The Meaning Behind “Runnin’ Down A Dream” by Tom Petty

“Runnin’ Down A Dream” is one of Tom Petty‘s most recognizable tunes. The energetic track has become an inspiring anthem for anyone looking to follow their own ambitions. Written by Petty, Mike Campbell, and Jeff Lynne, the determined lyrics rub off on the listener. You’ll feel compelled to shoot for the stars, following Petty’s example. Uncover the meaning behind this 1989 hit, below.

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[RELATED: Top 7 Tom Petty Songs That Showcase His Songwriting Prowess]

Behind the Meaning

It was a beautiful day, the sun beat down
I had the radio on, I was drivin’
Trees went by, me and Del were singin’ little Runaway
I was flyin’

Like many of Petty’s songs, “Runnin’ Down A Dream” has a marked energy to it. Much of Petty’s music is tailor-made for riding down the road, top-down, and shooting the breeze. While, on the surface, this track is relatively blithe, it is also deeply important to Petty’s story. On top of being one of his name-making tracks, few of his offerings are more referential to his own career than this one is.

Yeah, runnin’ down a dream that never would come to me
Workin’ on a mystery, goin’ wherever it leads
Runnin’ down a dream

Of course, this song has natural connections to Petty’s dream of becoming a musician. Petty’s journey to becoming the rock icon that he is started after he saw The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show as a kid.

“There was the way to do it,” Petty once explained. “You get your friends and you’re a self-contained unit. And you make the music. And it looked like so much fun. It was something I identified with.

“I had never been hugely into sports,” he continued. “I had been a big fan of Elvis. But I really saw in the Beatles that here’s something I could do. I knew I could do it. It wasn’t long before there were groups springing up in garages all over the place.”

From there, it was full steam ahead for Petty. He and The Heartbreakers amassed a career that would make them household names. That success didn’t happen overnight though. Petty certainly had to “run down” his dream before he got his big break.

I rolled on, the sky grew dark
I put the pedal down to make some time
There’s something good waitin’ down this road
I’m pickin’ up whatever’s mine

Moreover, the song could be interpreted as an ode to life on the road. After garnering success, Petty went on a number of sprawling tours. Like most rock stars, he spent a significant portion of his life traveling from city to city. The view from a tour bus window was likely a familiar sight for the icon.

Even after becoming a powerful force in rock, Petty continued to put the pedal down to bring his beloved catalog to the masses.

Music Video

While the accompanying music video, directed by Jim Lenahan, does little to flesh out the meaning of the song, it’s an exciting watch nonetheless. The whimsical animation was inspired by the comic strip Little Nemo in Slumberland by Winsor McCay.

The largely nonsensical video pairs perfectly with the track and Petty’s ethos as a musician. The competition for Petty’s most bizarre music video is stiff, but this one makes a strong play for the prize.

(Photo by Ian Dickson/Redferns)

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