I’ve been on a Tom Petty kick lately. Not that it takes much to start one of those: usually, just thinking about or listening to a single Tom Petty song leads to a reconsideration of his catalog, or at least a couple of favorite albums. This time around, I’ve been listening and relistening to Into the Great Wide Open, his Heartbreaker-backed follow up to Full Moon Fever. If I’m being honest, I think Into the Great Wide Open is the stronger of the two albums, but I’m not here for that debate today (though ask me again tomorrow, I might be up for it then).
No, today I’m here for the album closer, “Built to Last,” which I believe is one of the single greatest songs Petty ever wrote.
On the surface, “Built to Last” is a simple, simple song. It only uses, like, three chords. It’s a straightforward “I will love you forever” song.
Somewhere out my doorway
Somewhere down my block
I can feel her heartbeat
In rhythm with my clock
The song is filled, though, with everything that makes a Tom Petty song great: the soaring vocals in the bridge, the sparkling guitar work from Heartbreaker Mike Campbell (still one of the all-time greatest guitar players ever, by the way), and the heartfelt lyrics delivered so effortlessly by Petty.
We were built to last
On until forever
The world is changing fast
Oh, but our love was built to last
It’s the chorus that always gets me. Those couple of mournful guitar notes after the first line just kills me. “No matter what happens, we will continue to love each other,” Petty says. It’s put forward simply and earnestly, as only Petty can do it, and the song just leaves me a soppy puddle every time I listen to it.
Tom Petty wrote a lot of amazing songs, all with an eye for the working stiff just trying to get by to the weekend and survive. He was never as cynical as Bruce Springsteen or as esoteric as Bob Dylan. He was always just himself, and you could always just about hear his grin when he was playing and singing. “Built to Last,” with its simple rhythm and guileless lyrics, is the epitome of the Petty writing style, and one of my all-time favorite songs.