Subscribe to our newsletter

(Credit: Mark Spowart / Alamy)

Music

The reason why Tom Petty gave away his song 'The Boys Of Summer' to Don Henley

@SamWKemp

Following the break up of his band The Eagles, Don Henley transitioned from being the drummer and co-lead singer of one of the biggest rock bands in America to a solo artist armed with little more than an acoustic guitar. The success of his single ‘Dirty Laundry’, which reached number three in the Billboard charts, lay the foundation for a glittering new career. But if it wasn’t for Tom Petty’s decision to reject a demo made by Heartbreakers guitarist Mike Campbell, that career may well have fizzled out completely. Because that same rejected song would go on to be one of Henley’s biggest solo hits of all time: 1984’s ‘The Boys Of Summer’.

Campbell crafted the demo for ‘The Boys Of Summer’ using the newly-unveiled Linn drum machine. The Linn LM -1 was the first drum machine on the market to use digital samples. It ended up defining the sound of ’80s music and was practically inescapable for a time. It was utilised by the likes of ABC, Devo and, notably, Michael Jackson, who used the Linn LM-1 in his track ‘Thriller’. Campbell used the Linn LM-1 to form the basis of the ‘Boys Of Summer’ demo and then overdubbed all the other parts except for the vocal line. After playing the track for Tom Petty and producer Jimmy Iovine, Campbell could tell that they were distinctly unimpressed with his efforts.

Speaking on Brian Koppelman’s podcast The Moment, Campbell said: “In Tom’s defence, when I got to the chorus, I went to a different chord. It was kind of like a minor chord. As the song ended up, on the chorus it goes to that big major chord. You know, it lifts up. And so he heard a slightly inferior version. And I remember when it went by, we were kind of grooving to it, and it got to that chord and Jimmy Iovine goes, ‘Eh, it sounds like jazz.'”

Mortified by this assessment, Campbell sent Petty and Ivoine away and set about reworking the track, changing the chords for the chorus and re-recording the demo. Just as he was finishing up, he recieved a call from Iovine, who suggested that he play the song for Don Henley, who at that time was looking for tracks for his forthcoming album, Building the Perfect Beast. Campbell was disappointed that Petty hadn’t been impressed by the first demo, but accepted that he probably wouldn’t be easily convinced to give it another go. Campbell agreed to take the re-worked track to Henley’s house.

Campbell recalled arriving at the Eagles drummer’s house, his hands quivering. “It was just me and him,” he began. “We sat at a big table. He sat at the other end like the judge, totally quiet and didn’t bat an eye – just listened with his eyes closed.” As he listened, Henley’s expression was utterly impenetrable – so much so that Campbell couldn’t tell if he liked the song or not. “And then he said, ‘Okay, maybe I can do something with that.'”

A few days later, Campbell recieved a phone call from Henley, who told him: “‘I just wrote the best song of my life to your music.'” Unfortunately, the demo was in a key ill-matched to Henley’s vocal range, so Campbell was forced to transpose all of the guitar parts he had improvised on the demo into a lower key. It was a drag, but in the process of transposing the song, Campbell ended up making another surprise addition: the song’s iconic outro guitar solo.

On release ‘The Boys Of Summer’ reached number five in the Billboard charts. As Campbell recalled, for a time, the track was inescapable. He remembered getting in a car with Tom Petty to go and listen to some mixes for Southern Accents. When Campbell turned the ignition, ‘The Boys Of Summer’ started blaring out of the stereo, so he quickly changed the radio station – fearful that it might hurt Petty’s feelings. Unfortunately, the song was playing on that radio station too, and indeed all the other stations he tuned in to. Petty turned to face his friend. “Boy, you know, you were really lucky with that. ‘I wish I would have had the presence of mind to not let that get away.'” I guess it all goes to show that a little faith can go a long way.

Follow Far Out Magazine across our social channels, on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.