Celebrate Tom Petty With His Perfect Driving Songs (Updated)

(Image Credit: Tom Petty VEVO)
(Image Credit: Tom Petty VEVO)

Legendary rocker Tom Petty died today at age 66. He was many things to many people, but I think most would agree that he wrote, played and sang some of the greatest driving songs the world’s ever known. Celebrate his life by enjoying that legacy; cue up your favorite Petty track and put some miles on your car.


Petty had an immense catalog of hits since his professional debut in the ’70s, and I’m sure those songs are the soundtracks to great memories for many people.

My dad introduced me to Petty’s music via that 1993 Greatest Hits album that everybody has. Years later, a friend and I were tearing across Utah in a 1988 Mitsubishi Starion on a 10-day cruise from Boston to Los Angeles. The windows were down, the cracked black leather was lava-hot, and the cabin was fierce with wind and “Runnin’ Down A Dream” cranking through two blown speakers.

What makes that memory a little cooler is that there’s a line in that song that goes: “me and Del were singing,” and my co-driver was nicknamed Del. The song also came out around the same time the car was built. But mostly, it was the cadence and rhythm of that tune that made ripping across the desert particularly unforgettable.

Other well-known Petty hits like “Breakdown” and “Last Dance With Mary Jane” have good driving grooves, too. I’d encourage you to give them a re-listen since I’m sure you’ve heard them once, and drop your own favorites into the comments for the rest of us to enjoy.

Update 5:56 p.m. ET: Around the time this post was published, various news sources that confirmed Petty’s death walked them back.

Reuters reports that the singer was “clinging to life” after a cardiac event today; the Los Angeles police said it has no information. This is an unusual circumstance, but we will update this post when we learn more.


Update Tuesday, 7:25 a.m. ET: After a day of conflicting reports, Tony Dimitriades, Tom Petty’s manager, released a statement late Monday night confirming his death. “On behalf of the Tom Petty family we are devastated to announce the untimely death of our father, husband, brother, leader and friend Tom Petty,” Dimitriades said. “He suffered cardiac arrest at his home in Malibu in the early hours of this morning and was taken to UCLA Medical Center but could not be revived. He died peacefully at 8:40 p.m. PT surrounded by family, his bandmates and friends.”

Update Tuesday, 9:05 a.m. ET:

Ten of my personal favorite tracks, easily packaged for your car-listening convenience:

Jalopnik Staffer from 2013 to 2020, now Editor-In-Chief at Car Bibles


Mr. Malaise

I also loved that Runnin’ Down a Dream references Del Shannon’s Runaway.