"American Girl" is the second single from Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers' self-titled debut album. The single did not chart in the U.S., but in the UK it peaked at #40 the week ending August 27, 1977. The song was ranked 76th on the list of "The 100 Greatest Guitar Songs of All Time" by Rolling Stone.
"American Girl" uses standard rock instrumentation of electric guitars, electric bass, drums, and keyboards. The tempo is fast and "urgent", and is built on a repeated jangling guitar riff based on a "Bo Diddley beat".
As described in Rolling Stone, "The supercharged riff set the template for decades of Petty hits, but it was also a homage to the Byrds: Petty and Mike Campbell's twin guitars mirrored Roger McGuinn's 12-string, infusing the folk-rock sounds of the Sixties with New Wave energy."
Due to lyrics mentioning cars rolling by "out on 441" and a desperate girl on a balcony, the song was rumored to have been written about a girl who committed suicide by jumping from the Beaty Towers residence hall at the University of Florida in Gainesville, Florida, where Tom Petty grew up. (U.S. Route 441 runs along the university campus right beside Beaty Towers.)
Carl Van Ness, the...