1001 Songs Challenge #437: American Girl (1976)
On 11 February 2019 I set myself the challenging of reading 1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die by Robert Dimery (ed.) and following the book’s advice to the letter. I’ve previously read 1001 Films… and started 1001 Albums… but felt 1001 Songs… would be a sensible place to start for what I have in mind here.
My challenge is to read about one song per day and listen to it (YouTube and Spotify, I need you tonight!) before sharing my own thoughts. Some songs I will love, others I’ll hate, and I’m sure there will be those that leave me perplexed but listen to them I shall.
I’ll also try, and most likely fail, to pinpoint the best song from the 1001 on offer but I’m nothing if not foolhardy. Instead of one song, I’m predicting I’ll have about 100 favourites by the end and may have to resort to a Top 10 so far to maintain any semblance of sanity.
So long as I post everyday (including Christmas) then this challenge should come to an end on Wednesday 8 November 2021. Staying with the Barney Stinson theme I am hoping that the whole experience will prove to be…
Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers – American Girl (1976)
From Boston we’re healing down south today, dear reader, and we find ourselves in sunny Florida for our latest guest. Tom Petty founded Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers in 1976 and from that point until 2017 the group retained a loyal following and repaid that adoration with regular touring. We join them at the start of their career though with the release of their self-titled debut album and from there 1001 Songs have selected what became their second single – American Girl.
Many interpretations have been suggested for American Girl but the most popular definition is that it refers to a college girl who tragically committed suicide by falling from a balcony. Petty dismissed this story as urban myth and was perplexed at how the story had gathered such momentum when a simple phone call to him would have clarified the answer. The American girl that Petty sings of is someone who has grown up being promised a lot but believes there are greater things to discover in the world beyond her home. She sets out in search of enlightenment and happiness. The second verse is the one that led to the idea of the theme being suicide with the American girl standing on a balcony watching the cars go by and the memory of a man coming back to haunt her. It sounds like she is in a difficult place but determined to continue on along this path.
American Girl was not commercially successful upon release but became one of Petty’s best-loved tracks. Even at this early stage we have the indication of Petty’s great voice in full flow while the outro is a delightful guitar riff that is still fondly remembered to this day. The song would be the closing number in the group’s final show of their 40th anniversary tour on 25 September 2017. Sadly, just a week later Petty died from complications following an accidental overdose of pain medication. He was only 66.
Favourite songs so far:
The Animals – House of the Rising Sun (1964)
Simon & Garfunkel – The Sounds of Silence (1965)
The Doors – The End (1967)
The Beatles – A Day in the Life (1967)
David Bowie – Life on Mars? (1971)
Rod Stewart – Maggie May (1971)
Sparks – This Town Ain’t Big Enough for the Both of Us (1974)
Queen – Bohemian Rhapsody (1975)
Pink Floyd – Wish You Were Here (1975)
Bruce Springsteen – Born to Run (1975)