Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers – Learning To Fly

This song wasn’t as popular with the masses as it was with me. From the 90s on this is in my top Tom Petty songs. Something about it resonated with me and I also saw Tom on this tour. The song was written by Tom Petty and his Traveling Wilburys bandmate Jeff Lynne.

The song peaked at #28 in the Billboard 100, #46 in Canada and #28 in New Zealand in 1991. The song was on the album “Into the Great Wide Open” that peaked at #13 in the Billboard album charts.

Petty got the idea for it when he saw a pilot being interviewed on TV during the Gulf War. The pilot said how it wasn’t hard learning to fly… the hardest part was coming down.

On October 21, 2017, Bob Dylan played “Learning to Fly” at First Bank Center in tribute to Tom who had just passed away a few weeks before. Bob told Rolling Stone Magazine: “It’s shocking, crushing news. I thought the world of Tom. He was a great performer, full of the light, a friend, and I ll never forget him.”

From Songfacts

The song was informed by the political events of the time, specifically the Gulf War, as well as the band dynamics – Into The Great Wide Open was a Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers album, whereas Petty’s previous album, Full Moon Fever, was a solo album (although guitarist Mike Campbell played on every song and helped produce it). “I wanted that song to be a kind of redemptive song, only in the vaguest way, certainly not literally,” he told Billboard.

 It is based on only four simple chords: F, C, A minor, and G.

Julien Temple, who also did Petty’s “Free Fallin’,” directed the video, which shows a young boy in various key moments of adolescence, as he gets his wings.

Pink Floyd beat Petty to the title, releasing their “Learning To Fly” in 1987. Their song was also sparked by aviation argot – lead singer Dave Gilmour was taking flying lessons. Pink Floyd was moving forward after shedding their founding member, Roger Waters, so the song is a metaphor for finding their wings without him.

The country trio Lady Antebellum covered this on their seven-song acoustic EP iTunes Session.

Learning To Fly

Well I started out down a dirty road
Started out all alone
And the sun went down as I crossed the hill
And the town lit up, the world got still

I’m learning to fly, but I ain’t got wings
Coming down is the hardest thing

Well, the good ol’ days may not return
And the rocks might melt and the sea may burn

I’m learning to fly (learning to fly) but I ain’t got wings (learning to fly)
Coming down (learning to fly) is the hardest thing (learning to fly)

Well, some say life will beat you down
Break your heart, steal your crown
So I’ve started out for God-knows-where
I guess I’ll know when I get there

I’m learning to fly, around the clouds
But what goes up (learning to fly) must come down

I’m learning to fly (learning to fly), but I ain’t got wings
Coming down is the hardest thing

I’m learning to fly (learning to fly), around the clouds
But what goes up (learning to fly) must come down

I’m learning to fly (learning to fly)
(Learning to fly) learning to fly
(learning to fly)
(learning to fly)
(learning to fly)
(learning to fly)

Author: Badfinger (Max)

Power Pop fan, Baseball fan, old movie and tv show fan... and a songwriter, bass and guitar player.

30 thoughts on “Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers – Learning To Fly”

    1. LOL…
      Yea with him it is hit or miss…I think many think like Lennon did at one time…before Dylan came…they are more concerned with the overall sound. It seems Power pop types tend to do that.


  1. I gained a new appreciation for Tom when I worked at the classic rock station. Sure, I had heard his stuff, but I guess maybe I listened a bit differently when I was there. It was there I discovered just how many great songs he had.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Excellent song. Off the top of my head I woulda guessed it did better than it did as a single, I remember it played a lot on radio back then. Also one of the few non-GH albums of Petty’s I’ve owned so I guess I listened to it a fair bit on my own.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. While I have always liked this song I prefer Pink Floyd’s ‘Learning to fly’ more, but that is neither here nor there. Currently listening to Dylan’s version of Petty’s song again now. I loved what Dylan said about Tom Petty. Petty seemed to inculcate that American cultural essence into his persona and music…a bit like Springsteen.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It was nice to see Bob open up like that about Tom. He doesn’t exactly open up every day.

      You said it perfect about Petty. Good comparison.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I hope you’re feeling better. Given their amount of time on road together in Australia and elsewhere and the Wilbury’s, it’s hard to not feel that had a special kinship. Dylan’s version of ‘Emotionally Yours’ live with Tom shits on the original.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes a little more myself everyday… now the exercising will start again… the walking.
      Bob said at one time that the Heartbreakers were the best backup band he had… that says a lot… over The Band

      Liked by 1 person

      1. That’s good you’re getting back into the swing of things!
        I didn’t know Bob mentioned that, but I really liked the mesh of the Heartbreakers with his music. Still surprising given how long he’s had the Never ending tour band. I know a few changes here and there.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Thank you for asking about me by the way.
        He has had some great musicians in his touring band. That quote was from a while back. I’m going to hunt it down again this afternoon. I want to know when he said it.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Nothing bigger… I love this stuff…this is our passion. To the rest of the world may be not but it’s important to us.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. I watched it Thursday. I got off work a little early to see it.
        The review is the best one I’ve seen…it hits it perfectly. I really enjoyed it. If I have to be critical it would be…a scene or two is a little long…which is common for him. What he says about the Tate character is perfect.

        Liked by 1 person

      5. I was just writing to the author of that review your remarks about it. I read lots of reviews, like you I imagine and I also thought it was the best one I had read although I haven’t seen it as yet. Can’t wait to see it, but it’s still 2 weeks away from getting here! Crazy. I’m glad you enjoyed it by the way. I agree Tarantino can get out of hand with gross self indulgence and long winded scenes. I found the Hateful eight frustrating because of that. It’s his achiles heel no doubt.

        Liked by 1 person

      6. I’m going to say something also…I couldn’t this morning when I read it. It is dead on correct.
        With him you kind of accept it because you know going in… Hans said something funny and correct yesterday about Tarantino… He said that even if a movie is a dumpster fire if he is directing it…it would be an entertaining dumpster fire.

        I’m not sure if he has seen it yet.

        Liked by 1 person

      7. I still think by way of script his best picture is Pulp Fiction. I saw it again recently after a long spell and I was blown away by the maturity and swagger of his writing. But my favourite movies purely for rewatchability and enjoyment would be Jackie Brown and Kill Bill 2. I like Hans entertaining dumpster fire description. The problem I have recently with Tarantino is that his brand has lost that freshness and his movies seemed to be becoming like parodies of his own style of moviemaking. I’m perhaps being too critical since his movies are still better than 95% of the stuff out there. I hope I can get reinvigorated by his latest.

        Liked by 1 person

      8. That is funny… I was asked yesterday what my favorite Tarantino movie was…I said the same two ones…It was hard to pick between the two…Jackie Brown and Kill Bill 2. I told them if I had to pick just one it would be Jackie Brown. Pam Grier was just great.

        Yes you know what is coming in his movies…you are right they are better than most other ones.

        Liked by 1 person

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