Tom Petty's 50 Greatest Songs

His hits have defined rock radio since the Seventies, and he never stopped writing great music. Here's the definitive guide to his best songs

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22. "Learning to Fly"

"'Learning to Fly' was a Jeff Lynne production," says Mike Campbell. "Tons of acoustic guitars on it, layered really thick, strumming away. My favorite part was the little drum break at the end – dica-dica-dic boom-boom. I got off on that a lot. That was fun." But he adds that what made the song work was the simplicity of Petty's writing: "That's the miracle of the song. There's really not much to it. It's really simple music, simple lyrics." Petty claims to have gotten the words almost verbatim from watching a television interview with a pilot. "He said there's not much to learning to fly; the difficult thing is coming down, and I thought, 'Yeah, that's true,'" Petty recalled. The song, which also contains allusions to the just-ended Gulf War ("The sea may burn"), was pulled together in an evening with Lynne, who came up with chords to go under Petty's melody. It became one of his most inspirational tunes. "I wanted that song to be a kind of redemptive song," Petty said. "Only in the vaguest way." 

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