Tom Petty lightly weighs in on Sam Smith’s ripping off of “Won’t Back Down”

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By Steve Newton

I normally try to avoid songs like Sam Smith’s Grammy-nominated hit, “Stay With Me”. It’s not that I’m a hard-hearted wretch who can’t stand a bit of sappiness, but, really, would it have killed the guy to throw a wailing guitar solo in there somewhere?

The song is infectious, I’ll admit. I find myself going for coffee and whistling its melody, before forcing myself to give it up for strangers’ sake. But before I do I notice that the tune reminds me a lot of that old Tom Petty song, “Won’t Back Down”, the one with Ringo in the video.

Apparently, Petty noticed the similiarity too, because he mentioned it to his people, who mentioned it to Smith’s people. Smith’s people explained the situation to Rolling Stone last week:

“Recently the publishers for the song ‘I Won’t Back Down,’ written by Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne, contacted the publishers for ‘Stay With Me,’ written by Sam Smith, James Napier and William Phillips, about similarities heard in the melodies of the choruses of the two compositions. Not previously familiar with the 1989 Petty/Lynne song, the writers of ‘Stay With Me’ listened to ‘I Won’t Back Down’ and acknowledged the similarity.

[Newt note: “Not previously familiar with…” my ass. Who isn’t familiar with “Won’t Back Down”?]

“Although the likeness was a complete coincidence, all involved came to an immediate and amicable agreement in which Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne are now credited as co-writers of ‘Stay With Me’ along with Sam Smith, James Napier and William Phillips.”

Today Petty issued a statement on “the Sam Smith thing” on his website, in which he took the high road on the whole affair.

About the Sam Smith thing. Let me say I have never had any hard feelings toward Sam. All my years of songwriting have shown me these things can happen. Most times you catch it before it gets out the studio door but in this case it got by. Sam’s people were very understanding of our predicament and we easily came to an agreement. The word lawsuit was never even said and was never my intention. And no more was to be said about it. How it got out to the press is beyond Sam or myself. Sam did the right thing and I have thought no more about this. A musical accident no more no less. In these times we live in this is hardly news. I wish Sam all the best for his ongoing career. Peace and love to all.

Tom Petty

No word yet on how many suitcases full of owed royalty cheques Petty stashed in his trunk before he hit that high road on the way to Jeff Lynne’s place to party it up, though.

 

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