Tom Petty – Refugee

The album Damn The Torpedos broke Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers to the masses.

In the US, Damn The Torpedoes was a big success and helped the band grow a huge audience. The album peaked at #2 in the Billboard 100, held out of #1 by Pink Floyd’s The Wall.

The song peaked at #15 in the Billboard 100, #2 in Canada, and #3 in New Zealand in 1980.

Tom Petty: “This was a reaction to the pressures of the music business. I wound up in a huge row with the record company when ABC Records tried to sell our contract to MCA Records without us knowing about it, despite a clause in our contract that said they didn’t have the right to do that. I was so angry with the whole system that I think that had a lot to do with the tone of the Damn the Torpedoes album. I was in this defiant mood. I wasn’t so conscious of it then, but I can look back and see what was happening. I find that’s true a lot. It takes some time usually before you fully understand what’s going on in a song – or maybe what led up to it.”


From Songfacts

Heartbreakers guitarist Mike Campbell wrote the music and Petty added the lyrics. In a Songfacts interview with Campbell, he told us about the recording process: “That was a hard record to make. It was a 4-track that I made at my house. Tom wrote over the music as it was, no changes, but it took us forever to actually cut the track. We just had a hard time getting the feel right. We must have recorded that 100 times. I remember being so frustrated with it one day that – I think this is the only time I ever did this – I just left the studio and went out of town for two days. I just couldn’t take the pressure anymore, but then I came back and when we regrouped we were actually able to get it down on tape.”

Mike Campbell:  “When we were at the studio mixing it, I remember this one girl who was working in reception, she came in and heard the mix and she said, ‘That’s a hit, that’s a hit,’ and we looked at each other and said, ‘Maybe it is.’ You don’t always know. Sometimes you think certain things are surefire and people just don’t latch on to them and other things they do. You know when it’s good or not, but you don’t always know if it’s a hit. A hit record a lot of times is more than just the song, it’s the timing, the climate you put it out in, what people are listening to and what they’re expecting to hear and if it touches a nerve at a certain time.”

Campbell and Petty teamed up to write many of the band’s songs, including “Here Comes My Girl,” “Jammin’ Me,” and “You Got Lucky.” Mike also wrote the music for Don Henley’s “The Boys of Summer” and “The Heart Of The Matter.” When we asked him what was his favorite song he’s written, he said: “Refugee always makes me happy. Maybe because it was so hard to get on the tape, there was a time when I thought it would never come out, that we just can’t do it. It always sounds like it really captured a moment. If I had to pick one favorite, I’d probably pick that first.”

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers performed this in 1979 on their first Saturday Night Live appearance, where they also played “Don’t Do Me Like That.”

The band closed out their Live Aid set at JFK Stadium in Philadelphia with “Refugee.” The massive 1985 benefit concert was also staged in London the same day.

The band shot a music video for this song because they didn’t want to appear on The Merv Griffin Show in person. It did the trick, and the video aired on the show, allowing Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers to promote the song without showing up. This was the only place they thought the video would air, but when MTV launched in 1981, it got lots of play on the network, which craved rock videos from American artists. The band became one of the most popular acts on MTV, feeding the network with cinematic productions for songs like “Don’t Come Around Here No More” and “Free Fallin’.”

During a Twitter Q&A in December 2011, Petty disclosed that Melissa Etheridge doing “Refugee” was the best cover of the song he ever heard. Etheridge’s version was recorded for her 2005 compilation album, Greatest Hits: The Road Less Traveled.


We did somethin’ we both know it
We don’t talk too much about it
Ain’t no real big secret all the same
Somehow we get around it
Listen it don’t really matter to me baby
You believe what you want to believe
You see you don’t have to live like a refugee (don’t have to live like a refugee)

Somewhere, somehow somebody
Must have kicked you around some
Tell me why you want to lay there
And revel in your abandon
Honey, it don’t make no difference to me baby
Everybody’s had to fight to be free
You see you don’t have to live like a refugee (don’t have to live like a refugee)
Now baby you don’t have to live like a refugee (don’t have to live like a refugee)

Baby we ain’t the first
I’m sure a lot of other lover’s been burned
Right now this seems real to you
But it’s one of those things
You gotta feel to be true

Somewhere, somehow somebody
Must have kicked you around some
Who knows, maybe you were kidnapped
Tied up, taken away and held for ransom
It don’t really matter to me
Everybody’s had to fight to be free
You see you don’t have to live like a refugee (don’t have to live like a refugee)
I said you don’t have to live like a refugee (don’t have to live like a refugee)
You don’t have to live like a refugee (don’t have to live like a refugee), ah , ah

Author: Badfinger (Max)

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

26 thoughts on “Tom Petty – Refugee”

    1. It was a relief and a welcomed one.

      I remember one story about it that was funny. When all the lawsuits were going on especially for Hard Promises the next album. He gave the tapes to a friend and told the guy to put them somewhere and not to tell him where…so he would not be lying under oath on where they were.


  1. I like the story about the receptionist, but I’m afraid this song doesn’t do it for me at all. I know he got this a lot, but he really does sound like he’s taking the piss out of Dylan in the first few lines. Hehe

    Liked by 1 person

    1. He might have been lol. I always thought he was a Roger McGuinn sound a like. I don’t mean that in a bad way…but they are very similar. First time Roger heard American Girl…he thought for a minute that it was him in an old session or something.


  2. One of the best lines ever in a song:
    “Somewhere, somehow somebody
    Must have kicked you around some”
    Thanks for reminding me of this song. One of many Petty & Heartbreakers hits.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. a fine song from a good album … his best for at least a decade. It was not at all like say, Simple Minds or XTC of the day but it was in effect an american “new wave”.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I dig Campbell and his playing on those Petty albums. He just goes about his business without hot dogging on the fretboard. Great song pic!


    1. I really do also. Not only was his music what it was…he seemed like a sincere guy.

      You and I have commented on some of the same sites…I saw your post on The Faces Ooh La La and loved it. I’ve been meaning to go back to your site ever since.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Now don’t go there young lady lol. I knew you would like this one though. This is a great album…probably considered their best…


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