Free Fallin’

Released October 27, 1989
7″ cassette 12″ CD single
Recorded 1989
Genre Heartland rock, soft rock
Length 4:14
Label MCA Records
Tom Petty Jeff Lynne
Jeff Lynne Tom Petty Mike Campbell

“Free Fallin'” is the opening track from Tom Petty’s solo debut album, Full Moon Fever (1989). The song was written by Petty and his writing partner for the album, Jeff Lynne, and features Lynne on backing vocals and bass guitar. The duo wrote and recorded the single in two days, making it the first song completed for Full Moon Fever.

“Free Fallin'” is one of Petty’s most famous tracks as well as his longest-charting. It peaked at #7 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart in January 1990. Petty and The Heartbreakers performed the song at the MTV Video Music Awards in 1989, with Axl Rose and Izzy Stradlin, and at the February 2008 Super Bowl XLII Halftime Show. The song is ranked #177 on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. It was featured in the film Jerry Maguire (1996) and The Sopranos episode 2.13, “Funhouse” (2000). Lou Reed selected the song as one of his “picks of 1989”. This famous song returned to place #2 on the Spotify Global Viral 50 following the death of Tom Petty.

The song’s lyrics make multiple references to Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley, including:

“The Valley” – the name the San Fernando Valley is known as colloquially
Reseda – a neighborhood in the San Fernando Valley
101 “Ventura” Freeway – the lyrics mention “a freeway runnin’ through the yard” of the subject’s Reseda home – putatively the 101 Freeway, which has an exit for Reseda Boulevard, albeit in the higher-income neighborhood of Tarzana
Ventura Boulevard – a primary east-west thoroughfare in the San Fernando Valley
“Mulholland” – a reference to Mulholland Drive, a road that follows the ridgeline of the eastern Santa Monica Mountains and the Hollywood Hills between the San Fernando Valley and Hollywood

Development and meaning

Petty explained in an interview with Billboard magazine that he and Jeff Lynne were sitting around trying to come up with a song, and Lynne got him to say “free falling”. The next day they went and recorded the song. He didn’t write it about any person, but instead what he saw on his frequent drives along Ventura Boulevard.


Tom Petty – lead vocals, 12-string acoustic guitar
Mike Campbell – electric guitar, 6-string acoustic guitar
Jeff Lynne – backing vocals, bass guitar
Phil Jones – drums

Track listings

US 7″ / Cassette
No. Title Writer(s) Length
1. “Free Fallin'”
Tom Petty Jeff Lynne

2. “Down the Line”
Petty Lynne Mike Campbell
Total length: 7:08
UK 7″

No. Title Writer(s) Length
1. “Free Fallin'”
Petty Lynne

2. “Love Is a Long Road”
Petty Campbell