Tom Petty: I Wrote “Free Fallin'” Just To Get A Laugh

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Tom Petty wrote what would become his biggest hit just to make his friend laugh.

Tom Petty
Friends and co-songwriters Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne (photo via MassLive.com)

The late Tom Petty and his friend, singer-songwriter and producer Jeff Lynne, sat down to write a song together. Petty was on the keyboard, Lynne sat nearby — they were about to write “Free Fallin’.”

Petty started jamming on some chords and said he “happened to hit on that main riff” that we all know and love.

“That’s a really good riff but there’s one chord too many,” Lynne said, according to Petty himself.

So he cut out a chord and started singing the first verse.

"new Tom Petty album"
Petty wrote “Free Fallin'” just to amuse his friend and co-songwriter Jeff Lynne

“…Just to amuse Jeff, honestly, I just sang that first verse,” Petty said. “Then he starts laughing. Honestly, I thought I was just amusing Jeff…”

But as Petty entered into the chorus, Lynne leaned in, seeing potential in this goof-off session.

“Freefalling,” Lynne said.

So Petty sang that one word. Lynne wasn’t satisfied.

“No, take your voice up and see how that feels,” he said.

Petty sang the same melody but in a higher octave.

“…I couldn’t get the whole word in,” he remembered. “So I sang ‘freeee,’ then ‘free falling.’ And we both knew at that moment that I’d hit on something pretty good. It was that fast.”

But by that point, Lynne had to go somewhere. So he left Petty to finish the song on his own.

“…I wrote the last verse and kind of just polished the rest of the song and when I saw him the next day I played him the song…” Petty said.

“Wow, you did that last night?” Lynne responded.

“Yeah,” Petty said.

“We’ve got to go cut this,” Lynne said.

So they rushed to the studio and tracked the classic that very day.

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Caleb Murphy is a musician who writes about music. His writing appears in Consequence Of Sound, Pittsburgh City Paper, and some other cool places. He blogs about music at calebjmurphy.com.
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