"Free Fallin'" is a song by Tom Petty
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 3 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.
Mike Campbell is The Heartbreakers' guitarist. He has also produced and written the music for many of their songs, as well as "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 3 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 5 or 6 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 5 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 L.A. will casually use others for personal gain, as the singer has just dumped a girl and doesn't even miss her.
The video may have been 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 & 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.
Petty played this on Saturday Night Live on May 20, 1989 along with "Runnin' Down A Dream."