Tom Petty and Stevie Nicks shared a special bond that lasted from their young adulthood all the way up until his premature death in 2017. Petty played a pivotal role in helping Nicks find her voice as a solo star, and, subsequently, he handed her the one song that would put her career on the right track.
When Nicks decided to take a break from Fleetwood Mac in order to create her debut solo album, 1981’s Bella Donna, their paths would cross for the first time. Even though she was going her own way during the band’s hiatus, if it was up to her, then she’d have become a member of Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers. However, that wasn’t going to happen, so instead, she had to settle for second best, which was a collaboration.
The singer’s love of Petty incentivised her to recruit his producer, Jimmy Iovine, which kickstarted their friendship with the Heartbreaker leader. It only took a couple of weeks before Iovine and Nicks began to date, which led to her catching a close-up of his working process, which helped shape the debut album.
With the Fleetwood Mac singer now living with Iovine, Petty would often pop around while working on the album and help guide her sound. One thing that Bella Donna was missing, according to Iovine, was a stand out single which is where Petty came in and solved their creative conundrum.
Petty handed her the song, ‘Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around’, and Nicks not only had her debut single ready but a friendship cemented. “I just fell in love with his music and his band,” Nicks reflected in Petty: The Biography by Warren Zanes.
She added, “I would laughingly say to anyone that if I ever got to know Tom Petty and could worm my way into his good graces, if he were ever to ask me to leave Fleetwood Mac and join Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, I’d probably do it — and that was before I even met him.”
The song wasn’t one that Petty just had simply lying around. In fact, he was planning on releasing it as his own next single. Somehow, however, her persuasive charm worked a treat, and she managed to get him to hand it over for her.
However, at first, it wasn’t meant to be ‘Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around’. Instead, the plan was to share ‘Insider’, a number that he wrote specifically for Nicks, but, in the end, couldn’t bring himself to give away. “It’s one of those things in a relationship that really is the stinger,” he later recalled to Melody Maker about the track in 1981. “You know, you didn’t trust me, you couldn’t trust me… that’s the way it always come out. Trust.
“When I wrote that song, I wrote it very quickly, I mean maybe in ten, 15 minutes. I just wrote it all down on paper and then I just picked up the guitar and tried to sing each line out. It took me maybe an hour to do that – it don’t happen every day, fans! But the lyrics were real quick”.
He knew the song was one that he wanted to keep, according to his memoirs, and in the end, he couldn’t bring himself from handing it over, so he gave Nicks ‘Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around’ instead. One of the lines on ‘Insider’ reads, “I’ve had to live with some hard promises,” would even provide Petty with the title of his album, Hard Promises, which the song would appear on. Eventually, it was a happy ending for all parties as he left Nicks’ vocals in the final version of the track while maintaining ownership of the song he adored.