Tom Petty could always offer more than lyrics to a song, and the multi-instrumentalist, singer, and songwriter did just that on a number of songs written for and with artists throughout the 1980s and early ’90s.
The 1980s were a particularly fruitful era of songwriting for Petty, where songs written with Heartbreaker guitarist Mike Campbell typically made the cut, while other collaborations were given away like Stevie Nicks’ 1981 Bella Donna hit “Stop Draggin My Heart Around.”
By the late ’80s, Petty was in full force, writing for the Heartbreakers and for his supergroup the Traveling Wilburys, featuring George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison, and Jeff Lynne, and already having his debut solo album Full Moon Fever ready to go by 1989.
Here’s a look at five songs you didn’t know Petty wrote for other artists during this time period.
“Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around,” Stevie Nicks, featuring Tom Petty (1981)
Written by Tom Petty and Mike Campbell
Working on her debut solo album Bella Donna, Stevie Nicks was insistent that Tom Petty be involved. Petty obliged and wrote the song “Insider,” but later decided that he wanted to keep it for The Heartbreakers. (Petty later released the song, also featuring Nicks, on the band’s 1981 album Hard Promises.) Still trying to find the right song, then Petty producer Jimmy Iovine suggested a song he heard Petty and Heartbreakers guitarist Mike Campbell had written called “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around.” Nicks grabbed the song and recorded her vocals over the Heartbreakers’ recording—Petty’s vocals were cut with the exception of the chorus, to create the duet.
Read more on our Behind the Song on “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around” here.
“Never Be You,” Maria McKee (1983)
Written by Tom Petty and Benmont Tench
Produced by her former then-manager Jimmy Iovine along with Petty, “Never Be You” is a song McKee contributed to the soundtrack of the 1984 Walter Hill-directed film Streets of Fire. Originally recorded by Rosanne Cash for the movie, in the end, it was McKee’s version that was used in the film (Cash later released her version on her fifth album Rhythm and Romance in 1985.)
“Got My Mind Made Up,” Bob Dylan (1986)
Written by Tom Petty and Bob Dylan
Off Dylan’s 1986 album Knocked Out Loaded, which also features a cover of Kris Kristofferson’s “They Killed Him” and “Brownsville Girl,” co-written by Dylan and Sam Shepard, “Got My Mind Made Up” was the only collaborations between Petty and Dylan. Though the album never got rave reviews, released during a lower point in Dylan’s career in the 1980s, “Got My Mind Made Up” was a Petty-Dylan pocket of goodness that deserves some appreciation. Petty and Dylan would perform the song together several times through the years.
“Cheer Down,” George Harrison (1989)
Written by Tom Petty and George Harrison
Harrison first recorded some of the music for “Cheer Down” during the sessions for his 1987 album Cloud Nine and later finished the lyrics with the help of Petty. The song is partly dedicated to Harrison’s wife Olivia, who would often tell him “cheer down, big fellow” when he got too excited. Co-produced by Jeff Lynne, who also worked on Cloud Nine, Harrison initially offered the song to Eric Clapton for inclusion on his Journeyman album, but Harrison’s version was instead featured in the 1989 Mel Gibson and Danny Glover action film Lethal Weapon 2.
“You Got It,” Roy Orbison (1989)
Written by Tom Petty, Roy Orbison, and Jeff Lynne
Released after the death of Roy Orbison, “You Got It” was featured on his 22nd album Mystery Girl, and was co-written with his fellow Traveling Wilbury bandmates, Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne.
“King of the Hill” Roger McGuinn (1991)
Written by Tom Petty and Roger McGuinn
Written for and with former Byrds frontman Roger McGuinn, “King of the Hill” was released on McGuinn’s sixth solo album Back from Rio. In addition to Petty offering vocals and lyrics to the song, several other members of the Heartbreakers are featured throughout the album, along with songs written by Elvis Costello and Dave Stewart.
“Blown Away,” Jeff Lynne (1990)
Written by Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne
Jeff Lynne, already a collaborator of Petty’s, co-produced his solo debut album Full Moon Fever in 1989 with Petty and Mike Campbell, as well as The Heartbreakers’ 1991 album Into the Great Wide Open. When it was time for Lynne to release his own solo effort, Armchair Theatre, in 1990, Petty was there for him too, co-writing the track “Blown Away.”
Photo: Robert Sebree