Jeff Lynne, famous for his work in ELO, produced the Full Moon Fever album and wrote this song with Tom Petty early in their collaboration. According to liner notes in Petty's Playback box set, he and Jeff Lynne were playing some elaborate stuff on the keyboard that all started with three simple chords. Lynne suggested that Tom stop all the hard stuff and just sing some words to those three chords, and he came up with "She's a good girl... loves her mama..." just to make Jeff smile, and they kept going from there. Petty says that it was Lynne who came up with the title, but it took Tom a little while before he figured out the best way to sing the phrase.
Mike Campbell is The Heartbreakers' guitarist. He has also produced and written the music for many of their songs, as well as "The Boys of Summer" and "The Heart Of The Matter" for Don Henley. Mike told us about working with Jeff Lynne: "When we did that first record with Jeff Lynne, Full Moon Fever, that was an amazing time for me because it was mostly just the three of us - me and Tom and Jeff - working at my house. Jeff Lynne is an amazing record-maker. It was so exciting for a lot of reasons. First of all, our band energy in the studio had gotten into kind of a rut, we were having some issues with our drummer and just kind of at the end of our rope in terms of inspiration - having a lot of trouble cutting tracks in the studio.
This project came along and really we were just doing it for fun at the beginning, but Jeff would come in and every day he would blow my mind. It was so exciting to have him and Tom come over and go, 'OK, here's this song,' and then Jeff would just go. I'd never seen this done before, he'd say, 'OK, here's what we're going to do: Put a drum machine down. Now put up a mic, we're going to do some acoustic guitars. Put up another mic, were going to do a keyboard. OK, here's an idea for the bass. Mike, let's try some guitar on this. I've got an idea for a background part here...'
Sure enough, within five or six hours, the record would be done, and we'd just sit back and go, 'How the f-ck did you do that?' We were used to being in the studio and like 'OK, here's how the song goes' and everybody would set up to play and just laboriously run the song into the ground, and it usually got worse and worse from trying to get the groove and the spirit and trying to get a performance out of five guys at once. This guy walked in and he knew exactly how to put the pieces together, and he always had little tricks, like with the background vocals how he would slide them in and layer them, and little melodies here and there. Tom and I were soaking it up. Pretty amazing, a very exciting time, like going to musical college or something." (Read more in our interview with Mike Campbell.)
In a 2006 interview with Esquire magazine, Petty said: "'Free Fallin'' is a very good song. Maybe it would be one of my favorites if it hadn't become this huge anthem. But I'm grateful that people like it."
The lyrics deal with Los Angeles culture, mentioning actual places in the area: Reseda, Mulholland and Ventura Boulevard. It implies that the people of LA will casually use others for personal gain, as the singer has just dumped a girl and doesn't even miss her. Petty was born and raised in Gainesville, Florida and moved to LA with The Heartbreakers in 1974. His outsider perspective came in handy in this song.
Directed by Julien Temple, the music video was ahead of its time in that it featured skateboarding before the X Games existed and action sports went mainstream. Legendary skater Mark "Gator" Rogowski appears in the video.
Petty considers this song a ballad; it's one of his few hits without a guitar solo. There are plenty of ballads on his albums, but his record companies rarely released them as singles.
Petty and the Heartbreakers played this to close out their set at the halftime show of the Super Bowl in 2008. The song turned out to be appropriate for the New England Patriots, who were undefeated going into the game and led at halftime, only to lose at the end to the New York Giants. In 2002, when the Patriots won their first Super Bowl, the featured song at halftime was "Beautiful Day" by U2.
A live version by John Mayer returned this song to the US Hot 100 in July 2008, going to #51.
Petty performed this song, along with "Runnin' Down A Dream," with The Heartbreakers on Saturday Night Live when they were the musical guests on May 20, 1989. Their record company, MCA, wanted them to play "I Won't Back Down," which was out as a single and climbing the charts, but Petty defied them.
Petty and Lynne wrote and recorded "Free Fallin'" in just two days, the first tune completed for Full Moon Fever. "We had a multitude of acoustic guitars," Petty told Rolling Stone of the song's Byrds-y feel. "So it made this incredibly dreamy sound."
Petty often tells a story about performing this song at a pivotal night in his career. His label, MCA, rejected the Full Moon Fever album when he submitted it in 1988, claiming they didn't hear a hit. Crestfallen, he went to a dinner party with George Harrison and Jeff Lynne at the home of Mo Ostin, head of Warner Bros. Records. Harrison had them break out the guitars and play "Free Fallin'," which everyone thought was great. When Petty explained that it wasn't good enough for his label, Ostin offered to sign him and put it out. They did the deal, but kept it secret until Petty fulfilled his commitment to MCA. Ostin didn't have to put it out though: In 1989, management changed at MCA; the new regime liked Full Moon Fever and released it.
While MCA kept him in limbo, Petty teamed up with Lynne, Harrison, Roy Orbison and Bob Dylan to form the Traveling Wilburys, a fruitful and highly acclaimed collaboration that sold over 3 million copies of their first album.
The song achieved its highest position on the UK singles chart in May 2012 after being covered by contestant Max Milner on the music talent show The Voice. It previously peaked at #64 in 1989.
Here's what Tom Petty said about this song on his VH1 Storytellers appearance:
"'I used to ride down Mulholland Drive and make up songs. Some of the songs were good, and some of the songs just wouldn't swing. I had this one: [sings] 'Mulholland Drive' and I never could get anywhere with that song. So, I sat down one day with my friend Jeff Lynne and we were playing around on the keyboard. I hit this lick and he said, 'That's a good lick you got there,' and I played it again. So, just to make him laugh I started to make up words:
She's a good girl, loves her mama Loves Jesus and America too She's a good girl, crazy about Elvis...
Cathy from Omaha, NeMark from md, girls could never be as cruel as guys are to us. I hope the suicide theory is true. The world would be a much better place without heartless guys like him.
Cathy from Omaha, NeRomie from nh.....I hope you're right. He better feel bad & regret how he treated his girlfriend.
Marc from -, MdFirst-ever interview with the girl in this video, including what she's doing now and never-published pics: http://noblemania.blogspot.com/2013/07/the-girl-in-video-free-fallin-1989.html
Eryk from Hamburg, GermanyTo: cathy, omaha, NE Not to be an A-hole. But girls are the same way. Sometimes bigger than guys. Best embrace the suck, because that is how life is, which I've learn to embrace the suck. Meanwhile...this song is awesome. One of Tom Petty's best! Frieden out!
Romie from Tuftonboro, NhTo Cathy from Omaha... I felt that in the lyrics he was reflecting on his actions and felt bad: "I'm a bad boy for breakin her heart." Just my take...
Romie from Tuftonboro, NhI saw this song performed live on the 30th anniversary tour and was amazed! His live ability had escaped me! I listen mostly to live performances and I never knew that Tom was that good! I watched the entire concert and this song.... along with learning to fly were my favorites. I guess he used some "canned" tracks for the echoes, but I felt that as a whole it was a masterful performance! Kudos to the band! Without them... a front man is nothing....
Phil Ricks from Cumming, GaThe cute blonde in the video is Brandi McClain. She dated one of the skaters in the video nicknamed "Gator" who is now in prison serving a 25 year sentence for killing Brandi's friend.
Cathy from Omaha, NeI loathe "Free fallin'." That is the egotistical, insensitive, male jerk song. He's a big bastard if he treats his girlfriend like that.
Lonewulf from Tampa, FlMore question than comment. I have always had a crush on the girl pictured in Tom Petty's official video for this song (reference time frame 2:45), At the time and much to this day, I always thought it was Paulina Porizkova, who was also in The Car's video Drive. However due to some posting about a skateboarder and his girlfriend McClain, I wonder who it is? Anybody know Music video songfacts about that?
To pipe in on a comment earlier, I have never seen this song as talking about suicide or death in any way. Just a broken heart love song (no pun intended), which can make a person feel like they are "free falling".
Alice from Faisalabad, PakistanStevie Nicks (a close friend and big fan of Tom Petty's) covered this song on the Party Of Five soundtrack.....and did a great job.
Alice from Faisalabad, PakistanOnce Tom Petty performed this song live at some MTV sponsored show with the band Guns N Roses when Vince Neil,vocal of Motley Crue jumped from the audience to punch GNR guitarist Izzy Stradlin in the face.Or so I've heard...
Josh from Champaign, IlThis video features skating legend Mark "Gator" Rogowski and his girlfriend at the time, Brandi McClain. I only recently learned that Rogowski was tried and convicted for the 1991 rape and murder of McClain's friend Jessica Bergsten.
Hannah from Gustavus, OhThis song reminds me of Mellencamp's "Jack & Diane." Subject matter is entirely different, but the general feeling of nostalgia is the same. It's one of my favorite soings from the 80s :)
Bay from Weaverville, CaI love this song!!!
Brian from Boston, MaYeah I liked this song the first time I heard it. I had been smoking a lot of pot the year it came out 1989. I just thought it was a really mellow tune with nice acoustic guitar. Full moon fever was a great album.I always felt Tom Petty was underrated.He seemed very independent in terms of his music. He seemed to write the the songs he wanted and not just those that would sell.
Ryan from Anahola, HiThis song was played at the 2008 SuperBowl, where the New York Giants beat the New England Patriots (and when I lost $30).
Kenny from Remsenburg, NyI love the version w/ Axl N' Izzy Stradlin from the MTV Awards...Check it out on YOUTUBE..
Jef from Passaic, NjI think Tom Petty said in the VH1 Behind The Music that he wrote this song after his house burned down in 1987.
David from Portland, OrHard to write a song that is simple and distinctive at the same time. The G6 chord really makes it for me. It wouldn't have been the same with a standard open G chord.
Vince from Despatch, South AfricaGuy leaving his girl to walk on the wild side and to see what he has been missing and trying to convince himself that he doesn't miss her "I don't even miss her" when his alone "It's a long day..." and feeling like crap "I'm a bad boy for breakin' her heart" He realizes that his not alone and that many others followed this road to "free falling" and is standing alone and seeing, feeling remorse & guilty "All the good girls are home with broken hearts" Seeing remorse "all the bad boys are standing in the shadows" makes him realize that his heartbroken and not the good girl he left behind "I wanna glide down..." and then wants to fix it but realizes it's to late "I wanna write her name in the sky I wanna free fall out into nothin" Then the verse "Gonna leave this world for a while" could be that he wants to escape reality by smoking some pot. His free falling all right...start off being happy to be free and realizing his falling to his end.
Jim Morrison from Portland, OrI'm surprised that nobody has noted that country singer Deanna Carter covered this song for some television show soundtrack. They play a lot of cover songs over the P.A. system where I work and this particular one seems to be in heavy rotation. (I wondered about the vampire references myself but I doubt that has anything to do with the flick "The Lost Boys". Thanks for reading and feel free to post comments.
Nathan Ritz from Marengo , Ini can sing this whole song and play it on my guitar, its the 3rd best song ever made, after i dont wanna miss a thing by "aerosmith" and goodbye(im sorry) by "and then i turned seven
Harry from South Bend, InSuicide wouldn't be the first thing I'd associate this with, but, when I think about it, "Free Fallin'" starts out talking about not even missing her, but, toward the end, it's almost as if the narrator realized what he's done, and how he does miss her. "Free Fallin'" may not be as much about suicide as it is just escaping the scene of relationships, but, either way, it's one of my favorites by Tom Petty.
Emily from Ocean Springs, MsI never associated this song with suicide. To me it seems to be about genuinely not caring about anything. It's ironic that the places named in the song are in California since the band is from Florida, which is geographically opposite.
Blake from London, United Kingdoma little freaky if I may say so myself...to me it's like he's singing about suicide
Chris from Atlantic, IaIs it just me or is this song very similar to Holden Caulfield in "catcher in the Rye" when he rapidly moves from loving and proposing to Sally and then to hating her which furthers Holden in his creep toward what Mr. Antolini describes as a "big fall"? He loves the idea of human contact but is unable to properly deal with it and furthers himself into isolation.
Brian from Vancouver, Canadaeasily one of the best songs ever written.
ill be back better than ever...
Adam from Los Angeles, CaI grew up in Los Angeles in the Valley. Back when I was a kid all of LA was the 213 area code. I had family that lived in Reseda and back then the 101 freeway DID run right behind people's back yards. Back then Reseda did go up to Ventura Blvd. At some point many years ago they changed where the city's boarders were and now that part of Reseda that meets the 101 freeway is called Tarzana.
Mitchell from Adelaide, AustraliaYou americans are funny, write too much music about your country.
Jack from Bryan, TxOr is IT those Mexican vampires coming over the border?
Sorry, bad motor control not bad grammar. ; )
Jack from Bryan, TxGeez! I figured someone would have something to say about the "vampires walkin' through the valley." Is Sunnydale in the San Fernando Valley? Or Santa Carla? Or is those Mexican vampires coming over the border?
Bourma5 from Brentwood, CaWhile the Ventura Fwy doesn't literally "run through the yard" of Reseda, it is clearly what he means, as he mentions it in the next line, and it runs right next to Reseda
Great song, one of my all-time favorites
Austin from Smallsville, NeHe played this at superbowl 42. Good show. Better game
Joshua from Kingston Springs, Tndoes a personal attack mean if i was talking about wanted to jump off a building after my girlfriend left me?i loved her....
Joycemorrison from Phhonestly, i was only conscious of this song after seeing "Jerry Maguire". yikes, right? funny how i could like other songs of Tom Petty before realizing that he also did "Free Falling". but i really like this song. not the most ideal of lyrics, but i get a kick singing them real loud. =)
Michael from Carmichael , CaHey. I'm 36 yrs old. In jan 2008. Free Fallin' and Welcome to the machine might be the 2 best rock songs to me. Good stuff. Mikey!
Paul from Worthing, EnglandI've always loved Tom Petty, unlike a lot of rock music his songs actually tell a story and you are left with a small but authentic slice of Americana. Free Fallin and Runnin down a Dream are amongst the greatest rock songs of the last thirty years.
Kufuffin from Oakland, Ca"and it's a long day, living in Reseda, there's a freeway, running through the yard".. my dad told me that back in the day he would prank call people and tell them they were with the department of transportation (or something) and that they were going to build a freeway through their backyard! ...the lyric probably is probably just pointing out all of the freeways in the LA area (smog & traffic, etc)
Tyler from Roa., VaTom Petty has definitely made an impact, for well pretty much the whole freakin' world I'd have to say. I've listened to him since first grade. I'd just like to give him a big round of applause. haha Tom: Keep it rockin man.
Julie from Los Angeles, CaNobody's mentioned yet that he sings, "and it's a long day, living in Reseda, there's a freeway, running through the yard" yet there aren't any freeways in Reseda that could really run through his yard. On Reseda (Blvd), yes, in Reseda (the city), no. And for all you folks out there who might think I'm being picky: I like the song and I know that poetic license is used every day in song lyrics. I'm just adding some trivia since this is the "Song Facts" website. :)
John from Winnetka, CaGreat song. Has a special meaning for those of us that grew up in the San Fernando Valley during the 80's.
Spencer from Mcbride, CanadaThis is an awesome song..There is a video out there of Axl Rose from guns N' Roses singing with Tom Petty. It starts out great, but ends up with Axl doing his signature squawk.
Patrick from Tallapoosa, GaI am sick of this song. The radio stations here play it more frequently than any other song I know. I wouldn't mind it if only one station plays it, but when all 15 or so stations play it, the song tends to get annoying. Whenever I hear it playing, I flip to another station. If I hear it playing there too, I feel like "Free Fallin'" off the next overpass.
Danny from Waterville, NyIf watching a TP concert, he will never use the same guitar for two consecutive songs. He changes guitars between each song.
Joshua from Twin Cities, MnThis is one of a number of songs that Clear Channel Communications purportedly banned from its radio stations in the weeks following 9/11/2001 (supposedly because it evoked images of people falling or jumping to their depths from the WTC tower to escape the flames).
Mitch from Tenoe, AzThis song can mean alot of different things..one of them definately being his drug expereinces and the come downs.
Marlow from Perth, Australiasurprised it didnt chart better in the U.K. it did very well in australia.. in fact 1989 wouldnt be the same without it... poor poms missed out in this one....
Easy from Kennesaw, Gathis song has got to be about drugs
Mia from Wellston, MiI just think this video is so cute...not strnage in any way
Candice from Vancouver, CanadaFree Fallin? Tell me when he hits the ground please.
Kelsey from Lancaster, PaI love this song and all of tom petty's songs alike. His music really makes me feel free. This song reminds me of my childhood aswell.. He has kept those memories alive with his words and amazing lyrics. THANK YOU tom petty for sharing your music.
Molly from Midway, KyTom Cruise sings this in the movie Jerry Maguire. He keeps trying to sing along with everything on the radio but doesn't know the words. Finally he hits on the chorus of Free Fallin' and movie magic happens.
Reggy from Tokyo, JapanOnce Tom Petty performed this song live at some MTV sponsored show with the band Guns N Roses when Vince Neil,vocal of Motley Crue jumped from the audience to punch GNR guitarist Izzy Stradlin in the face.Or so I've heard...
Jade from Lexington, MiWhen I was little, I always remembered my father playing Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers albums and watching MTV while Tom Petty was on it. For some reason, anything to do with Tom Petty sticks out in my mind from my baby years. Free Fallin' is my most favorite song because it brings back memories of my dad and I when I was little, considering I was only one when the song was released.
Rob from Santa Monica, CaThis song is part of the "Cool L.A. References" sub-genre that glamourized mundane L.A. locations. Others include Sheryl Crow's "All I Wanna Do", Everclear's "Santa Monica", and Don Henley's "Sunset Grill"
Kaila from Santa Cruz, Cai always thought that free fallin' was about a guy who was high or something... whatever, i'm probably wrong anyway... but it kinda makes sense if u listen to it...
C.c. from Lake Charles, LaStevie Nicks (a close friend and big fan of Tom Petty's) covered this song on the Party Of Five soundtrack.....and did a great job.
Andrea from Toledo, Ohthis is the song they played after my godmother killed herself, it means the world to me
Charlie from Thomaston, Ctgreat tune, i just assumed it was written alot earlier
Rhett from Melbourne, Australiausually sang by a man when he isnt wearing any underwear - but he changes Free Falling to Free Balling
Melanie from Gatineau, Canadai luv this song,i remeber i heard this song when i was young like 4 or 5 my mum said i used to know the words and sing it alot.it was one of my favorite songs.