Album: Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers (1977)
Charted: 40
Play Video
  • 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
    Yeah, an d 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
    She was an American girl

    It was kind of cold that night
    She stood alone on her balcony
    She could the cars roll by
    Out on 441
    Like waves crashin' in the beach
    And for one desperate moment there
    He crept back in her memory
    God it's so painful
    Something that's so close
    And still so far out of reach

    Oh yeah, all right
    Take it easy baby
    Make it last all night
    She was an American girl

Comments: 29

  • Katie from Los Angles, CaAmerican Girl was written while Tommy was living at Leon’s house in LA. It was not written about any particular girl in mind, but about a generation that once was. A time when things were easier and gentler. A time when we were all brought up on promises.

    This song was not written about a girl in Micanopy standing out on her balcony one night!
  • Pete from 91765Watching Dementia 13, the 1963 Brit Pysch/Horror Film, early in the film there's a conversation that ends like this: 'Well, she's an American Girl, you know, raised on promises.'
  • Will from Waterloo, IlPerhaps in the lyrics "She stood alone on the balcony" and "And for one desperate moment then, he crept back in her memory/God, it's so painful/Something's that so close, yet so far out of reach", Tom's making a hidden reference to a forbidden love; And what's the famous story of forbidden love? "Romeo & Juliet". Think about it:
    Who stands alone on the balcony in one of the scenes of the play? Juliet.
    Why? To deliver a soliloquy of her desire and love for Romeo.
    What's standing between them and their love? Their families, hence the painful memories part. She wants him as much he wants her, but at first, she can't have him because their families are feuding with each other, hence their forbidden love.
  • Bonnie from Micanopy, FlTom Petty is from Gainesville, Florida and would never, ever call 13th Street 441. To all of us who have lived in Alachua County our entire lives 441 is 441. 13th Street is 13th Street. I know exactly what and who the song is about. However, Tom is very guarded about what and who he writes about. And in keeping with Tom's wishes and respecting his privacy, the story behind the lyrics will remain a mystery, my lips are sealed.
  • Camille from Toronto, OhThis song is Tom Petty's tribute to all us "American Girls". "Take it easy baby, make it last all night"... such a strong sexual reference and pays such homage to all us American girls passionate enough to make it last all night. It sounds like this is a desirable trait of American girls, one that puts us above all the other girls.
  • Daniel from Detroit, MiWhat happened to the lyrics? The link has disappeared within the last couple of weeks.
  • Oldpink from New Castle, InA tremendous song, and the twelve string definitely evokes the Byrds, and I bet Tom Petty doesn't mind that one bit. It really is weird to hear this, with the scene from "Silence of the Lambs" in my head. The young woman is jamming away, really into this, going down the road, only minutes away from Buffalo Bill.
  • John from Grand Island, NyTo Scott from Bismark, ND...they do not open "every single show with this song"....In the 5 times I have seen them live this has always been the last song they do. I don't ever recall hearing them opening with this. Lately its been either "Listen To Her Heart" or "Runnin' Down A Dream" opening the show.
  • Rachel from North Jersey, NjI love this song but everytime i hear it now i can't get that scene from silence of the lambs out of my head. creepy
  • Colleen from Allentown, PaYou know, I like this song better when I thought it was about a girl killing herself

    hell, Now I'm just confused... maybe it is

    damn I'm stupid XD
  • Drew from Crystal Lake, IlIn the 1963 classic horror movie Dementia 13 a woman says of her new daughter-in-law from the States, "It's nice to see her enjoying herself for a change. The mood around this place isn't good for her.... Especially an American girl. You can tell she's been raised on promises." It seems very likely that this quote inspired the lyric.
  • Mark from Worcester, MiLike a lot of people I love this song, but I recall Bono talking about songs he feels weren't finished on their Pop album. I kind of feel this way about this song. It's great, but it wasn't finished...anyone relate to that at all? I don't mind an unfinished story, but there's just a little...something very little...missing from this particular story IMO.
  • Danci from Treetown, OkThis one was featured in the episode of Scrubs where Elliot has her transformation. Its playing as she freaks out and tears apart all of the innocent items in her room, including a kitty poster which she immediately tries to straighten back out. Gotta love Scrubs.
  • Dani from Hamburg, Nythis may sound stupid but in the top, is that actually tom petty or is it just something he said?
  • Ryan from Marion, Ia*Beaty towers
  • Ryan from Marion, IaIn an interview found in the book Conversations with Tom Petty, Petty himself said that "American Girl" was NOT written about the Beauty Towers story (which is indeed just an untrue urban legend). He went on to say that the song was actually inspired by a freeway running by a California apartment where he was living, nothing to do with Florida.
  • Greer from Gainesville, FlIf this song is about a suicide, which I don't think it is, it's probably about a girl who jumped off the roof of another UF building - and that actually happened.
  • Mick from Las Vegas, NvI lived in 706 Beaty West in the 90's. The windows opened and you could climb out of the windows onto a small ledge.
  • Paul from Marysville, WaThe girl in this song was indeeed "raised on promises," and she appears time and again in Tom Petty songs.

    In 2002's Have Love Will Travel, Tom sings about how she "can't quite remember when the lines [she] drew began to blur."

  • Kevin from Chicago, Ilbut she wasn't trying to commit suicide. she was hallucinating and didnt know it would kill her, and she probably thought she would fly and not fall down.
  • Jimmy from Tampa , FlI went to UF, and people in Gainesville swear by the vality of this story. Much reaserch has been done to varify the story behind this song. Here are the facts Beaty towers was built in 1968. THe two tallest buildings on that stretch of U.S. 441 (typically called 13th street) Never in it's history had their been a reported case of a suicide in or around the buildings. Heading north or south away from the campus on 441 within 40 miles in either direction there are no apartment structures that are taller then 4 stories high.
    While all of those apartment complexes were not checked for a suicide history, a 4 story jump is hardly a height to consider a suicide from.
  • Tim from Gainesville, FlIn film class at UF our professor that the use of this song in "Silence of the Lambs" was a tribute to Petty from the film's director, Johnathan Demme, a UF film school graduate.
  • Clark from Gainesville, FlWhile I'm not sure whether this story is true or not, I'd like to say that Sam is incorrect. I live in Beaty Towers, and I assure you that the windows do in fact open up, and are in fact wide enough to squeeze through. I've actually been out onto the ledge before, so they are definitely not "locked shut"
  • David Garcia from Bakersfield, CaAmerican Girl was covered by a nardcore punk band Ill Repute, it is a mighty good cover.
  • Jedirock from New Port Richey, FlAs far as the story goes, I can verify that Beaty Towers is by 441 and there has long been a story of a girl jumping from it (apparently she "haunts" the towers, but there's always a haunting story). And the windows did used to open all the way awhile back, but renovations have since changed that.
  • Andy from Wolverhampton, EnglandI'm in love with an American Girl.
  • Nicole from Aberdeen, NjI just found out today that this song is actually about my mother, who is now deceased. I dont know all the specifics, but I would like to find out more about the story behind the song, so if anyone out there does really know, please post your comments, I would greatly appreciate it.
  • Sam from Gainesville, FlThe often-told story about Beaty Towers is false. I know this for two reasons. The windows don't open wide enough to squeeze out of, and they're also locked shut, so it would have been impossible for one, and for two, nobody has ever jumped out of Beaty Towers, which I know from trying to look it up.
  • Scott from Bismarck, Ndhe opens almost every single show with this song
see more comments

Editor's Picks

Susanna Hoffs - "Eternal Flame"

Susanna Hoffs - "Eternal Flame"They're Playing My Song

The Prince-penned "Manic Monday" was the first song The Bangles heard coming from a car radio, but "Eternal Flame" is closest to Susanna's heart, perhaps because she sang it in "various states of undress."

The Evolution of "Ophelia"

The Evolution of "Ophelia"Song Writing

How four songs portray Shakespeare's character Ophelia.

Chris Rea

Chris ReaSongwriter Interviews

It took him seven years to recover from his American hit "Fool (If You Think It's Over)," but Chris Rea became one of the top singer-songwriters in his native UK.

Van Dyke Parks

Van Dyke ParksSongwriter Interviews

U2, Carly Simon, Joanna Newsom, Brian Wilson and Fiona Apple have all gone to Van Dyke Parks to make their songs exceptional.

Metallica

MetallicaFact or Fiction

Beef with Bon Jovi? An unfortunate Spandex period? See if you can spot the true stories in this Metallica version of Fact or Fiction.

Victoria Williams

Victoria WilliamsSongwriter Interviews

Despite appearances on Carson, Leno and a Pennebaker film, Williams remains a hidden treasure.