Credit: Frey/Kyono

The Story Behind the Song: Stevie Nicks and Tom Petty team-up in style on ‘Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around’

There is no denying that Stevie Nicks and Tom Petty are rock icons cut from the same cloth. From their flowing golden locks, down to their crackling powerpack vocals and a shared ability to craft a singalong chorus more infectious than a chirp to a blackbird, the pair simply share a hand in glove musical kinship.  

This cosmic similarity wasn’t lost on the pair either. Stevie Nicks was so enamoured with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers that she once asked to join the band, to which Petty famously replied: “Sorry, no girls allowed.” However, that did not stop a friendship from flourishing and an enduring mutual respect. It might not have been a friendship entirely without its hitches as Nicks almost ripped off ‘Runaway Trains’ after picking up a cassette from Petty’s house one night and thinking it was her own, but for the most part, the two songsmiths shared an endearing bond. 

The very fact that both Stevie Nicks and Tom Petty were prone to leaving potential million-dollar singles casually lying around is indicative of how easy hits came to them in the period. This creative purple patch is epitomised by the story of ‘Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around’ flirted with happenstance to find itself born into perfect pop-rock existence. 

Following Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk tour, Nicks had jokingly asked Petty to write a song for her solo record. As Nicks declared in the documentary feature, Runnin’ Down A Dream, “I almost preferred the Heartbreakers’ music to Fleetwood Mac’s music at that point.”

The singer then explains, “So I called Jimmy Iovine and asked him if he would consider producing my first solo record. I thought maybe this is the way to get that Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers sound. And I wanted to be friends with Tom, and friends with the Heartbreakers.” 

Iovine hooked the pair up and under much duress, Petty penned ‘Insider’, but when they recorded it together Petty was so pleased with his own work that it prompted Nicks to nobly offer it back to him, saying, “You love this so much… YOU take the song.”

Shortly after the ‘Insider’ debacle, Petty and The Heartbreakers recorded a song that he and guitarist Mike Campbell composed about a year earlier. The song in question was ‘Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around’. Petty and his bandmates sent the demo to Nicks’ producer, Jimmy Iovine, and the Fleetwood Mac singer loved it so much she announced, “That’s what I wanted all along.”

The only issue was that Jimmy Iovine hadn’t informed Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers that he had passed the song over to Nicks until she had already recorded her vocal overlay and the song had been recut. 

Although, Petty had originally offered up the song to Nicks owing to feeling “terrible guilt” at having snatched ‘Insider’, this secretive ploy from Jimmy Iovine, did spark a little bit of unrest amongst the Heartbreakers camp, as keyboardist Benmont Tench explained, “We’d already cut it as a Heartbreakers song, with Tom singing the whole thing. At the same time, Jimmy Iovine was dating Stevie, though he was keeping it clandestine. And I think Jimmy thought the song could be a hit for her.” 

When Petty first heard that overdub, he wasn’t best pleased. The star recalled Iovine playing him back the track to which he responded, “Jimmy, you just took the song…’ His comeback was like: ‘This is gonna buy you a house.’ But it pissed me off because it came out at the same time as our single [‘A Woman In Love’], and I think ours suffered.”

While ‘A Woman In Love’ may well have suffered commercially as a result, the world was gifted two gilded rock ‘n’ roll gems instead of one and ‘Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around’ rose from the ash heap of history like a sauntering pop-rock Phoenix, high on Booker T-esque Hammond organ atmosphere and the blue-collar energy of Bruce Springsteen. 

The track became the first single from Nicks’ debut solo record, Bella Donna, and it landed her a number three hit on the US Billboard Hot 100, sending out a clear single that she was a musical icon more than capable of standing on her own, even if it did happen to be the only song on the record neither written nor co-written by Nicks.