Music | Women Playing Petty

Songwriting ability is a gift. After a while, you come to realize,
“I’ve really been blessed. I can write these things and it makes me happy,
and it makes millions of people happy.” It’s an obligation, it’s bigger than you.
It’s the only true magic I know. It’s not pulling a rabbit out of a hat;
it’s real. It’s your soul floating out to theirs. – 
Tom Petty

In the American rock lexicon Tom Petty can be considered a songwriting genius, equal to the likes of Dylan or Cohen or Lennon. His influence stretches far and deep in modern music. Petty’s deceptively simple songs have been recorded and performed by numerous musicians in many different genres. Some of his riffs have been outright stolen by bands as diverse as The Replacements, The Strokes and Sam Smith. Below we share a small selection of his work as performed by some unexpected female artists:

A lesser known song from Petty’s breakout album Damn the Torpedoes, Louisiana Rain, was recorded in 1979 by Bonnie Tyler. The future Total Eclipse of the Heart singer gives the song a more countrified touch than Petty without any of the bombast of her dramatic 80s hit.


One of the more quirky Petty covers out there is Grace Jones’ reggae-tinged version of the iconic Breakdown. Apparently Tom approved so much that he wrote a third verse just for her.


The typically cloying and annoying Melissa Etheridge slows down the hard rocking hit Refugee, stretching it out to a mournful lament compared to Petty’s driving and defiant don’t do me like that, won’t back down version….though Etheridge does get all lilith hardass in the chorus.


Taylor Swift, who says Petty “represented a kind of songwriting I idolized,” released a rather insipid version of American Girl in 2009 but it’s hard for even her to completely fuck up such a close to perfect song.


Grammy nominee Elle King gave us a much more acceptable cover of American Girl in 2015. In fact, this one is almost every bit as good as Petty’s.


And finally, following Petty’s death this week, Miley Cyrus appeared on the Howard Stern show to perform the gorgeous Wildflowers. Say what you want about Miley but the girl can sing.