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American Girl by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

American Girl by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

In honor of Independence Day, I’d like to discuss a song with some US flavor. “American Girl” by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers Is one of the best rock-n-roll songs this land of liberty has ever produced. Year after year this song has managed to exude a freshness that seems impervious to time. From its jangling guitars and snappy beat to its melodic and catchy top line, “American Girl” fills the listener with a feeling unlike any other. So, if you’re in the mood for some timeless classic American rock this 4th of July, this number by the Heartbreakers is a perfect fit for your playlist.

“American Girl” begins with the sound of vintage guitars played through slightly overdriven amplifiers. In the background, subtle Hi-hat pedal pumps are layered in just before the beat drops and the infectious hooks of this song start sinking in. As the intro music progresses, we hear a nostalgic bass guitar melody played on the high frets further expanding the musical palette. Finally, the iconic sound of the Heartbreaker’s backing vocals swoops in and out just before Tom Petty delivers the first verse.

For the verse we hear picked chords from the rhythm guitar mixed with single strummed triplets and double stops from the lead guitar. Meanwhile, the drums and bass work together to create a snappy rhythm that bops and swings giving the song its upbeat backbone. On top of the music, we hear Tom Petty’s distinct voice deliver the lines, “Well, she was an American girl / Raised on promises / She couldn't help thinkin' that there / Was a little more to life Somewhere else”. As the verse progresses, the band gradually increases the energy with more intense guitars, rhythmic elements, and backing vocals. These elements mix together to create a satisfying transition into the chorus.

The chorus for “American Girl” doesn’t follow the typical pattern of a rock-n-roll chorus. Where most songs feature a high contrast between the verse and chorus, “American Girl” offers what feels like an evolution of the verse. Here the band introduces a new chord progression creating an additional dimension of emotion under the storytelling of the lyrics. The winding music of the chorus culminates with Petty delivering the melodious lyrics “She was an American Girl”: a line that has been hooking ears for nearly fifty years.

The instrumental for “American Girl” departs from the vibe of the verse and chorus hitting the ears in a totally unexpected way. One of my favorite things about Tom Petty’s music is his ability to present ultra simple ideas with an amazing level of style and freshness. The instrumental for “American Girl” is a perfect example of this. Its sparse palm muted guitar chords and bass notes fit like puzzle pieces with its well-spaced guitar licks, percussion, and Fats Domino style piano. For me, it’s the finishing touch that makes “American Girl” the perfect song that it is.

Through his music, Tom Petty gave the world a gift that will last forever. He left us too soon, but his presence is still felt in the body of the work he left behind. If you're eager to experience the magic of "American Girl," you can find it on popular streaming platforms like Spotify, Apple Music, YouTube, and most other places music is streamed or sold. To delve deeper into the world of Tom Petty, you can explore his legacy on Wikipedia, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.

Ron Powers


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