Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers – American Girl

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers – American Girl

‘American Girl’ is a rock song written by Tom Petty and recorded by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers for their self-titled debut album in 1976. It was released as a single and did not chart in the United States, but peaked at No. 40 in the UK for the week ending August 27, 1977. It was re-released in 1994 as the second single from Petty's Greatest Hits album and peaked at No. 68 in the U.S. Cash Box Top 100. Despite limited chart success, ‘American Girl’ became one of Petty's most popular songs and a staple of classic rock. It has been consistently rated as his best song, only surpassed by ‘Free Fallin'’ otherwise, and one of the best rock songs of all time, and has been called "more than a classic rock standard — it's practically part of the American literary canon." It has also been used in several movies and television shows, often during a scene in which a character, much like the protagonist in the song's lyrics, is "longing for something bigger than their current existence."

Petty’s signature anthem was recorded, fittingly, on the Fourth of July, 1976, supercharging Byrds-y jangle for the arena Seventies. He later said the song tumbled out of him while he sat in his apartment in Encino, California, listening to the traffic on the freeway below his window, landing on a riff so powerful it would show up 25 years later in another hit, the Strokes’ ‘Last Nite.’ “I saw an interview with them where they actually admitted it,” Petty told Rolling Stone in 2006. “That made me laugh out loud. I was like, ‘OK, good for you.’ It doesn’t bother me.”

Due to lyrics about a desperate girl on a balcony hearing "cars roll by out on 441," the song has long been rumored to be about a college student who committed suicide by jumping from the Beaty Towers residence hall at the University of Florida (UF) in Gainesville. The 160 feet (49 m) dormitory is located on the edge of campus alongside US Route 441 and opened in 1967, when Petty was a teenager living across town. n the book Conversations with Tom Petty, the musician stated that the supposed tragic origin of the song was simply an urban legend: “It's become a huge urban myth down in Florida. That's just not at all true. The song has nothing to do with that. But that story really gets around... They've really got the whole story. I've even seen magazine articles about that story. "Is it true or isn't it true?" They could have just called me and found out it wasn't true.”

In the same interview, Petty explained that he wrote the song while living in California: “I was living in an apartment where I was right by the freeway. And the cars would go by. In Encino, near Leon Russell's house. And I remember thinking that that sounded like the ocean to me. That was my ocean. My Malibu. Where I heard the waves crash, but it was just the cars going by. I think that must have inspired the lyric.”

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers opened their Live Aid set in Philadelphia with ‘American Girl.’ At one point in the song, Petty gives a little smile and flips off someone in the crowd. The concert was broadcast live to an audience of millions, so this was certainly one of the most-seen one-finger salutes in history.

‘American Girl’ was the last song performed in concert by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. They played it to close out the encore of their performance on September 25, 2017, at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles, California, the final concert of their 40th Anniversary Tour. Petty died of complications from cardiac arrest after an accidental prescription medication overdose on October 2, just over a week later. It is ranked number 169 on Rolling Stone's list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

Label – Shelter
Songwriter – Tom Petty
Producer – Denny Cordell


[Verse 1]
Well, she was an American girl
Raised on promises
She couldn't help thinkin' that there
Was a little more to life somewhere else
After all, it was a great big world
With lots of places to run to
And if she had to die tryin', she
Had one little promise she was gonna keep
Oh yeah, all right
Take it easy, baby
Make it last all night (Make it last all night)
She was an American girl
[Verse 2]
Well, it was kinda cold that night
She stood alone on her balcony (Ooh)
Yeah, she could hear the cars roll by
Out on 441 like waves crashin' on the beach
And for one desperate moment there
He crept back in her memory
God, it's so painful when something that is so close
Is still so far out of reach
Oh yeah, all right
Take it easy, baby
Make it last all night (Make it last all night)
She was an American girl (Ooh)
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