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Music

Watch Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers play 'American Girl' in 1980

@TylerGolsen

Fridays was strange American television programme back in the early 1980s. Conceived as a direct competitor to Saturday Night Live, the show starred future Seinfeld stars Larry David and Michael Richards, incorporated serious performances alongside its comedic sketches, and was home to one of Andy Kaufman’s most infamous television appearances. It also featured some of the hottest up-and-coming performers of rock and new wave scenes.

The diversity among Fridays‘ musical bookings was fascinating: in the first six episodes alone, the show welcomed Kenny Loggins, The Boomtown Rats, The Clash, Warren Zevon, Boz Scaggs, and Devo. Just two episodes later, the show managed to book one of rock’s biggest stars – Tom Petty.

Petty had released Damn the Torpedos with the Heartbreakers less than a year prior to their appearance on Fridays, and when the band rambled into the studio, they decided not to play any of that album’s biggest songs, including ‘Don’t Do Me Like That’, ‘Refugee’, or ‘Here Comes My Girl’. Instead, the group chose to play the album cut ‘Shadow of A Doubt (A Complex Kid)’ along with their singature song, ‘American Girl’.

Although it didn’t chart in the United States when it was first released as a single in 1977, ‘American Girl’ had quickly become Petty’s most well-known track, gaining frequent spins on AOR rock radio stations and becoming a staple of the group’s live shows. The infectious thump of ‘American Girl’ made it a clear standout in Petty’s catalogue, but it hadn’t yet become the defining Tom Petty song, which made it a strong choice to play on TV.

Within two years, Fridays was no more – unable to take advantage of the comparatively-poor showing from SNL, the programme was also mismanaged by ABC, who flip-flopped the show’s placement in the network’s schedule. Ultimately, Fridays failed to gain the legendary reputation that SNL did, but it did manage to air some of the most compelling television performances from some of rock’s biggest names.

Watch Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers play ‘American Girl’ live on Fridays down below.