The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History…Song #199: Refugee by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers (RS)

This list of songs is inspired by lists published by radio station KEXP-FM from Seattle in 2010, as well as the latest poll taken in 2021 by Rolling Stone Magazine. For the most part I will faithfully countdown from their lists, starting at Song #500 and going until I reach Song #1. When you see the song title listed as something like: Song #XXX (KEXP)….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. Song XXX (RS) means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: Song #xxx (KTOM), it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In any case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, just so everyone is aware, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Here is the story behind today’s song. Enjoy.

RS: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #199: Refugee by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.

The song, “Refugee” by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers comes from one of my favourite albums, “Damn the Torpedoes” that was released in 1979. That album produced hits such as “Don’t Do Me Like That”, “Here Comes My Girl” and “Refugee” and opened the floodgates to a string of memorable songs such as “The Waiting”, “You Got Lucky”, “Don’t Come Around Here No More”, “So You Want To Be A Rock n’ Roll Star”, “Needles and Pins”, “I Won’t back Down”, “Free Fallin'”, “Last Dance for Mary Jane” and so many more. Of course, “Refugee” was proceeded by another of my favourite songs, “Breakdown”, from their self-titles debut album.

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers followed an unusual route to stardom for an American band. They were scuffling around in their home country during the mid-seventies; enduring several band name changes, several line-up changes and so on before settling on the name, “Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers”. The classic lineup that lasted for most of the remainder of their career included Tom Petty (as lead singer), Mike Campbell (lead guitar), Howie Epstein (bass), Benmont Tench (keyboards) and Stan Lynch (drums). They had their first taste of success as a band not in the American Heartland, where their music tended to be set but instead, they broke through first in England, of all places. The success that they enjoyed in England caught the attention of record executives Stateside and soon, the band was signed to a contract and their debut album was recorded and released.

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers got their first break in America when their song, “Breakdown” was selected to be on the soundtrack to a very under-rated film called, “FM”. It was a movie about life at a classic rock radio station. The band even made a cameo appearance as this cool and up-and-coming band. The success of their debut album lead to “Damn the Torpedoes” and, with that album, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers had established themselves as worthy peers to other “Heartland Rock” singers such as Bruce Springsteen and John Cougar Mellencamp.

The song, “Refugee” was never meant to discuss the plight of those people forced to flee their homelands in search of peace in other countries. Tom Petty wrote the song during a contractual dispute with their record company who, according to Petty, were trying to pull some financial shenanigans on the band. He has stated that the entire album, “Damn the Torpedoes” was a defiant, raised-middle-finger to the record company who was trying to do them wrong. As it has turned out, the members of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers all agree that “Refugee” came along at just the right time and that the anger they felt at “the suits” caused the song to have just the right amount of edge to it to make it stand out among all of the other songs competing for the attention of rock n’ roll listeners. Tom Petty is on record as stating that “Refugee” is the band’s most satisfying song and that he and the guys never tired of performing it live.

As you may know, Tom Petty passed away a couple of years ago. But, before he left this Earth, the band had amassed sales in the tens of millions worldwide. They were first ballot Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame inductees back in 2002. And, to think that one of America’s most respected singers first tasted success in the land of bangers and mash! I guess it doesn’t matter where you start. It’s the starting that counts.

So, without further delay, from “Damn the Torpedoes”, here are Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers with their first Top Ten hit, “Refugee”. Enjoy.

The link to the video for the song, “Refugee” by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, can be found here.

The link to the official website for Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, can be found here.

The link to the video for the trailer for the movie, “FM”, can be found here.

The link to the official website for Rolling Stone Magazine, can be found here.

Author: Tom MacInnes

Among the many characters I play: husband, father, son, retired elementary school teacher, writer, Cape Bretoner, lover of hot tea and, above all else, a gentleman. I strive to make a positive difference in the lives of others. In Life, I have chosen to be kind.

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