In fifth grade I got my first guitar — a purple ("violet," as I often corrected) electric one selected by my dad. I learned a D chord first, obviously, then G, then A, and suddenly I knew every pop song ever. I could also play one of my dad's favorites: Tom Petty's "Free Fallin'," and immediately I felt like a real rockstar. Whereas my adolescent attempt is archived somewhere on some CD in some box in my family's basement to gather literal dust, others' renditions are preserved in their original states online, free from wear and tear. The following "Free Fallin'" covers are ones that you need to hear, especially if the news of Petty's sudden death at 66 years old still has you reeling.
They all start so simply — "she's a good girl, loves her mama, loves Jesus and America, too." That ease continues, only peaking with the chorus' release, ultimately shouting "and I'm free, free fallin'." The song was my first introduction to Petty, best sung in the back of my mom's station wagon on the way home from the pool at the start of summer. I didn't know what it was like to feel love like the love Petty railed on about. But I did know what freedom felt like, and that openness was and is central to the song for me.
Petty suffered cardiac arrest at his home on Sunday night and died on Monday, his family confirmed in a statement. Indeed, family, friends, and four generations of fans will miss him dearly, and more love-filled covers are certain to come. "I'm gonna free fall out into nothin,'" Petty wrote in the iconic hit. "Gonna leave this world for awhile."
John Mayer's cover is often mistaken for the original. And while it's good, it's not Petty's version. Still, Mayer's cover is probably the most popular out there, and understandably so given that his breathiness complements the laid-back love song so well.
Australian country rocker Keith Urban sings "Free Fallin'" live at one of his shows, inviting crowds to sing along with his band. They take a traditional approach to the song, adding that classic three-part harmony to the chorus, along with an organ solo, full-on jam session, and crowd sing along.
With nearly 100,000 views, Casey McCauley's take opts for a groovy rhythm guitar beneath her runs and riffs. She reinvents Petty's work, adding in her own style to a song that's been covered by so many.
On Monday night, Coldplay played a live Petty tribute at their concert after taking a moment of silence for the victims of the recent shooting in Las Vegas. Chris Martin's voice lends itself to the song perfectly.
In 2014, the now-superstar took to his webcam to record a cover with his guitar. Though he accidentally attributes the song to John Mayer, his pop rendition is smooth and buttery as ever.
For her initial, blind audition on Australia's The Voice in 2014, Jayde Grey sports a guitar and gives a sweet, acoustic cover of Petty's classic. Three judges turn around to see her, and after watching the video you'll certainly see why.
This morning, through muffled the-world-is-really-bad-and-to-top-it-all-off-Tom-Petty's-dead sobs, I slipped my Heartbreaker's live record from its sleeve, placed it on the turn table and clicked play. In moments I was bopping to "American Girl," in minutes I swayed to "Breakdown." Like so many others, Petty's work meant the world to me. Guess it's time to record my new version.
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