In the name of full disclosure I will say that I’m a huge Tom Petty (and the Heartbreakers) fan, and I like Sam Smith but he’s no Tom Petty. Now that you know my bias, here’s my argument:
Number Five: Neither Tom Petty nor Sam Smith wanted this to get media attention. “How it got out to the press is beyond Sam or myself,” said Petty. Someone else clearly leaked the story because it wasn’t in either of their interests to have a media frenzy surrounding the situation.
Number Four: “Stay With Me” has been nominated for three Grammys and although Sam Smith agreed to give co-writing credit to Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne (Petty’s writing partner), neither Petty nor Lynne are eligible for the award. “[Since] they [Petty and Lynne] did not do any new writing for this work, we are considering their original work to have been interpolated,” said Senior Vice President of Awards Bill Freimuth.
Number Three: When the publishers of “I Won’t Back Down” contacted the publishers of “Stay With Me,” Smith’s representative released a statement saying, “”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.” It strikes me as highly unlikely that not a single person that helped produce Sam’s single had heard “I Won’t Back Down.” It’s one of Petty’s biggest hits, and these are people working in the music industry.
Number Two: Petty handled the entire incident with grace and tact. He said in a statement, “Sam did the right thing and I have thought no more about this. I wish Sam all the best for his ongoing career. Peace and love to all.”
Number One: That being said, I’m actually not convinced that Petty and Lynne deserve writing credits for the song. I’m really interested in the folk tradition, specifically the folk music scene that was happening in Greenwich Village in the 60s. During this time, people were getting all kinds of inspiration from each other; there was no such things as co-writing credit. It’s how Bob Dylan wrote “Don’t Think Twice.” Here’s an earlier version called “Who’ll Buy You Ribbons When I’m Gone” by Paul Clayton. They’re incredibly similar, but I’m so thankful Dylan emulated Clayton and made it his own. It’s one of my favorite Dylan songs, and it’s likely that Clayton’s tune would have been completely forgotten by generations to come had Dylan not reinterpreted it.
I think it’s natural for artists to copy other artists and put a new twist on things. Smith is telling a completely different story than the one Petty and Lynne told. To be honest, I like Petty’s version much better, but I don’t think he deserves credit for an interpretation of his song. I guess Petty is a man of his word though; he’s not backing down.
FDRMX Eyes: Take a look at Nod One’s Head’s rendition of a classic hit. NOH puts their unique twist to Salt-N-Pepa’s “Push It.”