Stevie Nicks was thinking about making her first solo album when she met Tom Petty, and jokingly asked him if he could write a song for it. They laughed it off, but a year later, the question came up again, partly because the two shared a producer, Jimmy Iovine. Nicks returned the song Petty ended up writing for her — “Insider” — when she saw how much Petty loved it, even providing backing vocals on the track. It’s a solid song, but never made any commercial waves.
Shortly after, Petty sent Nicks a demo of a song Heartbreakers guitarist Mike Campbell had composed a year earlier, “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around.” Petty wrapped up the lyrics, and joined as a co-writer of the song. Nicks and Petty recorded it as a duet.
The timing was auspicious, as Nicks didn’t have a single for her first solo album, and Iovine warned her that without it, Bella Donna “would tank.”
“Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around” reached #3 on the Billboard charts in 1981, and has remained a mainstay of the musical landscape ever since. Petty and Nicks reunited to sing it together in 2017, just months before Petty passed away unexpectedly.
Ironically, “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around” prevented Petty’s own planned hit single at the time, “A Woman In Love (It’s Not Me),” from gaining traction on the charts. It only reached #79. In later interviews, you can tell this outcome still irked.
Written in the key of E with a tempo of 107 bpm, the song has a laconic intensity, and the organ progression is haunting and urgent.
Perhaps the best lyrics in the song are:
Baby, you could never look me in the eye
Yeah, you buckle with the weight of the world
. . .
People running ’round loose in the world
Ain’t got nothing better to do
Make a meal of some bright-eyed kid
You need someone looking after you
This week, I’ve highlighted two recent performances, proving the song’s enduring vitality.
The first features Nicks performing the song with Eddy Vedder, who has emerged in recent years as another huge Tom Petty fan. (He also performed “The Waiting” with Mike Campbell at the same concert.) Another original Heartbreaker, Benmont Tench, also performs, his trademark Panama hat unmissable.
The second features Allison Mitchell and Hozier from an event in March. Mitchell is an up-and-coming singer-songwriter, performing with Brandi Carlile and her own band. Hozier is an Irish singing phenom. The fiddle solo in their version is distinctive, and Mitchell’s raw voice gives the song a sense of renewed urgency.