Beloved songwriter Tom Petty penned many hits throughout his career, but few have had the lasting impact as the song “Free Fallin’.” Ahead of his induction into the Songwriters Hall of Fame last year, Petty sat down with Billboard to talk about the origins of one of his biggest hits.
In the interview, Petty explained that the song’s lyrics were made up on the spot, as a way to amuse his friend and collaborator Jeff Lynne in the studio. Lynne and Petty collaborated in the Travelin Wilburys, though Lynne’s biggest claim to fame is his work with Electric Light Orchestra.
We’ll let Petty tell the whole story, as per the Billboard piece, below.
“Jeff Lynne and I were sitting around with the idea of writing a song and I was playing the keyboard and I just happened to hit on that main riff, the intro of the song, and I think Jeff said something like, ‘That’s a really good riff but there’s one chord too many,’ so I think I cut it back a chord and then, really just to amuse Jeff, honestly, I just sang that first verse. Then he starts laughing. Honestly, I thought I was just amusing Jeff but then I got to the chorus of the song and he leaned over to me and said the word, ‘freefalling.’ And I went to sing that and he said, ‘No, take your voice up and see how that feels.’ So I took my voice up an octave or two, but I couldn’t get the whole word in. So I sang ‘freeee,’ then ‘free fallin.’ And we both knew at that moment that I’d hit on something pretty good. It was that fast. He had to go somewhere, and 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 and he was like, ‘Wow, you did that last night?’ And I was like, ‘Yeah.’ And he said. ‘We’ve got to go cut this,’ and we just took off to Mike Campbell’s studio where we knew we could get in and get it done that day. So we went in and made the record that day.”
What a story! One of the most popular songs ever written was written in a matter of moments! Well done, Mr. Petty. Your talent and carefree creativity will be sorely missed.
Watch the music video for Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin'” below via Tom Petty’s VEVO page: