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Weekend Songs: Tom Petty, ‘Free Fallin”

Tom Petty, 'Free Fallin''
MCA Records

Classic rock is about heavy hooks, power chords, and tight harmonies, but it’s also about letting loose and enjoying the good times — and there’s no better time than Friday evening, when we pick up our paycheck, punch out of work, and enjoy a couple days of much-needed rest and relaxation.

It isn’t like he spent the rest of the decade under a rock or anything, but by the end of the ’80s, it really seemed like Tom Petty was everywhere. Between his long string of hits with the Heartbreakers and his membership in the surprise supergroup the Traveling Wilburys, it seemed like everything he touched turned to gold or platinum — and then came the spring of 1989, when he struck out as a solo artist and scored the biggest hit of his career.

We are, of course, talking about ‘Full Moon Fever.’ Billed as Petty’s first solo LP but featuring performances from most of the Heartbreakers (as well as a handful of famous friends and fellow Wilburys like George Harrison and Roy Orbison), it was the perfect record at the perfect time — it sounded enough like everything else Petty had done that his fans were happy, and it contained what seemed like a bottomless well of rock-solid singles, ready for radio domination.

Arguably the greatest of them all is the album’s leadoff track, ‘Free Fallin’,’ which sent the already-successful ‘Full Moon Fever’ into sales overdrive when it was released as the album’s third single in late October. With its simple, hummable verse and irresistibly triumphant chorus, ‘Free Fallin” brilliantly combined narrowly specific lyrical references to the San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles with one of the most universally celebrated feelings in the human lexicon: Freedom.

It’s a feeling that comes with a cost — as Petty’s protagonist acknowledges with his dash of regret over breaking someone’s heart — but one that can’t be denied, as evidenced by the way ‘Free Fallin” has gone on to become one of Petty’s signature songs, popping up all over the pop cultural landscape (such as this scene from ‘Jerry Maguire’) and regularly ranking on all-time rock lists (such as Rolling Stone’s tally of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time). Petty recording ‘Full Moon Fever’ may have rankled some members of the Heartbreakers — and it contributed to drummer Stan Lynch’s departure from the band five years later — but there’s no arguing with the music.

All of which is to say that you don’t need to be in Reseda — or on Mulholland or Ventura Boulevard — for ‘Free Fallin” to strike a chord; you just need to be ready to embrace that feeling of soaring free of burdens and obligations. Sounds pretty good, right? We thought so. Hit “play” on the video below and turn up the volume, because the weekend starts now.

Top 10 Opening Lyrics

Hear Tom Petty, ‘Free Fallin”

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