Tom Petty dies: 5 of his greatest songs

3 October 2017, 08:27 | Updated: 2 November 2017, 15:29

Reports emerged on Monday (October 2) that legendary American singer-songwriter Tom Petty had passed away at the age of 66.

Petty was reported to have died after experiencing a heart attack, after being found unconscious at his Malibu home. 

We now take a look back at just a handful of Tom Petty's greatest ever songs:

1. 'Free Fallin''

It was the opening track to his debut solo album Full Moon Fever in 1989, and was co-written with ELO frontman Jeff Lynne.

Petty later explained that he and Lynne were sitting around trying to come up with a song, and Lynne got him to say "free falling". The next day, they recorded the song. He didn't write it about any particular person, but rather about what he saw on his various drives along Ventura Boulevard in Los Angeles.

It was famously used in the Tom Cruise movie Jerry Maguire, in which he blasted out the song while out driving.

2. 'I Won't Back Down'

Also taken from Full Moon Fever and co-written with Jeff Lynne, Petty once recalled about the song to Mojo: "At the session George Harrison sang and played the guitar. I had a terrible cold that day, and George went to the store and bought a ginger root, boiled it and had me stick my head in the pot to get the ginger steam to open up my sinuses, and then I ran in and did the take."

A song of defiance against unnamed forces, it became an anthem in the aftermath of 9/11, with Petty performing a quiet version at a special tribute show at the time.

Petty and Lynne were credited as co-writers of Sam Smith's 2014 song 'Stay With Me', after Petty's publishing company noticed a likeness between the songs.

3. 'American Girl'

This was the second single from Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers' self-titled debut album from 1976.

Speaking about the song in the book Conversations with Tom Petty, he later said: "I don't remember exactly. I was living in an apartment where I was right by the freeway. And the cars would go by. In Encino, near Leon Russell's house.

"And I remember thinking that that sounded like the ocean to me. That was my ocean. My Malibu. Where I heard the waves crash, but it was just the cars going by. I think that must have inspired the lyric."

4. 'Stop Draggin' My Heart Around'

This was a duet with Fleetwood Mac's Stevie Nicks, taken from her debut solo album Bella Donna in 1981.

Petty first co-wrote this as a Heartbreakers song, until producer Jimmy Iovine arranged for Nicks to sing it. The song is about a woman who feels weighed down by her relationships, and wants to go out on her own, despite still feeling love for her partner.

Nicks has continued to perform the song live, and earlier this year teamed up with Petty and the Heartbreakers for a one-off performance at Hyde Park in London.

5. 'Runnin' Down a Dream'

Also taken from Full Moon Fever, this song was a hark back to Petty's musical roots, with the lyric "me and Del were singin' 'Little Runaway'" referencing Del Shannon's 'Runaway'.

It later lent its name to the 2007 four-hour documentary of the same name about Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.