The connection between Tom Petty and Stevie Nicks is one that lasted decades. Often lovingly referred to as “The Heartbreakers’ little sister”, Nicks first met Petty and his band of Florida rockers as they were both climbing to the top of the music mountain in the late 1970s. Nicks was dating producer Jimmy Iovine at the time, who had been The Heartbreakers’ producer of choice since 1979’s Damn the Torpedoes. It was Iovine who first suggested the two work together.
Nicks was looking to establish a solo career outside of the confines of Fleetwood Mac at the time. Iovine thought that Nicks would benefit from a duet or two and arranged for former Eagles drummer Don Henley to come in and sing ‘Leather and Lace’ with Nicks. Iovine thought Nicks could use another, more rock-heavy duet, so he turned to Petty and Mike Campbell to see if they had any new material.
“‘Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around’ was a song that I had written the music and Tom had written the words,” Campbell told Songfacts in 2003. “The Heartbreakers had recorded a version of it with Jimmy Iovine, and Jimmy being the entrepreneur that he was, he was working with Stevie, and I guess he asked Tom if she could try it, and it just developed from there. We cut the track as a Heartbreakers record, and when she decided to do it, we used that track, and she came in and sang over it. It became a duet. It’s basically all the Heartbreakers on that record.”
Even though Campbell describes it as a particularly low-key and easy combination, there was considerable opposition to the pairing, both from Nicks and the Heartbreakers. Nicks revealed in an interview with Classic Rock magazine back in 2021 that she initially stormed out of the studio when Iovine wanted to include a song not written by her on Bella Donna. When she returned to the studio, she came around to the idea, telling Iovine, “‘OK, you’re absolutely right. I’m sorry for being so bitchy about this; it’s just that I’m so protective of my songs.’ And because of that song, I have a solo career to this day.”
Even though Nicks was on board, The Heartbreakers weren’t so sure either. Keyboardist and arranger Benmont Tench explained in the same interview, “I had seen Fleetwood Mac play, and with Stevie, I just didn’t get it. I didn’t know what was going on with the top hat and the twirling and the witchy stuff.”
Adding: “But then I bought the single to ‘Go Your Own Way’ and flipped it over, and there’s ‘Silver Springs’. Good Lord, what a song. The second I heard that I went: ‘Now I get it. That’s Stevie. She’s not faking. She’s for real. She’s not a poser in the least. She’s a creative perpetual-motion machine. This is somebody I’d really love to play music with.'”
Even Petty himself was weary, showing similar protection of his songs that Nicks showed to her own. “He [Iovine] plays me ‘Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around’, the same track, with her singing,” Petty recalls in the Classic Rock article. “I go: ‘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.”
Petty was right in that ‘A Woman in Love (It’s Not Me)’ was put out as a standalone Heartbreakers single only a week before ‘Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around’ was released and likely didn’t get the same attention, stalling out at number 79 on the Billboard Hot 100. But it’s hard to argue against the success that ‘Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around’ brought both acts, peaking at number three on the same chart. Nicks would join The Heartbreakers numerous times on stage to sing ‘Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around’ in the years after its release, with their final duet of the song coming just three months before Petty’s untimely death in 2017.