Fallin’ peaked at No. 7 on Billboard's hot 100 hits in 1990 and has remained one of Petty’s best-known songs. In an interview with Billboard, Petty shared how writing Free Fallin’ first started as a joke to amuse one of his bandmates but quickly shaped into a song that they wanted to record immediately."
Lottie Elizabeth Johnson (October 3, 2017 - DeseretNews website)

"Petty’s albums, solo or with the Heartbreakers, were admired for their coherence. He was also known for some very classy videos, examples being Don't Come Around Here No More, Free Fallin’ and Learning To Fly."
Narendra Kusnur (October 4, 2017 - The Hindu)

"More than one generation has now grown up cringing while drunk bros strum Free Fallin' at house parties. It’s the American way."
Scott Lapatine (October 4, 2017 - Stereogum online magazine)

"My dad plays piano and my sisters sing, so naturally my dad always loves to joke about getting some gigs for the 'family band,' though it’s never actually happened. However we have played Free Fallin’ as a family for years. There’s probably been about 50 separate occasions, with varying instrumentation. It’s the only non-Christmas or musical theater song to have this kind of staying power. I’m not sure why. We are scrambling to find the soonest time we can all go back home and honor Tom Petty with a spirited rendition."
Dan Shure [Charly Bliss] (October 4, 2017 - Stereogum online magazine)

"One time my cousin threw up on me while Free Fallin’ was playing on a camping trip, and I still couldn’t help but scream along. It’s so sad to say goodbye to such an incredibly gifted songwriter and performer."
Eva Hendricks [Charly Bliss] (October 4, 2017 - Stereogum online magazine)

"Free Fallin’ was one of the first songs I learned to play on guitar. I was thirteen and mimicking a live version by John Mayer that I downloaded from FrostWire. This was always the way Tom Petty came into my life — without me knowing it. It always just sounded like community: cook outs, friends’ cars driving fast, heavy air, windows down, a sound of summer, of freedom."
Maggie Rogers [Charly Bliss] (October 4, 2017 - Stereogum online magazine)

"Free Fallin’ came out when I was a kid but old enough to start caring about music and this was one of my first favorite songs ever. A few years later I got my first guitar and the opening chord riff thing was the first coherent musical thing I could play (and the only thing I could really play for six months or so). So simple and utterly glorious — it’s the kind of simple most people (including me) forget how to do once they get smarter and learn how to play their instrument. Add that to, 'I’m a bad boy cuz I don’t even miss her, I’m a bad boy for breakin’ her heart' and 'I’m gonna free fall out into nothing, gonna leave this world for a while' and it’s all just too much."
Ben Daniels [A Sunny Day In Glasgow] (October 4, 2017 - Stereogum online magazine)

"I love Free Fallin’ because the guitars are always rising like hope. I like it cause the plain-spoken verse contrasts with the kickass chorus and they intersect somewhere you don’t expect. It’s not the usual song of sun and fun in LA. The sun’s a dead stare and look, I have a dead stare too. Free to fall. Have always loved Mr. Petty and wish I could deftly write something that says so much with so little."
Mark Eitzel (October 4, 2017 - Stereogum online magazine)

"The summer of 1980 in my home/resort-town of Ocean City, NJ was soundtracked by side 1 of the B-52’s’ first album, Graham Parker’s Squeezing Out Sparks, the Motels’ Careful, Bram Tchaikovsky etc... and Tom Petty’s Damn The Torpedoes, which because of the company, I heard as a ‘New Wave’ album and still sorta do. And for a long time, I think my default favorite song would’ve been one of those early ones like Refugee, American Girl, or Breakdown, like a lot of folks. But once, about 20 years ago, we were set to play at the Viper Room in Los Angeles, a ridiculously big deal to us in hindsight, and as we’re setting up to soundcheck, there’s a kerfuffle of some sort at the door, with someone trying to get past the bouncer to get into the club for whatever late-afternoon reason, the bouncer having none of it. And from about three feet away, suddenly realize that it’s Tom Petty — who knows why — and in the instant it takes a vain art-ego to recalculate the world in their favor, I think, of course! Petty must’ve been one of the nearly 700 people who bought our first record and now he’s determined — driven, really! — to get in the club even just to experience the soundcheck, such is our talent… [shouting] 'Tom, we’re right heeeeere...' And of course he’d probably just left a coat there the night before. But in my more sensible later years, when I thought about that, I thought more about that weird thing of celebrity/fame up close, where, for artists we’re moved by, a whole solar system of press and stories and personal attachments (not reciprocated directly) and the art itself, orbit through our lives. But that at the center of each of those, there’s always an actual real person, living the full 24 hours of each day, and having to be somewhere, moving west down Ventrua Blvd. or whatever. And so because I never hear it now without thinking of that, wondering how much of the verses was his day-to-day, my favorite’s been Free Fallin’."
Charles Bissell [The Wrens] (October 4, 2017 - Stereogum online magazine)

"What a nice trick, to sound so happy and be so sad. I used to cover Free Fallin’, whispering the verses but leaving the choruses to Sam Amidon, who would shout them, voice frayed, beyond broken, drawing the line from joyful abandon to total self annihilation. As a somewhat gentler creature, Learning To Fly has always been my jam, my very sad favorite."
Thomas Barlett [Doveman] (October 4, 2017 - Stereogum online magazine)

"The biggest seller of the day [after Tom Petty's death] was Petty’s 1989 hit Free Fallin', which sold just 111 copies on the day before his death but swelled to 7.981 sales on Monday."
Tim Kenneally (October 4, 2017 - website)

"[Tom Petty's] top-five-selling songs for that same Oct. 2-3 [2017] time frame were: Free Fallin’ (21,000 downloads), I Won’t Back Down (15,000), Mary Jane’s Last Dance (12,000), Learning to Fly (11,000) and You Don’t Know How It Feels (9,000). Free Fallin’ became Petty’s third and final top 10 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, reaching No. 7 in 1990. The track also hit No. 1 on the Mainstream Rock Songs airplay chart -- one of Petty’s 10 chart toppers on that list. Free Fallin’ was not only Petty’s biggest-selling song immediately following his passing, but also his most-streamed tune, as the song collected 530,000 streams on Oct. 2. The rest of his top five most streamed tracks that day were: Learning to Fly (436,000), Runnin’ Down a Dream (391,000), American Girl (385,000) and Mary Jane’s Last Dance (385,000)."
Kevin Caulfield (October 4, 2017 - Billboard)

"The sun-soaked chords that open the sprawl-dwelling and regretful Free Fallin’ set the album’s tone. They tug the action along while Petty, half-sly and half-wistful, recounts the wounds suffered by a young woman who was focused on lvis and horses before the allure of the bad boy creeps into her life. On the chorus, his voice cracks into a 'free!' that sounds liberated, but it almost immediately skids into a descending 'fa-lli-ing' that reveals the more alarming aspects of being unmoored, an uneasiness that persists even as the churning bridge rises up."
Sam Sodomsky (October 5, 2017 - Pitchforkcom)

"'To me, Tom Petty represented a kind of songwriting I idolised: complex simplicity,' [Taylor Swift] said. 'It said so much in the lyrics, the concepts, the stories, the message, the nuances … but always brought you back to a hook that got stuck in everyone’s head.' The musician also admitted that Petty’s had inspired her to pick up the guitar, so she could learn Free Fallin'."
Helen Meriel Thomas (October 5, 2017 - NME)

"In 1996's Jerry Maguire, Tom Cruise's title-character agent, amped up after landing a big deal, fiddles with the car radio dial to find the right song. He passes up The Rolling Stones-- The Rolling Stones!-- before finding and singing along joyously to Petty's Free Fallin'. Free Fallin' was literal street cred, as Petty once said the song was inspired by his how drives alon L.A.'s Ventura Boulevard."
Klopa Robin (October 5, 2017 - website)

"But after all this, if you still think Tom Petty didn’t contribute much to music history, I challenge you to try and not sing along next time Free Fallin’ comes on the radio."
Scott McCartney (October 6, 2017 - Fife Today)

"[Full Moon Fever] proved [to be Tom Petty's] most popular release, selling five million copies in the US and giving him a Top 10 hit with Free Fallin'."
Maria Anglin (October 7, 2017 - Daily Express)

"In 1989, Petty collaborated with Lynne and came out with his first solo album, Full Moon Fever that featured classics like Free Fallin', I Won't Back Down and Runnin' Down A Dream."
Bulbul Sharma (October 7, 2017 - The Sunday Guardian)

"Petty’s most well-known song Free Fallin’ is from his 1989 debut solo album, Full Moon Fever, and was co-written by Petty’s frequent collaborator and Electric Light Orchestra lead singer Jeff Lynne. [...] Petty had so many hits because his music has a 'complex simplicity' with its universal messages, signature riffs and chord progressions, and hooks that never fail to be stuck in your head. Free Fallin’ is the quintessential Petty song for all of these reasons. The simple repetitive guitar riff backing lyrics that detail a life untouched by the problems of everyday– it is an escape for its listeners, providing catharsis for all who need it– something Tom Petty songs can do like no other."
Nicole Johnson (October 9, 2017 - University of Denver's The Clarion)

"But even still, there may be no more compelling evidence of Petty’s abiding esteem for the Beatles than Free Fallin’, the opening track on Full Moon Fever. In their beauty and simplicity, the lyrics remind us of our vital need to experience life outside of its inherent complexities, to feel things deeply and, whenever possible, with a sense of sweet release: 'I wanna glide down over Mulholland / I wanna write her name in the sky / I’m gonna free fall out into nothin’ / Gonna leave this world for awhile.'"
Ken Womack (October 10, 2017 - Huffington Post)

"Running Down A Dream [sic], I Won’t Back Down,” and Free Fallin', remain radio staples to this day. I don’t believe I know anyone who can’t sing the words to Free Fallin'."
David Farr (October 12, 2017 - Sturgis Journal)

"Popular ditties have referenced Southern California locations, landmarks, and streets for decades, and rocking out to those songs, as you drive along a namesake road or by a song-referenced building, is a time-honored tradition that never loses its charming, oh-so-local luster. And whether you're a MacArthur Park kind of fan (cakes left out in the rain) or you dig Ventura Highway ('where the days are longer, the nights are stronger than moonshine'), you can count on artists continually delivering memorable hooks that give a shout-out to a regional spot you know. A very major Exhibit A? Ventura Boulevard plays a starring, song-tastic role in Free Fallin', a Tom Petty solo hit, co-written by Jeff Lynne of ELO, that debuted at the end of the 1980s and quickly zoomed up the charts as the 1990s dawned. If you're humming along now — 'And all the vampires, walking through the Valley, move west down Ventura Boulevard' — then keep humming, and find all of your Petty-loving pals, and be at the Sherman Oaks Galleria at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 19. That's when the Tom Petty Memorial Vampire Walk will set out, along the celebrated boulevard, to remember the rock 'n roll legend just two weeks and a few days after his passing at the age of 66."
Alysia Gray Painter (October 17, 2017 -

"Tench believes that as a writer, Petty 'walked in this strange penumbra between the shadow and the light.' Free Fallin', Petty’s Top 10 single from Full Moon Fever, 'has a catchy chorus,' Tench says. 'But there is a story and sorrow that is brilliantly laid out.'"
David Fricke (October 18, 2017 - Rolling Stone)

"The [Full Moon Fever] albumss opening track is perhaps Petty’s most famous and well-known hit, Free Fallin', where he offers one last piece of solace for those struggling to cope with the news of his untimely death. Petty sang, 'I’m gonna free fall out into nothin’. Gonna leave this world for a while.'"
Michael Vigilante (October 19, 2017 - The Centurion (Bucks County Community College))

"In 1989, Tom Petty released his album, Full Moon River [sic] and with this album Petty was a global star. There is hardly anyone that has not heard Free Fallin’ and I Won’t Back Down, perhaps even hummed along with Petty’s voice in the background. This was the album that had given some of the major hit songs in his career."
Kalyani Majumdar (October 22, 2017 - Free Press Journal website)

"[Free Fallin' is #4 of Tom Petty's top 50 songs.] With the exception of Stop Draggin' My Heart Around, his breakthrough duet with Stevie Nicks, Free Fallin' is the biggest hit of Petty's career. However, when he first brought Full Moon Fever to MCA Records, not only did the label not hear a single, it balked at releasing the album at all. 'I was stunned,' said Petty. 'It's the only time in my life a record's been rejected.' As with most of Full Moon Fever, Free Fallin' came together quickly. Petty had written the shimmering riff on a little electric keyboard and came up with the lyrics while ad-libbing in the studio for producer Jeff Lynne. Luckily turnover happened at the label, cooler heads were hired, and Free Fallin' became a Top 10 smash, staying on Billboard's singles chart for seven months. 'There's not a day goes by that someone doesn't hum Free Fallin' to me, or I don't hear it somewhere,' said Petty. 'But it was really only 30 minutes of my life."
Unknown (October, 2017 - Rolling Stone's Tom Petty: The Ultimate Guide)

"Featuring Free Fallin', Runnin' Down A Dream and I Won't Back Down, Full Moon Fever is perhaps the album most closely associated with Petty's enduring sound today. In fact, during the 2008 Super Bown halftime show performance, three-quarters of the songs performed were from this 1989 project. [...] The video for Free Fallin', set on and around Ventura Boulevard, said it all: Petty is the strip-mall Dylan, translating those '60's icon down to a younger generation's less heady concerns. [...] Filled with birthday parties, visits to the mall and boys on skateboards, Petty's music video for Free Fallin' feels like an ode to teen memories-- especially if you grew up in Southern California. Paired with the song's melancholy tone (I wanna glide down over Mulholland/I wanna write her name in the sky/I wanna free fall, out into nothin'/Gonna leave this, world for a while) and Petty's rough vocal, the video seems to capture all the highs and lows of late adolescence."
Unknown (late 2017 - Tom Petty Newsweek Special Commorative Edition)

"Petty dominated the charts for over a year on the back of Full Moon Fever, form the albums opener and one its very high profile singles, Free Fallin, we are immediately hooked in; 'She's a good girl, crazy 'bout Elvis Loves horses and her boyfriend too.' An acoustic, slow number, but the soulful, almost southern-twang which is the voice of Tom Petty is both soft and snarling, effortless with sentiment and deadly in delivery and it is this sound which makes him stand out in rock music."
Kevin Burke (October 7, 2018 - GoldenPlec Golden Vauld #93)

"[Phil Jones states:] 'Tom and Jeff had this song that they wanted to demo or work on. They knew and heard what Mike and I were doing so they decided let’s just record it over at Mike’s. They came over and we did the track. They played the track to a drum machine at first with acoustic guitars. And then I played (drums) over that. I actually played it before I heard the vocal. And that was Free Fallin'. That was the first thing we did actually. It was very casual and pretty simple. It was just awesome, the track sound and everything. Free Fallin could have been a straightforward slow song, but Lynne kept adding intriguing little touches, including the breakdown in the final verse that featured cascading backing vocals and Jones’ steady drumming patter around Petty’s wistful ruminations. “Some guys play it as a march, but it’s not really a march.” Jones says of his shining moment on the song. 'It’s more straightforward. People want to put little rolls and fills in there when they cover that song. But that’s not really what it was. In fact, Jeff’s specific instructions were, No, don’t do it like that. Just do it straight.' Free Fallin' is one of those elegiac tracks that Petty would occasionally drop amidst all the peppy rockers to prove just how versatile his songwriting gifts could be. Only this one somehow cut a little deeper, the fact that the singer was now more of a gritty veteran than a fierce upstart adding the weight of painful experience to the lyrics. The narrator surveys the sights of Southern California while painting a quick portrait of an American girl not unlike ones Petty had detailed in many other classics. But this is not a devotional love song, as the punch line to the second verse reveals: 'I’m a bad boy ‘cause I don’t even miss her/ I’m a bad boy for breaking her heart.' Lynne’s backing vocals provide a dreamy touch to the proceedings, while Jones occasionally snaps us out of the reverie with his snare. That’s how you take a three-chord song and turn it into something dynamic and affecting. And the title is a double-edged sword. There is a sense of freedom in it, but there’s also the notion that the narrator has reached a point in his life where there’s nowhere to go but down. Petty and Lynne were only just warming up, of course, with the eventual result being the stunning 1989 album Full Moon Fever. 'They kept writing them and we kept recording them,' Jones recalls. 'And after a while it evolved into a Tom Petty solo album. It caused a little controversy within the Heartbreakers group. It was just really the four of us that did most of it, Jeff Lynne and Tom and Mike and myself. They added other things, but not much. It was mostly just real simple.' Lynne and Petty brought the sound back to a roots-based level that hearkened back to a much earlier era. 'It was Jeff Lynne’s process partly and it was also how they wanted to do it,' Jones explains. 'Lots of acoustic guitars. At first listen it seems less rock than the Heartbreakers stuff from earlier, although it does get into more rock elements. But I think the rootsy thing is because of all the acoustics on there that they used. Some of the tracks have six, eight acoustic guitars on them. That’s how they got that sound. They were building it from a blueprint, where you have a foundation and you’re putting on stuff as it goes. It’s a great way to make a record. It’s not a live-band way. The end product, you couldn’t do live unless you did like Phil Spector did, with six guitar players in the same room playing the same thing.' In one of the all-time examples of record company denseness, MCA was less than overwhelmed with the early results of the sessions. 'What was interesting is that, after seven or eight songs, they took it to the record company and they (MCA) said, Oh, I don’t know, I don’t really hear a single, Jones marvels. 'They stopped for a while, and then they had to go back and do three or four more songs. On the first grouping of songs, I Won’t Back Down, Runnin' Down A Dream and Free Fallin’ were all in there. And the record company, in their infinite wisdom, said, I don’t know if we want to put this out.' They were eventually convinced, of course, and Petty had one of the biggest hits of his career. It would eventually pave the way as well for Petty and Lynne’s work with The Traveling Wilburys (whose first album was recorded after but released before Full Moon Fever.) And Full Moon Fever, with Free Fallin’ as its emotional centerpiece, looms large in Petty’s catalog, which means it looms large in rock and roll history. As for the guy who drummed on those unforgettable songs, his immense pride in the subject is understandable. 'I’ll tell you, it’s still one of the best records I’ve ever heard in years,' Jones says. 'One of the best records ever made, in my opinion. Even though I’m on it. It’s hard to beat that record. When you hear that stuff, it still holds up. It’s great songs and the sounds and everything. I’m honored to have been a part of it, and I learned a lot from doing it with those guys. 'When they (Petty & The Heartbreakers) did the Super Bowl, where you get four songs, they did Free Fallin', Runnin' Down A Dream, I Won’t Back Down as three of them. That should tell you something.'"
Jim Beviglia (November 18, 2018 - American Songwriter)

"Free Fallin': Jeff Lynne finally helped Petty and Campbell find their creative footing again, after another round of failed Heartbreakers sessions. Sparked by Lynne's knack for sleek studio wizardry, Petty quickly banged out this song, building off a riff he'd recorded on a keyboard to polish off the album's first song. 'It was really only 30 minutes of my life,' he later told Rolling Stone, yet Petty admitted that a day rarely went by when someone didn't mention Free Fallin'. That he could create such an unforgettable juxtaposition between the exuberance of 'I'm free!' and then the desolate 'free fallin',' completing the second biggest hit of his career (after Stop Draggin' My Heart Around, his 1981 duet with Stevie Nicks), while working at such a furious pace is a testament to Petty's rock genius. The same couldn't be said, on the other hand, for the Heartbreakers' longtime label. MCA initially balked at releasing Full Moon Fever, stunning Petty. He refused to budge, however, and the album eventually became a five-times platinum Top 5 smash – but only after Petty nearly left for Warner Bros."
Nick Deriso (April 17, 2019 - Ultimate Classic Rock online magazine)

"Not only had the record started out with the title Songs From the Garage, it also faced the wrath of a record label that didn’t hear any singles – even though the songs Free Fallin’, I Won’t Back Down and Runnin’ Down a Dream were part of the track listing. [...] When Full Moon Fever was finally released, it reached No. 3 in the album chart and became the 19th best-selling LP of 1989, while Free Fallin’ went to No. 7, I Won’t Back Down hit No. 12 and Runnin’ Down a Dream reached No. 23."
Martin Kielty (April 22, 2019 - Ultimate Classic Rock online magazine)

"Lynne, as producer, allowed Petty’s Byrds-esque jangly Rickenbacker sound a long leash, and the result was an album full of shimmering tunes: Free Fallin’, I Won’t Back Down and Runnin’ Down A Dream are among the greatest songs of their kind."
Johnny Sparks (May 8, 2019 - Louder)

"Tom Petty has better songs than Free Fallin’. But few are more iconic. Produced by Jeff Lynne, the hit from Full Moon Fever is a breakup song that grooves through its verses into a singalong chorus that punches you right in the gut."
Troy L. Smith (June 6, 2019 - website)

"Among the Petty chestnuts included here [on The Best Of Everything - The Definitive Career Spanning Hits Collection 1976-2016] are Free Fallin, Mary Jane's Last Dance, I Won't Back Down, Don't Do Me Like That, Don’t Come Around Here No More and Refugee."
Dave Gallant (June 21, 2019 - Saltwire Network)

"Petty showcased his prowess on his solo debut, Full Moon Fever, an album that contained several of his most iconic tracks, including I Won’t Back Down, Runnin’ Down A Dream and Free Fallin', which remain rock radio staples even 30 years later. "
Wyoming Reynolds (July 2, 2019 - website)

"The first one we did was Free Fallin' and I Won't Back Down was the second one. That's just amazing because that's just got in the 'song hall of fame', I Won't Back Down. I've never heard of the 'song hall of fame', but I have now."
Jeff Lynne (October 2019 - Sodajerker)

"Tom stopped me on the street in Beverly Hills. He kept saying, 'Hey Jeff!' So I went over to park with him and he said, 'I was just listening to George's album and you've done a great job. Do you fancy working with me?' And I said, 'Yeah, I'd love to.' So we did. We went in and wrote... The first one we wrote together was actually Free Fallin', which is an amazing one to do first, 'cause it was so popular. We co-wrote it. We just sat down in two armchairs and wrote it together. The words part, I put in a couple of 'ands', a 'but', I think. And 'no', I think. [Laughs] No, it's mostly the music that I co-write with him... well, with anybody. Words, I just help. If they're struggling, I'll help 'em try and come up with a thing. But Tom is just brilliant at words, so he never did need much help from me. Just like I say, just a few little ones."
Jeff Lynne (December 16, 2019 - All Songs Considered)

  • Running Time: 4:16
  • Record Date: 1988 or 1989
  • Record Location: MC Studios (Mike Campbell's garage), Los Angeles, California, USA; Rumbo Recorders, Canoga Park, California, USA or Sunset Sound, Hollywood, California, USA or Devonshire Studios, Los Angeles, California, USA or Conway Studios, Hollywood, California, USA or Sound City Studios, Los Angeles, California, USA
  • Written By: Tom Petty & Jeff Lynne
  • Produced By: Jeff Lynne w/ Tom Petty & Mike Campbell
  • Engineered By: Mike Campbell, Don Smith and Bill Bottrell
  • Performed By: Tom Petty (lead vocals, background vocals, acoustic guitar, electric guitars, 6 & 12 string guitars, keyboards, tamborine), Mike Campbell (guitar, mandolin, slide guitar, keyboards), Jeff Lynne (bass, guitar, keyboards, background vocals), Phil Jones (drums, percussion)

  • Released On:
    • Full Moon Fever LP album (1989 April 24 — USA — MCA MCA 6253)
    • Full Moon Fever CD album (1989 April 24 — USA — MCA MCAD 6253)
    • Full Moon Fever LP album (1989 — UK — MCA MCG 6034)
    • Full Moon Fever CD album (1989 — UK — MCA DMCG 6034)
    • Free Fallin' 7" single (1989 — UK — MCA MCA 1381)
    • Free Fallin' 7" single with tour wallet (1989 — UK — MCA MCAB 1381)
    • Free Fallin' 12" single (1989 — UK — MCA MCAT 1381)
    • Free Fallin' CD single with biography (1989 — UK — MCA DMCAT 1381)
    • Free Fallin' 7" single (1989 December — USA — MCA MCA-53748)
    • Free Fallin' cassette single (1989 December — USA — MCA MCAC-53748)
    • Free Fallin' CD promo single (1989 December — USA — MCA CD45-18056)
    • Full Moon Fever - The Videos VHS videotape (1990 — UK — MCA MCV 9006)
    • Full Moon Fever - The Videos VHS videotape (1990 — USA — MCA Music Video MCAV-85500)
    • Full Moon Fever - The Videos laserdisc (1992 — USA — Pioneer PA-92-454)
    • Full Moon Fever gold CD album (1998 — USA — Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab UDCD 735)
    • Greatest Hits CD album (1993 — UK — MCA MCD10964)
    • Greatest Hits CD album (1993 November 1 — USA — MCA MCAD-10813)
    • Playback CD album (1995 November 20 — USA — MCA MCAD6-11375)
    • Playback VHS videotape (1995 November 20 — USA — MCA 008811136734)
    • Anthology: Through The Years CD album (2000 — UK — MCA 1701772)
    • Anthology: Through The Years CD album (2000 October 31 — USA — MCA 088 170 177-2)
    • Playback DVD (2000 December 12 — USA — MCA 088 111 367-9)
    • Playback DVD (2001 July 23 — UK — Universal Island 1113679)
    • Greatest Hits CD album (2008 May 20 — USA — Geffen B001032702)
    • Full Moon Fever digital album (2008 May 22 — Worldwide — MCA 076732625323)
    • Greatest Hits CD album (2008 June 2 — UK — Universal 1774395)
    • Full Moon Fever digital album (2015 April 7 — Worldwide — Geffen 602547255150)
    • The Complete Studio Albums Volume 1 (1976-1991) LP box set album (2016 December 9 — Worldwide — Universal Music Enterprises 00602547952158)
    • Full Moon Fever LP album (2017 June 2 — Worldwide — UME B0024291-01)
    • Greatest Hits digital album (2018 November 23 — USA — Geffen 602577174421)
    • The Best Of Everything - The Definitive Career Spanning Hits Collection 1976-2016 LP album (2019 March 1 — Worldwide — Geffen Records B0028984-01/060256793403)
    • The Best Of Everything - The Definitive Career Spanning Hits Collection 1976-2016 CD album (2019 March 1 — Worldwide — Geffen Records B0028986-02/00602567934394)
    • The Best Of Everything - The Definitive Career Spanning Hits Collection 1976-2016 digital album (2019 March 1 — Worldwide — Geffen Records 602577036279)
    • Full Moon Fever LP album (2021 February — Worldwide — Geffen/UM 80024291-01)

  • Top UK Chart Position: 64
  • Top US Chart Position: 7

  • Used in the Film or TV Program:
    • Jerry Maguire (1996)
    • Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers: Runnin' Down a Dream (2007)

  • Cover Versions:
    • Stevie Nicks on the Party Of Five soundtrack album (1995)
    • The Moog Cookbook on their The Moog Cookbook album (1995)
    • Tony Hadley on his self-titled Tony Hadley album (1998)
    • Unknown artist on the Pickin' On Petty: A Bluegrass Tribute To Tom Petty album (2000)
    • Peter Cox, Go West and Tony Hadley on their Peter Cox & Go West V Tony Hadley album (2002)
    • YG Family feat. Teddy Park and Taebin on the YG Family 2 album (2002)
    • Mýa on the Moodring album (2003)
    • The Summer Obsession on their Two Types Of People album (2004)
    • Kevin Bacon and Jimmy Fallon on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon in a comedy version called Free Horses (08/2016)
    • Don Henley at the the Musicares Person Of The Year gala (02/2017)
    • Coldplay at a live concert (10/2017)
    • U2 at a live concerts as part of the song Beautiful Day (10/2017)
    • Fleetwood Mac at live concerts (2018)

  • Used as a Sample in the Songs:
    • Fallin' by Teenage Fanclub & De La Soul on the Judgement Night soundtrack album (1994)
    • I'm Free by Pimp C on the Pimpalation album (2006)
    • Good Morning by Chamillionaire on the Venom album (2009)