Welcome to our “Psychedelic Lunch” series, where we find out how deep the rabbit hole really goes and explore music from the 60’s to today. Weekdays At Noon EST. Enjoy the trip!

Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers, American Girl. Album: Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers (1977)

A track from the first Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers album, “American Girl” was never a huge hit, but it became one of their most popular songs. Part of its lasting appeal is its intrigue, as it is the subject of an urban myth.

Sorry, urban legend enthusiasts. Tom Petty’s 1977 standard wasn’t inspired by a University of Florida girl who committed suicide by jumping from a Beaty Towers balcony. Though the song’s second verse references both a girl standing “alone on her balcony” and “could hear the cars roll by out on 441” (a highway that runs near the Gainesville campus), Petty has shot down the misunderstanding on numerous occasions.

In the book Conversations With Tom Petty, the lead Heartbreaker is quoted as saying, “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.” Heartbreakers’ guitarist Mike Campbell has backed Petty up, stating that some interpretations of the song took the lyrics at face value: “Some people take it literally and out of context. To me it’s just a really beautiful love song.”Tom Petty said of this song: “I wrote that in a little apartment I had in Encino. It was right next to the freeway and the cars sometimes sounded like waves from the ocean, which is why there’s the line about the waves crashing on the beach. The words just came tumbling out very quickly – and it was the start of writing about people who are longing for something else in life, something better than they have.”

Mike Campbell has been The Heartbreakers’ guitarist since they formed the band. Here’s what he told us about this song: “We used to have people come up to us and tell us they thought it was about suicide because of the one line about ‘if she had to die,’ but what they didn’t get was, the whole line is ‘if she had to die trying.’ Some people take it literally and out of context. To me it’s just a really beautiful love song. It does have some Florida imagery.”

Psychedelic Lunch

Written By Braddon S. Williams

Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers: Damn The Torpedos

Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers hit the big time with Damn The Torpedoes in 1979. Their first two albums had great songs and performances, but lacked great production and promotion. Damn The Torpedoes fixed those minor details and showed the world what Tom and the boys were truly capable of.

Refugee and Don’t Do Me Like That were certified smash hits, but Tom Petty didn’t write any throw away songs, and the deep cuts were gems on this classic record. Century City, Louisiana Rain, and What Are You Doin’ In My Life? could have been hits in an alternate universe, and Even The Losers and Here Comes My Girl both made it onto the Greatest Hits album (both being among my all-time favorite Petty tunes).

Jimmy Iovine provided the stellar production and guidance that helped shaped The Heartbreakers attack into the perfect band to support Petty’s flair for writing outstanding heartland rock ‘n roll. The man is gone, but what a treasure filled legacy he left behind. Damn The Torpedoes is a timeless album that will still sound amazing for decades to come.


Influences And Recollections of a Musical Mind