This Tom Petty-Sam Smith story is becoming stranger and stranger, just a few days after Smith agreed to co-credit Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne for his Grammy-nominated song ‘Stay With Me’ (because of its close similarity with Petty’s hit ‘I Won’t Back Down’), Tom Petty has released the following statement on his website:
‘About the Sam Smith thing. Let me say I have never had any hard feelings toward Sam. All my years of songwriting have shown me these things can happen. Most times you catch it before it gets out the studio door but in this case it got by. Sam’s people were very understanding of our predicament and we easily came to an agreement. The word lawsuit was never even said and was never my intention. And no more was to be said about it. How it got out to the press is beyond Sam or myself. Sam did the right thing and I have thought no more about this. A musical accident no more no less. In these times we live in this is hardly news. I wish Sam all the best for his ongoing career. Peace and love to all.”
The word lawsuit was never said? We easily came to an agreement? How much did this agreement cost? One or a few millions? I am sorry but Tom plays it cool in this statement but the cool thing to do was to let it go, not to make the guy pay big bucks. The songs may share similar chord progressions but their atmosphere and tempos are so different that many people (me included) hadn’t made any connection! Plus he admits it must have been an accident, a musical accident so why punishing the guy if it wasn’t intentional?
And there is a certain irony in the story, The LA Times dug some old Petty interviews conducted by Paul Zollo and published in 2005 in the book ‘Conversations with Tom Petty’ (Omnibus Press), and this is what he said:
‘[Petty:] Yeah. That happens sometimes. You look up, and you think you’ve come up with something, and you realize somebody else has done it first. You try not to let it bug you. What bugs you the most is when you write something and then realize it’s somebody else’s song. That’ll happen to me two times a month. I’ll be working with something and then realize I’m channeling this melody from somewhere else, and then I have to abandon the idea. But there’s only so many words and so many notes, so sometimes you do cross somebody else’s territory. [Laughs]
[Zollo:] Have you found that as the years have gone by, you’re better at knowing when you’re using somebody else’s melody?
[Petty:] Yeah. And when that happens, I just have to throw it away.
[Zollo:] Throw it away or change it?
[Petty:] Well, I just usually pitch it. And start over. Because if I change a note or two, it’s still going to be in my head that it’s that other song. So I think every songwriter must have that problem from time to time. You play something and you realize it’s Beethoven, or the Beatles.’
Sure he said he has pitched the copy cat songs but don’t tell me he has always done it, many people have for example noticed the similarities between the Jayhawks’ ‘Waiting For The Sun’ and Tom Petty’s ‘Mary Jane’s Last Dance’…. And knowing that the Jayhawks song was first and that the band opened for Petty at the time…The Jayhawks never said anything to my knowledge. Petty is right, it may be an unconscious musical accident, all musicians do it more or less, so why taking the money?
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