How To Create Accessible Word Documents

Author’s Note: Part 1 focused on the personal stories of Paige Sears and Linda Coccovizzo and a brief primer in screen readers. Part 2 focuses on the specifics of how to create an accessible Word document along with “how to” screenshots. We also discuss the reasons behind accessible Word design. For the purpose of this article all accessibility steps, processes and examples feature Microsoft Word 365.

So how do you make an Accessible PDF, EPUB or HTML (web page) file? The key is to make sure that the original source document (the Word Document) is accessible.

I would suggest that when developing content that eventually will be used as a PDF and a Web Page that it is better to start off making sure that the WORD DOC is created correctly. Rather than trying to fix up an existing PDF.  Keeping this in mind if it is at all possible, all documents should start out as Word documents.

In this overview of creating accessible Word documents we will cover 6 Tips to improve the overall accessibility of your documents.

The 6 Tips are:

  1. USE STYLES VERSUS USING THE FORMAT FIELDS
  2. USE HEADINGS AS DOCUMENT NAVIGATION
  3. ADD ALTERNATIVE TEXT TO IMAGES
  4. DESIGN ACCESSIBLE TABLES
  5. PROVIDE DESCRIPTIVE TEXT FOR HYPERLINKS
  6. CREATE ACCESSIBLE BULLETED AND NUMBERED LISTS

TIP # 1: USE STYLES VERSUS USING THE FORMAT FIELDS

The first tip is the most important tip and it really impacts the overall design of your Word document dramatically.

It is much better for accessibility purposes to design Word documents using Styles versus using the Format Fields options such as Bold, Italic, Font Style, Font Size etc. An example of the Format fields that you should not use is shown in the screenshot example below in Figure 1.

Figure 1

Figure 1: A Crossed-out Screenshot of the Font Ribbon section along with the words "Not This". The crossed out sections include the following: Font, Font Size, Bold, Italic, Underline, Strikethrough, Subscript and Superscript.

Figure 1 Description: A Crossed-out Screenshot of the Font Ribbon section along with the words “Not This”.  The crossed-out sections include the following: Font, Font Size, Bold, Italic, Underline, Strikethrough, Subscript and Superscript. End of Figure 1

Please note that the Figure descriptions in both the Alt Text and in the Main text are not perfect examples, because I am purposely trying to completely describe the screenshots due to the nature of this article.  In practice it is not always practical to provide such lengthy Figure descriptions, but for this particular article, I thought it was important to provide detailed explanations.

One can access the Style menu in Word by using the following Keyboard Commands CTRL + ALT + SHIFT + S.  Once you do this you should see something similar to the Styles Screenshot shown below in Figure 2.  One can also go to Styles by selecting Home, then click on the box in the bottom right corner of the Styles Ribbon.  Notice in the example below there are several different styles to choose from ranging from TOC (Table of Contents), Block Text, Body Text and various others.

Figure 2Figure 2: A Partial list of Styles listed are: TOC 9, TOC Heading, Baloon Text, Block Text... For a complete list of styles shown plus further description refer to Figure 2 Description directly below Figure 2 in the main text.

Figure 2 Description: The styles listed are: TOC 9, TOC Heading, Balloon Text, Block Text, Body Text, Body Text 2, Body Text 3, BodyText First Indent, Body Text First Indent 2, Body Text Indent, Body Text Indent 2, Body Text Indent 3, Closing, Comment Reference, Comment Subject, Comment Text, Date, Document Map.  The “Show Preview” and “Disabled Linked Styles” are unchecked check boxes.  There are also 3 graphic icons: New Style, Style Inspector and Manage Styles.  There is also a link to Style Pane Options it is labeled “Options… End of Figure 2”

One can create a new style, use the Style Inspector or Modify a Style by selecting the appropriate button at the bottom of the Style List.  In the figure below you can see at the bottom an arrow pointing to the New Style button, the Style Inspector and the Modify Style button.

Figure 3

Figure 3 Description: Basically the same as the screenshot labeled Figure 2 except at the bottom there is a red arrow pointing to the left following icons: New Style, Style Inspector and Manage Styles

Figure 3 Description: The screenshot of Figure 3 is basically the same as the screenshot labeled Figure 2 except at the bottom there is a red arrow pointing to the left to the following icons: New Style, Style Inspector and Manage Styles. End of Figure 3.

Instead of creating your own styles.  It might be a better idea to find someone that is well-versed in creating Accessible Word Documents and seeing if they can provide you with a handy template for creating accessible Word documents.  This way you personally do not have to create styles for every different scenario but can just modify styles.   I will provide you with an accessible template if you send me an email request to paigesears@yahoo.com

TIP # 2: USE HEADINGS AS DOCUMENT NAVIGATION

If one simply designs a large document, but does not use Headers for documentation it is very difficult for blind individuals to quickly skim through your document to find the paragraph or section that is of specific interest to them.

Think of the use of Headers as a way of creating a Table of Contents or Outline for your readers to navigate through your document.

If you take a look at the screenshot below in Figure 4, you will see a sample Navigation pane of a Word document that I created.

Figure 4

Figure 4: The Pane shows the following: "Navigation" at top left. Right below is a search field, Then 3 links Headings, Pages, and Results. Then the page navigation is shown for a more complete description refer to Figure 4 description in Main Text

Figure 4:  Note the words Title, Heading 1, and Heading 2 are actually not listed in the navigation pane but one can determine that heading 1 and 2 are different because of indentation. The Navigation Pane Shows the following.  Navigation is the title of the pane below that is a search document field, Then 3 links Headings, Pages, and Results.  Then the following Navigation is shown. Title: Workmates and Friends: Linda Coccovizzo and Paige Sears Discuss Document Accessibility Heading 1: Linda Coccovizzo’s  Biography Heading Level 2  * Leber’s Congenital Amaurosis and my Early Childhood * Working as a Para Professional in Joplin * First Daughter is Born * Working for Columbia Lighthouse as a Rehab Engineer * Moving to Kansas City and Working with Paige at the Local Community College Today Heading Level 1 Paige Sears’ Biography Heading Level 2: * From Sports Writer to Disability Advocate * The Royal Proclamation * The Negative Phone Call * First Communications Job Re-evaluation of Life Path * A New Start Begins * Becoming An Adaptive Technology Specialist Heading Level 1: Linda and Paige Share A Passion for Accessible Design End of Figure 4.

Also, one can get to the Headings in the Styles Menu in two different ways.

Option 1: Click on the appropriate heading level in the Styles ribbon gallery.  For example, Heading 1, Heading 2 or Heading 3.

Option 2: Use the Keyboard Command of CTRL + ALT + 1 for Heading 1, CTRL + ALT + 2 for Heading 2, CTRL + ALT + 3 for Heading 3

Figure 5

Figure 5: Screenshot of the styles ribbon. The style look and design are shown graphically and labeled as Heading 1, 2, 3 and 4 and there are 4 red arrows pointing to each separate heading

Figure 5: Screenshot of the styles ribbon.  The style look and design are shown graphically and labeled as Heading 1, 2, 3 and 4 and there are 4 red arrows pointing to each separate heading. End of Figure 5.

TIP # 3: ADDING ALTERNATIVE TEXT TO IMAGES

Why is it important to provide Alternative Text to Images?  Basically if you do not add descriptive text to your images then the blind end user has no idea what the image means in relationship to the other text.  For the most part a massively in-depth description is not necessary.  For example, in Figure 5 that depicts the Jaws Logo the following description is suffice.

 DESCRIPTION BEGINS: The JAWS Logo which shows a blue shark speaking with the Word “Jaws” below the shark.  DESCRIPTION ENDS

Sometimes a more in-depth description is appropriate.  In some cases, the description needs to be wordy if the image for example is an actual body of text that contains 7 Steps or is a diagram showing how to do something in that case a lengthy description is appropriate.  Often times, though what I do is that if the picture is a process or contains a lot of text I will include a  description of what the picture entails in the body of my Word document.

Something to be aware of also with images is that often images are not just simple images but they are images that if clicked on will take you to another webpage.  In those cases, it is imperative to make sure that you indicate in your alt tag description where that hyperlink will take the computer user.

So here is the Step by Step process of creating Alt text for the image.  Select the image with your mouse, then point and click on that image.  To see what that should look like when you select the image take a peek at Figure 6 below.

Figure 6

Figure 6: The JAWS Logo which shows a blue shark speaking with the Word “Jaws” below the shark.

Figure 6: The JAWS Logo which shows a blue shark speaking with the Word “Jaws” below the shark.  Figure 6 Ends

Then once the image is selected Right Click and Select Edit Alt Text as shown in Figure 7 below.

Figure 7

Figure 7: Screenshot of the menu that appears when you select an image and right click. Highlighted in the menu is "Edit Alt Text..."

Figure 7: Screenshot of the menu that appears when you select a figure or image (in this case Figure 6) and right click.  Highlighted in the menu is “Edit Alt Text…” End of Figure 7

Then simply enter the description in the Enter Alt Text field box.  Example is shown below in Figure 8.

Figure 8

Figure 8: Screen shot of the Alt Text pane:  For a more complete description go to the main page and read the Image description under Figure 8.

Figure 8: Screen shot of the Alt Text pane: “Alt Text” is at the Top Left below that it reads “How would you describe this object to someone who is blind?”  (1-2 sentences recommended.)”.  Below that is an empty field box with a red arrow pointing in it.  Below that is a button labeled “Generate a description for me”, then a check box that is unchecked that reads “Mark as decorative” End of Figure 8

TIP # 4: DESIGN ACCESSIBLE TABLES

Tables should be used to communicate data; they should not be used for layout and design.  One of the popular trends in both document and web design is to create “invisible tables” with no visible columns or rows.  This technique may help improve the visual feel and layout for the sighted in often provides nothing but confusion and miscommunication to the blind end user. In my opinion tables should always be used to communicate data not layout. If you follow this one bit of advice regarding creating accessible tables it will improve the ability of creating accessible table dramatically.

Below is an example of a well-designed table

TABLE EXAMPLE BEGINS HERE

Paige’s Sons

Name Age College Attending
Brett 21 Missouri Science and Technology
Brady 18 Maple Woods Community College

End of Table

The best way for you to determine if your table is accessible is by tabbing through each cell.  For example, when you navigate to the cell that has “Maple Woods Community College” in it, you will hear the screen reader Jaws say “College Attending: Maple Woods Community College”.  Therefore, you know that the blind end user would be able to quickly understand what each cell content means and what cell column it corresponds to.

Something that is important for designing accessible tables is to make sure that your Header Rows are appropriately labeled.  One can do this by selecting the table with your mouse. Select the Table by clicking on it.  Once you have done this you will see 4 arrows pointing up, down, left and right just to the top left of your table.  Then right click and select Table Properties.  See screenshot example below.

Figure 9

Figure 9: Screenshot of the Paige's Sons Table. The table has been selected and right clicked on. A menu appears. At the very bottom of the menu "Table Properties" is shaded in dark gray.

Figure 9: Screenshot of the Paige’s Sons Table.  The table has been selected and right clicked on.  A menu appears.  At the very bottom of the menu “Table Properties” is shaded in dark gray.  End of Figure 9

Once you select Table Properties your screen should look very similar to the screenshot shown in Figure 10 below.  Make sure that you select the “Row” tab and uncheck the “Allow row to break across pages” and make sure “Repeat as header row at the top of each page” is selected.  When you do this it is easier for JAWS, NVDA and other screenreader users to help identify what table row header each table cell content relates too.

Figure 10

Figure 10: Screenshot of the Table Properties. There is a red arrow pointing upward to the Row tab and a red arrow pointing to the right of "Repeat as header row at the top of each page" check box. For further description refer to Figure 10 description in main textFigure 10: Screenshot of the Table Properties. There is a red arrow pointing upward to the Row tab and a red arrow pointing to the right of "Repeat as header row at the top of each page" check box. For further description refer to Figure 10 description in main text

Figure 10: Screenshot of the Table Properties. There is a red arrow pointing upward to the Row tab and a red arrow pointing to the right of “Repeat as header row at the top of each page” check box. Above that is the “Allow row to break across pages” check box. The check box is unchecked. End of Figure 10.

TIP # 5 PROVIDE DESCRIPTIVE TEXT FOR HYPERLINKS

Hyperlink descriptions need to describe the nature of the hyperlink and what the Hyperlink content contains.  Some very bad examples of Hyperlink descriptions would be using “Here” or “Click Here” to describe the hyperlink.  Just imagine if a single web page has 30 or 40 “Click Here” links and each of those links takes the web navigator somewhere else.  It would be a very confusing situation for that user.

So how can you provide descriptive text for hyperlinks.

Step 1: Visit the website and copy the URL of the hyperlink. See the up arrow in Figure 11

Step 2: Highlight some text as shown below.  In the example below “This is the Descriptive text for the Web Aim Link…” is the highlighted text. Also it is right under the down arrow. Note: Do not highlight the actual hyperlink.

Figure 11

Figure 11: Screenshot of some content taking from a Word document.  For a more complete description refer to the Figure 11 image description in the main text.

Figure 11: Screenshot of some content taking from a Word document.  There is a down red arrow pointing to some gray highlighted text.  That gray text reads: “This is the Descriptive text for the Web Aim Link”. It is not an actual hyperlink but just text. The second line of text reads, “This is the webaim hyperlink to the right https://webaim.org/techniques/word”.  There is a red up arrow pointing to the web address. End of Figure 11

Step 3:  After you highlighted some text right click the highlighted text and select Link from the Menu that appears and then you should see a dialog box like Figure 12 below.

Step 4: Copy the URL web address that you posted into your Word document in Step 1

Step 5: Paste it into the Address field as shown in Figure 12

Step 6: Type in the display text that you want to appear as the hyperlink in the Text to Display field.  Select OK.

Figure 12

Figure 12:  Screenshot of the Insert Dialog box and some Word document content is shown right under the dialog box.  There are 3 red arrows labeled Step 4, 5, 6.  For a more complete description refer to Figure 12 description listed in the main text

Figure 12:  Screenshot of the Insert Dialog box and some Word document content is shown right under the dialog box.  There are 3 red arrows labeled Step 4, 5, 6.  Step 4 points to the Word document content that is a  hyperlink.  The hyperlink address is https://webaim.org/techniques/word.  Step 5 The “Address” Form Field has the same web address mentioned in Step 4. Step 6 has a down arrow pointing to the text in the “Text to Display” field.  The text in the “Text to display” field is Web Aim: Creating Accessible Word Documents. End of Figure 12

Step 7: Highlight and delete the URL web address that you began with in your Word document.

Now your hyperlink should look like Figure 13.

Figure 13

Figure 13 Screenshot of Word document content. It reads "The End Result" and then below that is a hyperlink labeled "Web Aim: Creating Accessible Word Documents"

Figure 13 Screenshot of Word document content.  It reads “The End Result” and then below that is a hyperlink labeled “Web Aim: Creating Accessible Word Documents”. End of Figure 13.

TIP # 6 CREATE ACCESSIBLE BULLETED LISTS AND NUMBERED LISTS

Intuitively, sighted readers look at bulleted and numbered list and know right away that information is important and is separated out in a vital way for the sighted user.  It is important that when you use list that you must convey this information to the blind end user as well as the sighted end user.

Just a general guideline for creating accessible bulleted list is that it is ok to use the built in bulleted and numbered list generator in Microsoft Word, but it is not ok to insert an asterisk symbol and other characters to separate or highlight certain sections of the document.

Below is a list of sources and hyperlinks that I used in the development of this article. All of the links in this well-designed bulleted list are related to designing Accessible Word Documents.

Please note that the design of the website, Word documents and PDFs produced by Paige Sears are designed with the intent to provide a reference point of how an accessible document should look and feel.  The use of visible fonts, navigable headers, described images and overall accessible layout is intentional as a way to promote accessible document design for Word Docs, PDFs and Web pages.  If you are navigating one of the webpages and documents offered by Paige Sears please send her a link so she can correct the issue as soon as possible at paigesears@yahoo.com

What Tom Petty Meant to Me

Headshot of Tom Petty with Band Logo

Tom Petty Tribute

October 20, 1950 – October 2, 2017

By Paige Sears

Jammin’ to You’re Jammin’ Me

When I was twenty-something I would hang out at my oldest brothers’ house, and I would jam to his CDs.  My brother always had great music to listen to and he usually had found the next big group and had their CD years before they would make it mainstream. Listening to his stereo blaring full blast was sensational!

There were times though when I drove my brother insane.  I have this annoying tendency that when I have found a CD, group or song I like.  I play that song over and over and over and over and over and over and over again… ad nauseum.

And when he bought the Tom Petty and Heartbreakers CD Let Me Up I Have Had Enough.  I proceeded to play that CD over and over especially the song You’re Jammin’ Me.  That is when I fell in love with Tom Petty’s music

And to this day I absolutely love Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.

The Care Package

When Tom past away on October 2, 2017 for about two weeks afterwards I was constantly posting mournful Facebook posts concerning his death.  And the same brother, who I drove crazy by playing his Tom Petty’s CDs way too much, decided to send me some gifts to console me during my time of Tom Petty mourning.

His Tom Petty Care Package (that is what my brother coined it) included 3 Tom Petty t-shirts, a “I Won’t Back Down Bumper Sticker”, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers 4 CD live anthology set, Mudcrutch CD, The Tom Petty Biography by Warren Zanes, a Tom Petty For Ukulele song book and last but not least a Tom Petty Coloring book.

My brother sent all of these via the mail. So for about a 2 week period I was constantly getting something in the mail that was Tom Petty related and each day I eagerly awaited to greet the postman to see what new gift was in my mail box.

The “Research” Begins

So once I confirmed from my brother that all of the gifts had indeed arrived I knew exactly what I had to do, I must undergo a serious Tom Petty “research” project by engulfing myself in the world of Tom Petty.  And I did this by reading his biography, listening to the 4 CD live anthology set and Mudcrutch. I instinctively knew that I had to do this so I could put my feelings about Tom Petty in writing which would allow me to find a way to console myself as I was mourning the loss of what I consider to be one of the finest Rock ‘N Roll musicians and storytellers.

Tom Petty Coloring Book Pic

Soundtrack to My Life

Inside the cover inset of the Tom Petty and Heartbreakers 4 CD Live Anthology set, Tom Petty lists the goal and purpose of the anthology. He says,

Risking understatement, I have to say I’m proud of this band.  In creating The Live Anthology, I hoped for a document that could really show people why.  And I think we got it.  In the midst of the long days we put in –fueled by the coffee and the inspiration born of listening-one thing that stuck me was the way in which the recordings were like a crowbar that opened the storehouse of memory.  Moments that were otherwise lost me came back in full color as the songs played.  That’s one amazing thing about music, the way it enters people’s worlds to become part of the soundtrack to their lives.

This list of 15 Tom Petty songs to me are soundtracks to my life. So, in reviewing my  favorite Tom Petty hits, I will also try to convey the memories and the impact that his songs had on me individually.  Let’s now take together take a crowbar to open our storehouse of memories, feelings and thoughts. These crowbar-memories are obviously a sort of a ranking, but after #1 and #2 all of the other songs on the list could easily be swapped day-to-day depending on my mood and what is going on in my life. Keep in mind is that even though Tom Petty’s solo album Full Moon Fever is my favorite album of his, I must admit that I played that album so much and heard those songs so much on the radio and elsewhere that even I became a victim of self-inflicted burnout.  Therefore do not be surprised if many of the hits that were on the Full Moon Fever album did not make my list or you think should rank higher.  Who knows in a few years that burnout may subside and those songs may belong a bit higher.

Crowbar Memory # 1 – Refugee

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fFnOfpIJL0M

I love fight songs that push ones soul to keep on moving on.  So it is no accident that some of my favorite songs come from the Rocky movies.  I love Eye of the Tiger by Survivor and ‘Gonna Fly Now’ by Bill Conti.  I also have recently enjoyed listening to The Karate Kid song You’re the Best by Joe Esposito.  I really like the personal inspiration that these songs give me.  They are great songs to exercise to.

With that in mind, it should be no surprise that my all-time favorite Tom Petty song is exactly that a fight song!  No – not necessarily exercise music but to me Refugee is a fight song for the soul.

This song is the perfect song to play loudly to get yourself out of the dumps and quit throwing yourself your own personal pity party. It is the perfect song to quit “reveling in your abandon”.  Life is a journey and as I am on this journey as a transwoman, a father, a family member, a friend, a workmate, and national citizen, Refugee pushes me to fight through the personal pain of the past and realize that I can be free of past pain if I want it, but I have to be willing to fight for it.

Also, I love this song because it really captures what happens in many romantic relationships.  To me, Tom Petty in this song is talking directly to his lover who seemingly is struggling to keep or find her identity as they become a couple.  Tom Petty’s lyrics give us all an impetus or drive to fight the temptation of becoming  enmeshed in your partner and lose your sense of identity.

 The Heartbreakers Fought to Perfect Refugee

Interesting fact about Refugee was exactly how hard the band worked to perfect the recording of Refugee.  The band did close to seventy takes of the song.  In fact according to Mike Campbell lead guitarist and lifelong collaborator with Tom it was the only time that Campbell walked out of a recording session

On page 146 of Petty – The Biography written by Warren Zanes, Campbell provides the following quote.

In Refugee,” he says, “I had a mental breakdown.  I just couldn’t take it anymore.  It was my song, a co-write with Tom, and we kept playing it over and over and over, changing the thing, changing the sounds.  It sounded like Nazis marching.  There was no groove.  We got into this hole of misery cutting that song.  And I said, ‘I need to get out of this room for a few days.  This is not healthy.’  It’s the only time I’ve walked out of a session.

It is a good thing that Campbell and Petty went back and finished Refugee because in my opinion it resonates as one of the cleanest, clearest and rockingest songs ever made!

Best line – Tell me why you want to lay there, revel in your abandon

Honorable Mention – Who knows maybe you were tied up and held for ransom

Crowbar Memory #2 – You’re Jammin’ Me

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TCFAzPl1QmE

This song is the one that I drove my brother crazy with.  I put this song in an endless repeat loop.  I am aware that this song is probably much higher on my list than most other Petty fans.  But this song to me completely rocks out and exemplifies the rocking sound of the Heartbreakers.  To me, this song represents the group at its best.

The other reason I just love this song is that how blatantly it gives the middle finger to the media and basically says, ‘I am sick of your shit! Quit inundating me with silly slogans, television commercials, and worthless pop culture references!

I think one of the reasons I fell in love with this song was because at the time that this song came out I had just started undergrad in college and I was getting a Communications Degree and I would later become a Communications Coordinator for a Kansas City based health insurance company.  So as I entered the field of communication as a vocation, this song pointed out in a real and obvious way of the over-reaching effect that tireless and endless media details can have on one’s psyche.

Now looking back on my life it is easy for me to see that because I could never really adapt to this line of media manipulation it was one of the reasons why I switched my career from marketing communications to working with the disabled.  Impacting someone’s life in a real personal tangible way provides me with a much better feeling of accomplishment than that of selling a brand or a product.

Best line – Take back your Iranian torture, And the apple in young Steve’s eye

It is amazing to me how dead on Petty was on the future of Apple and Steve Jobs with this line.  And 30 some years later this line is still valid and a crushing commentary on advertising.

Tom Petty wearing his Top Hat

Crowbar Memory # 3 – Don’t Come Around Here No More

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h0JvF9vpqx8

If you have seen the video for this song, it is hard not to picture the Alice in Wonderland themed video in your head.  And since I have always been a huge Lewis Carroll fan, I immensely enjoyed this quirky and odd rendition of both the song and the story of Alice.

However, if I am thinking of just the lyrics and not the video, what comes to my mind is the frustration one feels when you have basically given someone the boot out of your life and they just keep trying to find a way back into your life.   Personally, I find these type of individuals tiring because they are usually well versed Drama Kings or Queens who try to infuse a bit of their unwanted emotional drama back into my life.  These lyrics say it all and say it forcefully.  Get out! And Stay Out!

Best line – I don’t feel you anymore. You darken my door.

Crowbar Memory # 4 – American Girl

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uNgt7U9QrFQ

Fittingly, this song was recorded on July 4, 1976 the bicentennial birthday of the United States, and the fact that this song was recorded on America’s birthday seems to be very appropriate when you consider how eloquently this song depicts the dreams of many young teen girls in America.  If this song had been written a decade later, we would have gotten to see what Petty would have done to this song by creating a video for it.

But it many ways it is probably better that there was not a video created for it because the way Petty describes and sings the song you easily can put yourself in the shoes of a young woman deciding to leave her Midwest lifestyle and come to make it big in Los Angeles.  This song was a harbinger of things to come for Petty at least lyrically.  American Girl proved he could conjure and create a compelling story that anyone within earshot of the song could easily understand and relate to.  Great storytelling in his songs would eventually become a Petty signature, and this song was the beginning of his legendary storytelling.

Best line – Well it was kinda cold that night, She stood alone on her balcony, Yeah she could hear the cars roll by, Out on 441 like waves crashin’ on the beach.

I love how Petty compares the sound of traffic on Highway 441 to waves crashin’ on the beach.

Tom Petty All Smiles

Crowbar Memory #5 – Don’t Do Me Like That

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JmlV-ffMac8

It is easy to relate to the story told in this song.  Petty has just heard from a good friend of his that his friend’s girlfriend has just dumped him.  And it is so easy to put ourselves in the singers’ shoes.  After hearing such a story, one immediately tends to analyze what you have in your relationship.  And it is such a heartfelt plea that Petty belts out to his lover to not do the same thing to him.  I think we all have been there in that place of our lives at one point or another.  The song does such a great job capturing the fear and passion of Petty’s plea.

Best line –Then he said, you better watch your step, Or your gonna get hurt yourself, Someone’s gonna tell you lies, Cut you down to size.

Crowbar Memory #6 – Stop  Draggin’ My Heart Around

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6UD0c58nNCQ

Stop Draggin’ My Heart around reminds me of my personal relationships . Specifically relationships that I knew were not going to work out, but  both me and my partner really did not want to be alone, so we hung onto the relationship much longer than the expiration date for our partnership.

Stevie Nicks and Tom Petty do a great job conveying this dynamic as they croon the lyrics of this song.

Petty’s producer Jimmy Iovine dated Stevie Nicks and Iovine convinced Petty to allow Nicks to sing the song on her Bella Donna album.  When I heard this I could not help wondering what the Heartbreakers’ finished project would have been like without Iovine’s intervention.

Best line – Baby you could never look me in the eye, Yeah you buckle with the weight of the words

This line depicts how difficult it can be to finally have the strength to tell someone that the relationship is over.  Petty calls his lover to the carpet and chastises her for not being able to admit that the two of them have finally hit the end of their time together.

A coloring book headshot of Tom Petty. He is holding up a purplish pink guitar and is wearing a brown jacket and black vestCrowbar Memory #7 – You Got Lucky

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mtLpZWNyM0I

One can almost see and feel the tension and the anger in Tom Petty’s voices as he belts on “Yeah, go just go, but remember Good love is hard to find.”   This song to me does not imply just to relationships, but obviously that is the main interpretation.  This song can help repair the damage to our fragile egos anytime that we are rejected by a group of people, an employer or family.

As I listen to this song, I can hear the author say, “Who the hell do you think you are to reject me!  Don’t you know who I am!  I am going to make you regret rejecting me!

Best line: Girl, if you can do better than me, go, Yeah, go but remember, Good love is hard to find

Crowbar Memory #8 – Breakdown

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qNxfPAF1frM

Breakdown is another Heartbreaker song that just plain rocks!  And it sets such a foreboding mood.  Petty perfects the feeling and intensity of that moment when the relationship has finally reached the peak and both parties are ready to take the relationship  to the next level.  In some ways, Breakdown kind of feels like a song in which the singer his almost begging for sex as he finally gets his girlfriend or lover to “breakdown and go ahead and give it to me”, but it in a weird way it is also intensely romantic and passionate.  I think it probably aptly describes the mood and ambiance of how many teens lose their virginity and innocence.

Best line: Your eyes give you away, Something inside you is feeling like I do
We said all there is to say, Baby, breakdown, go ahead and give it to me

Crowbar Memory #9 – I Won’t Back Down

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nvlTJrNJ5lA

This is another “fight” song.  This song helps encourage me to keep fighting even through the toughest circumstance.  In life I have found that at times, not everyone will get me or understand me or even agree with me, but listening to this song gives me the courage to keep pressing through the pain and to keep fighting to be myself.  Basically this song is beautifully simplistic and finds a way to encourage the soul to endure lifes’ trials.

Best line: You can stand me up at the gates of hell, But I won’t back down

Crowbar Memory #10 – Runnin’ Down a Dream

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y1D3a5eDJIs

This song to me always has felt like the ultimate Rock ‘N Roll road trip song.  As soon as you hear the screaming guitars in the intro, you know that you are heading into an adventure.  This song inspires me to pursue my dreams with all my heart and soul.

Best line: Runnin’ down a dream, I felt so good like anything was possible, I hit cruise control and rubbed my eyes

Crowbar Memory #11 – Free Fallin’

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1lWJXDG2i0A

Sometimes when I am listening to this song I start to imagine myself as Alice falling endlessly down the rabbit hole.  Yet at other times, I think the song just has a way of depicting the life of a teenage girl who has just been broken up with a guy  who she thinks is the man of her dreams. On the other hand, the guy broke up with her to gain  independence and freedom.  He does gain freedom, but at the same time he now realizes he has entered into an unknown abyss.

Best line: It’s a long day, living in Reseda, There’s a freeway running through the yard.

I love the imagery that ‘a freeway running through the yard’ brings to my mind, it provides a very distinct and clear background setting for this love story gone wrong.

A coloring book pic of Tom Petty from waist up. He has a very cartoonish-big smile and is wearing a black jacket and silver t-shirt and holding a purple guitar.Crowbar Memory #12 – Even the Losers

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U0el_8ZKw7w

We all have felt rejected.  We all have felt unwanted.  But this song gives those internal moments of self-doubt, a certain source of unexpected strength.    Besides easily identifying with the “loser” aspect of the song, the other strength of the song lyrically is the vivid pictures the song creates.  To me when I hear this song I easily retreat back to some of my “party” memories where-  “I smoked cigarettes and stared at the moon.”

Best line: It was nearly summer, we sat on your roof, Yeah, we smoked cigarettes and we stared at the moon, I showed you stars you never could see, It couldn’t been that easy to forget about me.

Crowbar Memory #13 – Last Dance with Mary Jane

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aowSGxim_O8

This is another Tom Petty song that if you have seen the video it is very hard to get the video out of your head.  It is not that often that you see a mortician dancing with a beautiful corpse in a wedding dress.

But with that said, I really love the guitar intro to this song.  Often this song is referred to as a tribute to marijuana. And if you pay close attention to the lyrics it is hard to refute that the song does in a sense pay homage to the wacky weed.

However, I do not really pay attention to the drug references of the song but this song takes me to the place of my birth, Indiana.  When he pipes out the phrase, “Indiana boys on an Indiana night” a sense of hometown pride rushes through my body even though I have lived most of my life it Kansas City, Missouri.  Still,  I was born in Indiana and have several relatives from Indiana.  For me when I listen to this song it is hard for me not think of those road-trips that our family made every winter and summer to see our relatives in Indiana.

Best line: But she grew up tall and she grew up right, With them Indiana boys on an Indiana night

Crowbar Memory #14 – The Best of Everything

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PynnlF3SOWU

When I think of this song, it reminds me of old flames.  I can just picture this guy who is singing this song taking a stroll down memory lane after he has had a few too many drinks at the local bar and then for some reason this old flame comes back to his memory and he wonders “I wonder what the hell she is up to now.” And as he explores the past emotions that this girl conjures up,  he finds himself not remorseful or angry but just in prayerful reflection and hope that this former flame is doing well and she has finally found what she was searching for and has the “Best of Everything”.

Best line: But listen honey, wherever you are tonight, I wish you the best of everything in the world, And I hope you found, whatever you were looking for.

 

Crowbar #15 – Here Comes My Girl

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n4nPa35CZPI

This is a simple song from a man who is just proud of his girlfriend.  You can just sense the joy and pride oozing off the singer’s voice as he sees his girl walking down the hall heading for him.  It really is a beautiful song.

Best line: …Watch her Walk… ‘Nuff said!

Top Row: Jeff Lynne, George Harrison, Tom Petty Front Row: Roy Orbison and Bob Dylan
Coloring book drawing of The Traveling Wilburys

Conclusion

So there you have it.  Those are my top 15 Tom Petty songs.  I am sure that if you are reading this there are some songs you agree with  where they are placed and some you feel are placed either too high or too low, but we all can agree on the fact that Tom Petty was a master musician who knew how to touch his audience with great lyrics and melodies.

Other Tidbits

When I first began this tribute, I told you that I received as a gift the 4 CD live anthology of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.  This CD set is much more than just a greatest hits compilation.  It does have most of your favorite Tom Petty tunes, but it also has rousing covers that the band played live.  I especially liked the old blue songs covers like Diddy Wah Diddy, and, Just Want To Make Love to You.  I also really liked the rendition of the 007 James Bond tuneGoldfinger that the band played.