Remembering Petty Through His Music


After an illustrious career as a songwriter and musician, Tom Petty passed away on Monday, Oct. 2, after a heart attack.

As I sit in my apartment blaring his “Damn the Torpedoes” LP, I still can’t believe it. Tom Petty, dead at 66? It has to be wrong; it’s too soon; I’m not ready, not with the horrific news of Las Vegas still weighing heavy on my heart. After all, the world had already lost so many people in one day; surely we didn’t deserve to lose another.

Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers have always been an absolute favorite of mine. I can’t even tell you the first time I listened to them and knew I loved them. It was just there, like it was engrained in my DNA. His unique voice, infectious lyrics and catchy instrumentation drew me in every time.

I remember saving up my allowance for weeks in order to buy the “Tom Petty Greatest Hits” CD from my high school band fundraiser. If we weren’t listening to AC/DC on family car rides, that CD is what we listened to.  I never got tired of it. If anything, the anticipation grew as I learned the track list and could identify which song was playing within the first few bars.

When I got my first MP3 player, Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers’ songs were my first downloads.

In honor of the late, great Tom Petty, I have compiled a list of some of my favorite songs along with a story or two as to why they are so important to me.

‘Mary Jane’s Last Dance’

How could anyone not love this song? I felt so accomplished when I successfully learned all the lyrics and sang/rapped about … well weed, I guess if you believe most peoples’ interpretation. If I have a great day, I always crank this song. Whenever I’m on a road trip with my sister, we scream it at the top of our lungs. It’s just a great song that instantly makes you feel cooler and more confident.

‘The Waiting’

The first time I really heard this song was when I was watching VH1 Classic’s “Totally 80’s” music video block. I loved the Beatles-esque feel of the song and the video. It’s a clean song about taking it slow in a relationship and how difficult it can sometimes be. Sweet and easy to sing along to, it quickly became a fast favorite.


I was hooked on this song from the first guitar riff — it’s just so smooth and effortlessly cool. Then the lyrics start and the cool level skyrockets. A song about a guy (which I can only picture as an overconfident, “Grease”-era Travolta in a leather jacket and dark shades, leaning nonchalantly against the bar) trying to convince a girl there is something electric between them they shouldn’t fight. Another great song to jam to on late night road trips or perhaps after watching a 1970s Travolta film.

‘You Don’t Know How It Feels’

This song has always been with me. I feel it understands where I’m coming from in a way that outsiders don’t. The lyrics sing about a real truth, you don’t really know what it’s like to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. You only see what the person wants you to see, so you don’t always see the deep-rooted anxieties, depression, etc. that is hidden beneath their social exterior. A slower song with plain soft vocals, its a comforting song, right when you need it.

‘Stop Dragging My Heart Around’

OK, so this is technically a Stevie Nicks and Tom Petty duet, but it is still on of my favorites. Perhaps I love it so much because I know how much my mom has always enjoyed this song, but I think it definitely goes past that. The guitar and keys give this song a cool, yet haunting quality as Nicks and Petty try to convince the other to let go of their hearts and free them from the torture of a relationship that has been drawn out much too long.


This explosive song is one of the many reasons I love the “Damn the Torpedoes” album so much. This is a song about convincing someone to move on from their abusive past relationship and not let fear stop them from trying to love again. His pleading, powerful chorus is infectious and pairs perfectly with a car ride after a rough day, or added confidence after a disappointment.

‘Free Fallin”

I couldn’t leave this list without “Free Fallin'” and not just because it is probably his biggest hit. It’s dreamy verses backed by acoustic guitar and powerful chorus make it perfect for singing along with the radio. Plus, as a person of Norwegian heritage I love the Valhalla reference. A feel good tune I will never tire of, just another reason why I will always love Tom Petty.

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