“I Won’t Back Down” by Tom Petty

The title of this Tom Petty song (“I Won’t Back Down”) is pretty much indicative of its lyrical content. The singer is facing some type of harrowing situation. However, even in the midst of such, he “won’t back down”. Simply put, he is not going to let adverse circumstances shake him to the point where he becomes ungrounded.

As for its historical context, Tom actually wrote and recorded “I Won’t Back Down” after an arsonist tried to murder him and his family by setting their house on fire. And doing so proved to be a form of self-therapy for him. In fact at one point he thought the song was too personal to actually catch on. But at the end of the day it proved to be his one track which most people identified with.

Facts about “I Won’t Back Down”

This is the lead single from Tom Petty’s maiden album, “Full Moon Fever”. Its official release date, via MCA Records, was on 24 April 1989.

The song was written by Tom Petty (1950-2017) and one of his regular collaborators at the time, Jeff Lynne.

The two of them also produced it alongside one of the members of Petty’s band, the Heartbreakers, named Mike Campbell.

George Harrison (1943-2001), the former Beatles’ member, not only played acoustic guitar on this tune but also assisted Tom in getting over a severe cold so that he could record it.

Moreover another former Beatle, Ringo Starr, makes an appearance on the music video in addition to George Harrison.

In 2015, Tom and Jeff were also credited as writers of a hit song by Sam Smith entitled “Stay with Me”. This was due to the fact that it has noted sonic similarities to “I Won’t Back Down”. However, Tom does not believe that Sam Smith and co. actually plagiarized him, which the latter has also denied.

“I Won’t Back Down” was a big hit for Petty, helping to launch his solo career on a successful note. For instance, it topped Billboard’s Mainstream Rock chart. It also appeared on two other Billboard lists, peaking at number 12 on the Hot 100. Moreover it broke the top 30 of the UK Singles Chart and charted in a handful of other countries.

This track experienced a surge of popularity in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. In fact Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers performed this classic at a major benefit concert held shortly thereafter. That concert was entitled “America: A Tribute to Heroes“.

And a few years later they also performed it at the official halftime show of Super Bowl XLII (2008) in Arizona.

Moreover it has remained popular at professional and collegiate sporting events throughout the years.

On June 20th, 2020, US President Donald Trump played this song during a rally he held in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The late Tom Petty’s family did not take kindly to this, claiming that Trump did so without authorization. And in fact it has been reported that they went on to file a cease-and-desist against the President to prevent him from doing so again. And interesting to note is that a former member of the Heartbreakers, Bemmont Tench, supported them in their decision.

2 Responses

  1. Maureen says:

    I played this song over and over when searching for my son in 1990. It made me feel strong as I was manipulated and coerced into surrendering my infant son by catholic children services iN Seattle in 1972.

  2. Lin says:

    My husband always said “I won’t back down” after his chemotherapy treatments for Non Hodgkins Lymphoma.
    I had that inscribed on the niche that holds his ashes.

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