Two Tom Petty songs, two huge movies

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Tonight I had the kids watch Jerry Maguire. My daughter left after three minutes, my son was engaged. It was, on the surface, a tricky on, because the boy is 8 and the movie is rated R. Really, though, it’s a language issue, and one sorta steamy scene with Jerry and his fiance having sex. Cursing isn’t a huge deal to us. The naked—well, I just fast forwarded past.

Anyhow, there’s a scene where Tom Cruise signs Kush, then celebrates by singing “Free Falling” on the drive away from the house. And it’s a cool moment, and the perfect use of a terrific song. But I started thinking about how, truly, there are two near-iconic movie scenes in two near-iconic films that both utilize Petty’s music.

In Jerry Maguire, we have this …

And in Silence of the Lambs, we have this …

The question is, which is better? Which scene in which flick better merges music with a moment in time? “Free Falling,” on the one hand, is a fabulous celebratory tune. It’s also pretty ubiquitous, so it’s not hard to imagine a sports agent driving his car, euphoric, knowing all the words. I know very few people (my dad, perhaps) who don’t know the song, and the lyrics to the song.

“American Girl,” meanwhile, is my favorite Petty song. It’s not as well known as “Free Falling,” but it’s well known enough that a woman in the late 1980s might be singing along to the radio. Also, it works in the moment. She’s an American Girl, living in America, enjoying the life as many know it.

So which works best?

You tell me …

3 thoughts on “Two Tom Petty songs, two huge movies”

  1. Well, the songs are being used in different ways to different effect.

    The Jerry Maguire sequence as a whole is used to comic effect, especially when he’s shooting through the channels and not finding the right song to sing along to (“Just call me angel of morning …” *click*). So it’s a relief not just that he’s signed Kush but that he finally found the proper song to vent with.

    With the Silence of the Lambs girl, the singalong comes with a sense of foreboding. Yeah, she’s carefree, but we know something bad’s about to go down.

    I don’t know if I can tell you which song/scene works best. But I can frame the discussion as this: There’s very few songs that could fit the bill in the same way as the Jerry Maguire scene. There’s probably no shortage of songs that could have worked equally well in the SOTL scene. For mass audiences, it doesn’t matter what the song is. For us 1 percent of overanalyzers, we realize it’s the perfect song for that scene. I’m probably only one of a handful of people on planet Earth who when I hear American Girl on the radio I think of the SOTL scene. But that song/usage also sticks out because I’m a Tom Petty fan, not necessarily that the scene is indelibly memorable.

    I’d say, advantage Freefallin’.

  2. To add to Gregory’s comment, Free Fallin’ is used as foreshadowing, given Jerry’s impending collapse. Ironically, the up tempo feel-good thumper has lyrics that dump you into the abyss…

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