Revisiting Tom Petty’s last ever song as he performed ‘American Girl’ in his final concert
Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers’ hit track ‘American Girl’ is the definition of a rock ‘n’ roll love song. The original, an undisputed thing of absolute joy, sounds even better live and, to remember that fact, we have been taking a dive into the Far Out archives to find Tom Petty’s final ever live performance of the number.
Performed during a 2017 show at the Hollywood Bowl, with the icon closing his set with a stunning rendition of ‘American Girl’, the concert would close out the career of a true icon and Petter past away just a week later.
Petty and his merry men first released the gloriously brilliant number as the final track on Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers self-titled debut which, at the time of release, was a slow-burner in the charts with crowds taking a while to discover their magnificence. Despite the track nor the album becoming a commercial hit, both would become fan favourites with Petty fans over the years that would follow.
The album would peak at 24 in the UK charts following a successful tour of the British Isles and almost a year after the album’s release it would climb to 55 in the US. It had garnered a reputation for being a real treat at live shows, with Petty tending to close his set on the number.
Tom Petty once said of this song: “I wrote that in a little apartment I had in Encino. It was right next to the freeway and the cars sometimes sounded like waves from the ocean, which is why there’s the line about the waves crashing on the beach. The words just came tumbling out very quickly — and it was the start of writing about people who are longing for something else in life, something better than they have.”
In the same interview which featured in the book Conversations with Tom Petty, the late singer also debunked the myth that the song was written about a college student who tragically committed suicide by jumping from the Beaty Towers residence hall at the University of Florida in Gainesville, Florida.
Petty responded: “Urban legend,” with the utmost clarity. “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.”
Seeing and hearing the song being performed so perfectly just a week before Petty would suffer a fatal cardiac arrest is as heartwrenching and heartwarming in equal measures. On the one hand, it showed that Petty never lost his showmanship and was still that high octane performer that released the track over 40 years prior, but it also shows just how much he had left to give.
Along with his Heartbreakers, they delivered a blistering seven-minute version of the epic which finishes with them bowing to the adoring audience and soaking up the moment, for what would be the final time and there is no better venue to sign off at than the Hollywood Bowl.