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(Credit: Mark Spowart / Alamy)

Music

The song Tom Petty wasn't sure how to sing

@TylerGolsen

Of all the songs in the vast Tom Petty catalogue, ‘Here Comes My Girl’ is surely one of the strangest hits. Built around a quasi-spoken word verse that lifts into a jubilant chorus, the song was part quintessential heartland rock and part experiment in songwriting. While it had the foundation of Petty’s classic sound, provided by The Heartbreakers’ expert instrumentation, Petty himself takes on a new cadence that he rarely repeated afterwards.

According to guitarist and co-songwriter Mike Campbell, Petty wasn’t exactly sure how to tackle the song at first. “It’s very similar to ‘Refugee’ – those two were written the same week,” Campbell recalled in 2018. “I made some demos and Tom liked those two. ‘Here Comes My Girl’ was interesting because we had the chorus and Tom wasn’t sure how to do the verse, he kept trying to sing it different ways and he finally came across sort of half-talking it, and that’s when the song seemed to come to life.”

“I struggled with that song for a little while,” Petty admitted in Paul Zollo’s book Conversations with Tom Petty. “I felt, ‘I have to learn this thing. I’m not going to let it get away from me.’ And then I got the idea for the narration. And once I started that, it started falling into place.

“You used to hear [narration] down like that on this girl-group records from time to time,” Petty adds. “But wrapping it all up into one bundle, you sort of come up with something that’s original in itself.” By mixing the talking style of classic Shangri-La’s records with a Byrds-style chorus, Petty wound up creating something that could only have been written and sung by him. 

It became one of the tracks from Damn the Torpedoes that was laboured over intensely in the studio. Thanks to Petty’s desire for perfection and the strong-willed nature of producer Jimmy Iovine, backing tracks and vocal takes could last hours, days, or even weeks before all parties were satisfied. Petty’s unique Florida drawl is essential to ‘Here Comes My Girl’, but it wasn’t easy to capture on tape. 

Eventually, Petty was able to hit the beats of the song perfectly. Even though it only peaked at number 59 on the Billboard Hot 100, ‘Here Comes My Girl’ became one of Petty’s most popular songs, with the track frequently kept in the band’s setlists all the way until Petty’s death in 2017.

Check out ‘Here Comes My Girl’ down below.