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Grand Theft Auto 6 trailer brings back a 1989 Tom Petty song

Sure, you know ‘Free Fallin’’ — but what about the B-side?

Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers perform at the Viejas Arena Photo: Jerod Harris/Getty Images
Maddy Myers has run Polygon’s games section since 2020 as deputy editor. She has worked in games journalism since 2007, at Kotaku, The Mary Sue, and the Boston Phoenix.

Grand Theft Auto 6 just got its trailer released a bit early, and that’s not the only surprise here. There’s a bit of an unexpected music choice accompanying our first look at Rockstar Games’ upcoming open-world game, and that’s Tom Petty’s “Love Is a Long Road.”

I’m writing about Grand Theft Auto here, so pop culture references and whether we all understand them are a key piece of the overall pie. I’m a millennial, so I’m very familiar with Tom Petty, not necessarily because he’s my favorite but because he’s a favorite of my guitarist father (alongside other rock n’ roll mainstays of the ’60s and ’70s). Hearing Petty’s characteristic moan in this trailer filled me with the same sense of nostalgia that I get when I swing by my parents’ house and hear my dad strumming his guitar in the basement. And that’s kinda how I feel about returning to the world of Grand Theft Auto, so... sure. Also, Tom Petty was from Florida! So, that works.

The specific song in this trailer was first released on Petty’s debut album, 1989’s Full Moon Fever. It was also the B-side on the U.K. single release of “Free Fallin’,” a far more famous song from that album. (That’s what the term “B-side” used to mean, before it became a cutesy pejorative for a song that wasn’t expected to become a top 40 hit — it meant a song that was literally on the other side of a record.)

The trailer features all kinds of revolutionary stuff for Grand Theft Auto — everything from a playable female character to the inclusion of new in-game social media apps — so it’s a fun bit of whiplash to get all of that paired with a lesser-known song by a rock star of yore. I would guess it’s not so much the Tom Petty aspect that we’re meant to pay attention to as the lyrics themselves, which describe a very intense relationship: “Yeah, we were desperate then / To have each other to hold / But love is a long, long road.” Sounds a bit like what the protagonists Jason and Lucia might be feeling, in what appear to be some serious Bonnie and Clyde-esque shenanigans. (Also, check out the door of the convenience store that the duo is holding up — there’s a “Petty Forever” sticker!)

Regardless, I’ll be sending this trailer to my father for his take. Maybe this will be the moment that Rockstar finally targets his demographic. (Probably not. But, hey... maybe.)

Correction (Dec. 5): A previous version of this story misstated the album on which “Love Is a Long Road” first appeared.

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