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)