Tom Petty Wrote ‘Free Fallin” in 30 Minutes to Amuse This Rock Star

Tom Petty‘s “Free Fallin'” is one of the most famous classic rock songs of the late 1980s. The song itself seems serious. During an interview, Petty said he wrote the song to make another celebrity laugh.

Tom Petty wearing sunglasses
Tom Petty | Aaron Rapoport/Corbis via Getty Image

Tom Petty wanted to make another rock star laugh with chords

In the late 1980s, Petty joined a band called the Traveling Wilburys. The Traveling Wilburys is one of the most famous supergroups of all time. Several other rock legends were part of the group: Roy Orbison, George Harrison of The Beatles, Bob Dylan, and the Electric Light Orchestra‘s Jeff Lynne.

During an interview with Billboard, Petty said he co-wrote “Free Fallin'” to make another member of the Traveling Wilburys laugh. “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,” Petty recalled.

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What Tom Petty and the Electric Light Orchestra’s Jeff Lynne thought of ‘Free Fallin”

“Free Fallin'” amused Lynne. “Then he starts laughing,” Petty remembered. “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.'”

During an interview with GQ, Petty described the impact “Free Fallin'” had on his life. “And there’s not a day that goes by that somebody doesn’t hum ‘Free Fallin” to me or I don’t hear it somewhere,” Petty revealed. “It’s become synonymous with me, I guess. But it was really only 30 minutes of my life.”

Even if “Free Fallin'” didn’t take very long to write, Petty loved it. He thought the chords of the song sounded great. In the same vein, Lynne called the finished song “incredible.”

The way the world reacted to ‘Free Fallin”

“Free Fallin'” became a massive hit. According to Spin, the song peaked at No. 7 on the Billboard Hot 100. It’s Petty’s highest-charting single that isn’t credited to Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. The song’s parent album, Full Moon Fever, became popular as well. The album peaked at No. 3 on the Billboard 200.

Even though it’s about a patriotic American girl, “Free Fallin'” was a minor hit in the United Kingdom too. The Official Charts Company reports the song peaked at No. 59 in the U.K., staying on the chart for 10 weeks. Meanwhile, Full Moon Fever peaked at No. 8 in the U.K. and lasted on the chart for 16 weeks. While “Free Fallin'” didn’t take a long time to create, it became one of Petty’s most famous and most successful songs.

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