Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers - Learning To Fly [Single/Album Version]Details

"I don't see that many [Chicago Bulls] games. And Michael Jordan wanted [Learning To Fly for an NBA Championship Chicago Bulls documentary], so I said 'sure.' Y'know, it's just a... I think it's a documentary on their season."
Tom Petty (August 7, 1991 - Rockline)

"Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers are spending the day at Bob’s Airpark, part of an immense airplane graveyard in Tucson, Arizona. All one can see in any direction in this surreal location are the carcasses of countless aircraft of various vintage set dramatically against an otherwise barren desert landscape. Occasionally, military planes in far better condition than the ones below fly loudly overhead. Everyone here this afternoon is waiting for some unusually cloudy weather to pass so director Julien Temple can finish shooting the video for Learning to Fly, the first single from the band’s exquisite new album, Into the Great Wide Open. Throughout the morning, Petty and the Heartbreakers — guitarist Mike Campbell, keyboardist Benmont Tench, drummer Stan Lynch and bassist Howie Epstein — were balanced precariously on the wings of stripped-down planes as they braved, with varying degrees of stoicism, the intense desert heat for hours on end. Jane Petty, Tom’s wife of eighteen years, observed one setup and appeared concerned. 'Look at poor Benmont,' she said. 'He’s roasting out there.' During a much-needed break, Tom hurries over to Jane, who could pass for his twin sister, and surveys the rather bizarre scene. 'I suppose if you worked here at Bob’s, this would have to qualify as a pretty good day at the office,' he says, his deep voice still betraying a slight Southern accent. 'It’s like Oh, yeah, honey, then there was some band in here making a video.' Moments later the skies open, and torrential rain comes pouring down. Crew members rush to cover the band’s instruments, while most everyone else takes refuge. Temple hides out in a nearby equipment truck and chats on a portable phone with Mick Jagger about the video he’s just completed for Sex Drive."
David Wild (August 8, 1991 - Rolling Stone #610)

"Learning To Fly made it straight onto the Radio 1 playlist; with its cheerfully crisp acoustic, gutsy lead solo, soft vocal harmonies and no-nonsense drumming, it sets the pattern for much of the rest [of the album]. Tom sticks to this blueprint for two of the other tracks on Side One, King's Highway and Two Gunslingers."
John Van der Kiste (1992 - Face The Music fanzine #10)

"'I quite like this Learning To Fly,' Tom says. 'I got it from a pilot on television. He said there's nothing much to learning to fly. The difficult thing is coming down... And I thought, 'Yeah, that's true.' The song came pretty quickly after that. I still like that song and still perform it.'"
Bill Flanagan (1995 liner notes for Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers - Playback)

"Petty contributes two brand new Petty compositions, Jack and Square One, [to the Elizabethtown movie soundtrack] as well as the Grammy nominated Learning to Fly from the 1991 Into the Great Wide Open album."
Unknown (August 24, 2005 - Business Wire news story)

"And I know [The Heartbreakers] were happy with things like Learning To Fly and Into The Great Wide Open. [...] [Learning To Fly has] been one of our most popular songs. We still get lots of requests for that in movies, and people always want to hear it in the show. People embrace it. [Hearing a pilot say that learning to fly is easy, but coming down is the hard part] was the inspiration, and I took it from there. Jeff and I wrote that together. I think I started it, and pretty much had it going, and then he came in and helped me with the chords. We finished it off together. I still like that song. I like to perform it. I've gotten a lot of different mail on it; different people that were inspired one way or the other in life by that song, and they send me letters about it. I'm proud I wrote that song. And it's a good-sounding record, it's a good sounding single. Yeah, I think we wrote it in an evening. It came quickly because I had written most of the words, and I had gotten a tune in my head. So I had this idea, and we sat down and spent a whole evening on it. But that's fairly quick, if it comes in a day or two. I just had this little tune in my head, and I sang him this tune, and he said, 'Let's see what fits nicely under it.' And he played a big part in the chords."
Tom Petty (November 1, 2005 - Conversations With Tom Petty)

"If I could pick two [favorite Tom Petty songs], I'd pick Learning to Fly and... It's Good To Be King..."
Barbara Skydel (March 20, 2006 - Billboard)

rou"Songs [written by Tom] like I Won't Back Down, Don't Do Me Like That, Into the Great Wide Open and I Need To Know, speak volumes about the necessity of not only doing things his way, but to reinvent himself in the process, with a myriad of images of fleeing, falling and starting over that reoccur over and over in his canon, culminating in what are perhaps his most salient words to the wise: 'Comin' down is the hardest thing.' [on Learning To Fly]."
Jaan Uhelszki (July 2006 - Harp Magazine)

"One of my favorite songs would be Learning To Fly that we co-wrote. It's such a complete, the sound of it, then the words are brilliant. Tom wrote all the words except for a few little words that I had here and there... a couple of little... 'and' and 'the' and 'but' there was, I think."
Jeff Lynne (2007 - Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers: Runnin' Down A Dream)

"Learning To Fly is one of my favorite Tom songs, partly because I co-wrote it with him. And I did produce [it]. It was such a lovely song and I love Tom's voice. But this particular song, there's just something about it. The words are brilliant that Tom wrote. And it's just a very clever song, I think."
Jeff Lynne (October 24, 2012 - Tracks Of My Years radio show on BBC)

"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. [...] 1991 album Into The Great Wide Open gave the band a number one single, Learning To Fly."
Unknown (October 3, 2017 - BBC News)
Editor's Note: The reference to a number one single must be in reference to Billboard's Album Rock Tracks, and not the full singles charts in either the US or UK (where it peaked at #28 and #46 respectively).

"Learning to Fly is yet another product of Petty's time collaborating with Lynne. Comprised of just four chords, its hair-raising melody and sanguine lyrics are beautiful in their simplicity, its allure inducing both smiles and tears without the listener ever knowing why. The song went on to become one of the rocker's top hits, enjoying a full six weeks at number one with a music video starring a fresh-faced Johnny Depp."
Jacob Stolworthy (October 3, 2017 - The Independent)

"Tom Petty’s rock ‘n’ roll legacy is one of plainspoken, achingly evocative songs that paint the struggles of survival with just enough optimism not to break your heart. Learning to Fly is one such song, the best of Petty’s collaborations with production mastermind Jeff Lynne, with a knife-twist of a chorus ('I’m learning to fly, but I ain’t got wings') to keep it honest."
Maeve McDermott (October 3, 2017 - USA Today)

"In 1991, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers released their album Into the Great Wide Open, which included the single Learning to Fly. In an interview with ABC News, Petty said that he and Lynne tried to write a song about overcoming adversity. 'I don't say that I can fly -- I'm learning. Also, we're expected to do a lot of things that we're not necessarily equipped for,' he said. 'Everyone has tragedy in their life. You can lay down and let the tragedy overwhelm you, or you can fly above it and I think that's sort of what I'm trying to say in that song.'"
Lesley Messer and Michael Rothman (October 3, 2017 - ABC News)

"In 1991, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers released the album Into the Great Wide Open. The album included the hit Learning to Fly. In a 1991 interview with ABC News, Petty shared how the song was important in helping him overcome trials such as the destruction of his California home in 1987. '(Learning to Fly is) becoming a philosophy of mine because of things like that,' Petty said. "'veryone has tragedy in their life. You can lay down and let the tragedy overwhelm you, or you can fly above it... I don't say that I can fly, I'm learning.'"
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)

"We’re in the midst of a tour and to wake up to the news of Las Vegas was nauseating and awful. It was all made a bit worse by the Tom Petty news a few hours later. Obviously these two events are not equivalents on the scale of tragedy, but they both added up to a particularly American kind of shitty day. He has so many great songs, but Learning To Fly is in my head right now. Probably not the coolest choice, but so be it. His voice just sounds so close, he’s right in your ear."
Chris Hrasky [Explosions In The Sky] (October 4, 2017 - Stereogum online magazine)

"I’m so sad to hear about Tom Petty. I first became a real fan of his when I was a young teenager and was just about to start to play guitar and write songs. He has always been a big inspiration to me. Learning To Fly was probably the first song that really hooked me on him (along with the first Traveling Wilburys record) and it’s still one of my favorite songs of all time. The lyrics have such a great sentiment — especially when paired with the kind of easy, laid back vibe that Tom and the band deliver it with. His voice is so chilled out and reassuring and the recording and arrangement sound so lush and beautiful. It’s like the perfect, guilt-free comfort food. After discovering that album and song, I got really into Tom’s catalog and then anticipated new records from him more than I did most bands. It’s sad to say goodbye but he definitely left us with way more amazing music than we ever could have asked. RIP Tom — and thank you so much."
Tim Kingsbury [Arcade Fire/Sam Patch] (October 4, 2017 - Stereogum online magazine)

"The reason I pick Learning To Fly is that it represents overcoming obstacles in your life and the idea that no matter what happens to you there’s always a chance to bounce back from it. You have to accept that circumstances outside of your control will always have a role in determining the course of your life, but you have to learn to be okay with that. It also represents (to me) that no matter how good of a person you are life will always punch back. You can’t compare the amount of good that you do to the amount of goodness you receive. It’s a hopeful song about the human condition and the search for happiness. 11/10 for me."
Aaron Gossett [Blis.] (October 4, 2017 - Stereogum online magazine)

"It’s hard to lose a hero and it’s even harder to imagine living in a would without Tom Petty. You could rest easy knowing that he was out there writing and playing and fighting the good fight. He gave us so much, and was such an inspiration. I had a tough time choosing just one song since all of his songs are my favorites. He was a genius songwriter and could make an incredible song out of just three or four chords. For example, Learning To Fly has four chords and the progression never changes across the verse AND chorus! His vocal delivery and phrasing were amazing. He was truly one in a million."
Mary Timony [Ex Hex] (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 Bartlett [Doveman] (October 4, 2017 - Stereogum online magazine)

"[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’ 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)

"Some of [Tom Petty's] other best hits include Mary Jane’s Last Dance, Learning To Fly, and Runnin’ Down A Dream."
Nicole Johnson (October 9, 2017 - University of Denver's The Clarion)

"More great tracks came in the 1990s with the hits Into The Great Wide Open, You Don’t Know How It Feels, You Wreck Me, Learning To Fly, and the band’s biggest hit, Mary Jane’s Last Dance."
David Farr (October 12, 2017 - Sturgis Journal)
Editor's Note: Mary Jane’s Last Dance was not Tom Petty's biggest hit, reaching only #14 on the Billboard charts. Rather, his biggest his is Stop Draggin' My Heart Around with Stevie Nicks, which reached #3 on the Billboard charts.

"His album, Into The Great Wide Open, again is considered a classic rock album with a lineup of amazing songs, Learning To Fly and Into The Great Wide Open became extremely popular."
Kalyani Majumdar (October 22, 2017 - Free Press Journal website)

"Bob Dylan paid tribute to his late friend and Traveling Wilburys bandmate Tom Petty with a cover of Learning to Fly during the encore of Dylan’s Saturday night concert in Broomfield, Colorado. The performance, a surprise deviation from Dylan’s usually rigid setlists, came one day after what would have been Petty’s 67th birthday. Into the Great Wide Open‘s Learning to Fly was penned by Petty and Jeff Lynne, also known as Charlie T. Wilbury, Jr. and Otis Wilbury when they – along with Dylan, Harrison and Roy Orbison – performed together in the rock supergroup Traveling Wilburys. Following Petty’s death October 2nd, Dylan said of Petty in a statement to Rolling Stone, 'It’s shocking, crushing news. I thought the world of Tom. He was a great performer, full of the light, a friend, and I’ll never forget him.' In years past, Dylan has occasionally delivered tributes to late friends and artists like Warren Zevon (Mutineer and others), Link Wray (Rumble) and fellow Wilburys 'brother' George Harrison (Something) onstage."
Daniel Kreps (October 22, 2017 - Rolling Stone)

"Anyway, this is all to say that you don't go to Dylan because you're looking for clarity. But that's what his audience got on Saturday night in Broomfield, CO—at least for a few minutes when he paid tribute to the late Tom Petty, Dylan's friend and bandmate, by playing a bit of Petty's 1991 hit Learning to Fly. You can more or less make out the words (though this is a phone video, so who knows?), and better yet, you can hear Bob stretching into his high register for Petty (and co-writer Jeff Lynne)'s gorgeous melody."
Sean Nelson (October 23, 2017 - The Stranger)

"[Learning To Fly is #22 of Tom Petty's top 50 songs.] 'Learning To Fly was a Jeff Lynne production,' says Mike Campbell. 'Tons of acoustic guitars on it, layered really thick, strumming away. My favorite part was the little drum break at the end-- dica-dica-dic-boom-boom. I got off on that a lot. That was fun.' But he adds that what made the song work was the simplicity of Petty's writing: 'That's the miracle of the song. There's really not much to it. It's really simple music, simple lyrics.' Petty claims to have gotten the words almost verbatim from watching a television interview with a pilot. 'He said there's really not much to learning to fly; the difficult thing is coming down, and I thought, Yeah, that's true.' Petty recalled. The song, which contains allusions to the just-ended Gulf War ('The sea may burn'), was pulled together in an evening with Lynne, who came up with the chords to go under Petty's melody. It became one of his most inspirational tunes. 'I wanted that song to be a kind of redemptive song,' Petty said. 'Only in the vaguest way."
Unknown (October, 2017 - Rolling Stone's Tom Petty: The Ultimate Guide)

"Songs like Mr. Blue Sky, Don't Bring Me Down and Learning To Fly-- the list goes on-- have won Lynne a cherished place in the hearts of pop fans around the world."
Unknown (April 11, 2019 - Music Mayhem)

"Learning To Fly and King’s Highway are two of the strongest songs Petty has recorded, all glorious, chiming guitars and euphoric choruses."
Johnny Sparks (May 8, 2019 - Louder)

"Learning To Fly and the title track were widely seen as logical steps forward from Petty’s previous album. Even with its sparse, four-chord arrangement, Learning To Fly illustrates how much Petty could do with a seemingly simple song, turning it into a soaring anthem. The Jeff Lynne-produced single was a smashing success, landing at No.28 on the Billboard Hot 100 and earning a Grammy nomination for Best Rock Song. In a career chock-full of hits, it became Petty’s most successful single, chart-wise, since 1981’s The Waiting."
Wyoming Reynolds (July 2, 2019 - website)

  • Running Time: 4:02
  • Record Date: 1991
  • Record Location: Rumbo Recorders, Studio C, Canoga Park, California, USA
  • Written By: Tom Petty & Jeff Lynne
  • Produced By: Jeff Lynne
  • Engineered By: Richard Dodd
  • Performed By: Tom Petty (lead vocals, rhythm guitar, backing vocals, percussion), Mike Campbell (lead guitar, keyboards, baritone guitar, bass, bouzouki, mandolin, hammer dulcimer), Stan Lynch (drums, percussion, champagne bucket), Benmont Tench (electric piano, upright piano, accordian), Howie Epstein (single harmony, backing vocals, bass), Jeff Lynne (guitars, keyboards, backing vocals, bass)

  • Released On:
    • Into The Great Wide Open LP album (1991 July 2 — USA — MCA MCA 10317)
    • Into The Great Wide Open CD album (1991 July 2 — USA — MCA MCA 10317)
    • Into The Great Wide Open LP album (1991 July 8 — UK — MCA MCA 10317)
    • Into The Great Wide Open CD album (1991 July 8 — UK — MCA MCD 10317)
    • Learning To Fly 7" single (1991 — UK — MCA MCS 1555)
    • Learning To Fly CD single (1991 — UK — MCA MCSTD 1555)
    • Learning To Fly 7" single (1991 June — USA — MCA 7-54124)
    • Learning To Fly cassette single (1991 June — USA — MCA MCACS-54124)
    • Learning To Fly CD promo single (1991 June — USA — MCA CD45-1482)
    • King's Highway 7" single (1991 — UK — MCA MCS 1610)
    • King's Highway CD single (1991 — UK — MCA MCSTD 1610)
    • Something In The Air 7" single (1993 — UK — MCA MCS 1947)
    • 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)
    • Elizabethtown - Vol. 2 CD album (2006 February 7 — USA — RCA ?)
    • Into The Great Wide Open digital album (2007 July 5 — Worldwide — MCA 008811031725)
    • Greatest Hits CD album (2008 May 20 — USA — Geffen B001032702)
    • Greatest Hits CD album (2008 June 2 — UK — Universal 1774395)
    • Into The Great Wide Open digital album (2015 April 7 — Worldwide — Geffen 602547255174)
    • The Complete Studio Albums Volume 1 (1976-1991) LP box set album (2016 December 9 — Worldwide — Universal Music Enterprises 00602547952158)
    • Into The Great Wide Open LP album (2017 June 2 — Worldwide — UME B0024292-01)
    • 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)

  • Top UK Chart Position: 46
  • Top US Chart Position: 28
  • Cover Versions:
    • Bonnie Tyler on her Heart Strings album (2002)
    • Jackson Brown at the the Musicares Person Of The Year gala (02/2017)
    • Bob Dylan during select live performances (10/2017)
    • U2 at a live concerts as part of the song Beautiful Day (10/2017)

  • Used in the Film or TV Program:
    • Elizabethtown (2005)
    • Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers: Runnin' Down a Dream (2007)
    • Young Sheldon promo trailers (2020)