Tom Petty has written many greatest-hits albums full of radio classics. Now, thanks to a legal settlement, he’s earned a co-writing credit on a new one: Sam Smith’s “Stay With Me.” The Sun reported that, thanks to unintentional similarities between Smith and his co-writers’ (James Napier and William Phillips) ballad about emotional vulnerability and Petty and his co-writer Jeff Lynne’s sorta-ballad about stoic perseverance, “I Won’t Back Down,” the latter duo will start earning a 12.5 percent credit on the royalties for “Stay With Me.”
This is both old and new hat for Petty. Back in 2001, some reasonably keen-eared listeners noticed that the Strokes’ “Last Nite” sure sounded a lot like Petty’s “American Girl.” C'est la vie, said Petty. “The Strokes took ‘American Girl’ [for ‘Last Nite’],” Petty told Rolling Stone, “and I saw an interview with them where they actually admitted it. That made me laugh out loud. I was like, ‘OK, good for you.’ It doesn't bother me.”
Then, in 2006, classic-rock detectives again noticed that there seemed to be some more Petty pilfering going on. This time, the alleged culprit was the Red Hot Chili Peppers, whose “Dani California” was awfully close to Petty’s “Mary Jane's Last Dance.” And again, Petty didn’t much care. “The truth is, I seriously doubt that there is any negative intent there,” he said in that same RS interview, adding, “a lot of rock & roll songs sound alike.” When he was asked if he considered a lawsuit, Petty said nah. “I don't believe in lawsuits much. I think there are enough frivolous lawsuits in this country without people fighting over pop songs.”
Unfortunately for Sam Smith (and other songwriters who enjoy laid-back, bluesy melodies over standard rock-chord progressions), the unintentionally plagiarizing–Tom Petty–and-getting-away-with-it train appears to have left the station.