Tom Petty: A Songwriter's Perspective

Even though Tom Petty was right in my wheelhouse - that wheelhouse being roughly bounded by Dylan, Springsteen, Elvis Costello, and Steve Earle - he was never a major influence on me. I sometimes find myself consciously trying to write "in the style of ___" (I assume every songwriter does that). I do recall trying to write one in the style of Petty, but I gave that up a long time ago.

The reason is simple: what Tom Petty did as a songwriter, you can't learn.

He had an otherworldly knack for turning out songs that were instant classics. Ear-grabbers from the first note, with fist-in-the-air choruses. Three minute nuggets of rock perfection.

I'll give you the name, and I guarantee your mind will sing along:

"Breakdown"

"Refugee"

"American Girl" 

"Learning to Fly"

"Don't Do Me Like That"

"Free Fallin'"

I could keep going. For a long time.

What other rock songwriter did this? John Fogerty, for a few short years. Lennon and McCartney, I suppose. Buddy Holly? It starts getting pretty thin up in those altitudes.

Arlo Guthrie said, “Songwriting is like fishing in a stream; you put in your line and hope you catch something.” There's a lot of craft to songwriting, but Arlo's talking about the inspiration, the part that comes before the craft. The original idea, that thing that pops into your head and makes you go, "Hey, now, that could get turned into something people want to hear!"

You sure as hell did not want to be fishing downstream from Tom Petty. He caught the juiciest ones, and served them up done to perfection.

1 comment

  • Bald Joe T

    Bald Joe T Titusville, PA

    Well met, my brother

    Well met, my brother

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