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American Girl (song): Wikis


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"American Girl"
Single by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
from the album Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
B-side Fooled Again (I Don't Like It)
Released February 1977
Format 7"
Recorded Shelter Studios, Hollywood
July 4, 1976
Genre Rock
Length 3:30
Label Shelter
Writer(s) Tom Petty
Producer Denny Cordell
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers singles chronology
"American Girl"
"I Need to Know"

"American Girl" is the second single from Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers' self-titled debut album. The single did not chart in the U.S., but in the UK it peaked at #40 the week ending August 27, 1977.


Origin and rumors

Beaty Towers dormitory on the University of Florida campus

Due to lyrics mentioning cars rolling by "out on 441" and a desperate girl on a balcony, the song was rumored to have been written about a girl who committed suicide by jumping from the Beaty Towers dormitory at the University of Florida in Gainesville, Florida, where Tom Petty grew up. (U.S. Route 441 runs along the university campus right beside Beaty Towers.)

Carl Van Ness, the University of Florida's official historian, believes that a student committed suicide by jumping from one of the Beaty Towers during the late '60s or early '70s, when Tom Petty still lived in Gainesville. [1] However, the dorm does not have balconies.

When asked directly about the story in the book Conversations With Tom Petty, Petty responded:

Urban legend. It's become a huge urban myth down in Florida. That's just not at all true. The song has nothing to do with that. But that story really gets around... They've really got the whole story. I've even seen magazine articles about that story. 'Is it true or isn't it true?' They could have just called me and found out it wasn't true.[2]

In the same interview, Petty says that he wrote the song while living in California:

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. [2]

The opening lines, "Well she was an American Girl, Raised on promises" may have been influenced by a similar line from Francis Ford Coppola's directorial debut, "Dementia 13", a 1963 horror flick set in Ireland in which the character Louise Haloran, played by Luana Anders, has the line, "The mood around this place isn't good for her. Especially an American girl. You can tell she's been raised on promises."

Single track listings

  • "American Girl" b/w "Fooled Again (I Don't Like It)"
    Shelter 62007 (US)
  • "American Girl" b/w "The Wild One, Forever"
    Shelter WIP6377 (UK)
  • "American Girl" b/w "Luna" (Live) *
    Shelter WIP6403 (UK)
    * taken from The Official Live Bootleg

Usage in recent media

The song has been featured in several Hollywood films, most notably FM (1978), Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982), The Silence of the Lambs (1991) and Chasing Liberty (2004). Its use in "The Silence of the Lambs" made the list of Top 11 Uses of Classic Rock in Cinema at UGO.

It was featured in the TV series Scrubs, in a scene of an episode titled "My Own American Girl", which was first aired in October 2, 2003. Also featured in The Sopranos, in season 6 episode Join the Club.

The song was frequently played during Hillary Clinton rallies or town hall meetings during the 2008 Democratic Primaries.

The Strokes have admitted to taking the riff for their 2001 single, "Last Nite", from this song. In a 2006 interview with Rolling Stone magazine, Tom Petty said "The Strokes took "American Girl", and I saw an interview with them where they actually admitted it. That made me laugh out loud. I was like, 'OK, good for you.' It doesn't bother me". [1] This was brought up because of plagiarism accusations on the Red Hot Chili Peppers for similarities between their "Dani California" and Petty's "Mary Jane's Last Dance". Petty has stated that he does not care about any similarities and The Strokes have actually played as an opening act for Tom Petty in summer of 2006.

Cover versions

Roger McGuinn of The Byrds, who were a major influence on Petty's music, released his own version of "American Girl" a few months after the original came out. The similarity between Petty's record and The Byrds' musical style was so strong that when his manager first played "American Girl" for him, McGuinn asked "When did I write that song?". [3]

"American Girl" has also been covered by the following artists: Taylor Swift, Def Leppard, Dusty Murphy, Everclear, Goo Goo Dolls, The Gaslight Anthem, Humble Gods, Taking Back Sunday, Jack's Mannequin, Ill Repute, Adjacent, Matthew Sweet, Melora Creager, Gin Blossoms, Dance Hall Crashers, Sugarland, Pearl Jam, Matchbox 20, Saints of the Underground, Cindy Alexander, Cruiserweight, Angel City Outcasts, and most recently by Val Emmich on the 2008 season premiere episode of Ugly Betty. [2]

Also been in an episode of Scrubs.

All appearances


  1. ^ Wilmath, Kim. "Myths, legends and UF", The Independent Florida Alligator Online, 2007-08-15. Retrieved on 2008-02-29.
  2. ^ a b 'American Girl' Suicide
  3. ^ "McGuinn Takes It Easy As Comeback Takes Off" Austin American-Statesman May 13, 1991: B8

See also



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