Tom Petty 1989

SONGWRITERS: Sam Smith ‘Stay With Me’ – That Sounds Familiar!

…or how to write a mega hit without knowing it sounds like someone else’s song!

British singer Sam Smith followed up his massive breakout song “Money On My Mind” in 2014 with “Stay With Me”, a song he co-wrote with James Napier and William Phillips. It followed “Money On My Mind” to the top of the UK singles chart, but out-performed that song by a long way, with sales to date of over 1.6 million copies there. It was a similar story throughout the rest of the world. “Stay With Me” has sold over four million physical copies in America and a further four million ‘streamed’ units there.

And it was this success that was to prove the song’s undoing. Rewind to 1989. American songwriter and performer Tom Petty releases the single “I Won’t Back Down” as the lead track from his album “Full Moon Fever” and the song instantly becomes a huge hit. “I Won’t Back Down” was co-written by Petty and Jeff Lynne, formerly of ELO and with whom he joined in the super group The Travelling Wilburys along with Bob Dylan, George Harrison and Roy Orbison. It’s even used by presidential hopeful George W. Bush for the 2000 US presidential election until Petty complained and it was withdrawn. He later performed the song at Al Gore’s home! It was also used in the 2008 film ‘Recount’.

Petty heard Smith’s “Stay With Me” and thought…hmmm…this sounds familiar and realised the backing track was “I Won’t Back Down”. The publishers contacted Sam Smith who stated he had never heard of Tom Petty’s song and it was merely a fluke that this had happened. But an agreement was reached in 2015 that saw Petty and Lynne recorded as co-writers of “Stay With Me” and that 12.5% of the royalties from the song would be paid to them from now on. Petty later stated that he did not believe Smith had plagiarized him, adding: “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”.

Thirty years ago this week (28th May 2019), “I Won’t Back Down” entered charts around the world and gave Petty his biggest hit of the 1980’s. The album “Full Moon Fever” would go on to sell over five million copies in the US alone. Sadly, Tom Petty died in October 2017, but royalties from “Stay With Me” continue to be paid to his estate. So perhaps it is possible to write a big hit and not be aware that the melody already exists. Now, I’ve got this song and it goes “la la la, la la la la la”, I’m sure it could be big(!)

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So perhaps you’ve read an article or two that I’ve written and wondered “just who is this character?”! Well I thought maybe it would be time to introduce myself and what I’m all about. Well it’s all about the music! Having been born in the late 1970’s I was heavily influenced by my parent’s love of ‘popular’ music and rock and roll of the 1950’s and 60’s. My Mother always said she should of married Elvis and my father was, and is still, in love with Sandie Shaw! But while my Dad’s tastes stopped in about 1967, my Mum carried on loving music throughout the 70’s, 80’s and beyond. My first memory was playing on the floor whilst my Mother was ironing one day with the radio on, and hearing ABBA’s “Super Trouper” dancing my nappy off to it! Maybe that’s where it all went wrong…?! Having been subjected to all and sundry in my infant years, I finally found my feet in the mid-1980’s and began ‘partying’ to the likes of Culture Club, Stevie Wonder(!), Elkie Brooks and Bananarama to name but a few! The year 1987 would have a profound effect on my listening tastes and from thereon in my life would be dominated with buying and listening to music. Any number of outstanding songs were released and listened to that year, most notably “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now”, “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” and “La Isla Bonita”. That Summer my mind was completely taken over with music and sounds I’d never heard before and I was totally taken in by it all. My father would say “whaaar rubbish you got on naaaaao?” (I’m from Norfolk!) but I was hooked. And it continued so for the rest of the decade and the next. At the beginning of 1988 I ‘met’ my true love and the singer I’ve worshipped more than any other artist or group. You may know of her. She’s from Australia…! Aside from pop music, my tastes are many and varied and continues to grow and expand as I ‘mature’ in age. I’ve always been heavily interested in films and in particular the mechanics of film making and of course film music, so scores and subsequently orchestral music takes up a lot of my tastes and collection. 90’s dance and club tunes also takes up much of the space in my head and I’m surprised my brain has stopped shaking from the years of abuse it took being dragged to nightclubs, often three times a week in my 20’s! I find with each year that passes I regress back to my youth and of course the 1980’s. 80’s music dominates and the lust to see as many 80’s acts and singers play live now is insatiable. I’m still getting into the groove as much as every breath I take, but I’m never gonna give up listening to my heart and pumping up the volume, simply because I LOVE MUSIC…any kind of music!