American Girl (3:33)

Cover of Greatest Hits

From Greatest Hits and 16 other releases

“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.

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. 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.

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.

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