Tom Petty found happiness in the late 1980s after going through difficult times. His house had burned down, and the recording sessions for his album “Southern Accents” were a disaster.
However, his friendship with rock legends like George Harrison brought him new opportunities. He became an honorary member of The Traveling Wilburys, playing bass alongside Roy Orbison’s vocals.
Tom Petty also collaborated with Jeff Lynne from Electric Light Orchestra to produce his iconic album, “Full Moon Fever.”
“Full Moon Fever” was Tom Petty’s first major solo album without the Heartbreakers, and it featured some of his biggest songs up to that point.
Songs like “Runnin’ Down a Dream” and “Free Fallin'” showcased his rebellious attitude. One of the standout tracks, “I Won’t Back Down,” had an interesting journey during its creation.
Initially, Petty was hesitant to include “I Won’t Back Down” on the album because it was deeply personal to him. He thought it was too honest and wanted to mask it in some way. However, when he played the song for George Harrison, the Quiet Beatle pointed out an issue with the lyrics.
In the chorus of the song, Petty had originally written the line “standing on the edge of the world,” trying to connect the different parts of the song.
But Harrison found it cliché and expressed his dislike for it. Petty remembered Harrison’s reaction, saying, “When we were recording it, George said, ‘What the hell is that – ‘I’m standing on the edge of the world.’ Surely there’s gotta be something better than that.’ Then I came up with ‘there ain’t no easy way out,’ which seemed so obvious.”
Harrison’s involvement didn’t end there. He appeared in the music video for “I Won’t Back Down,” singing along with Jeff Lynne, while Ringo Starr played the drums.
Despite the mixed response from his record company, the song became a staple in Tom Petty’s live performances. It resonated with audiences, as it conveyed a message of perseverance in the face of defeat.
Later in his life, Petty had Johnny Cash perform the vocals for “I Won’t Back Down” during a live performance.
Tom Petty was so moved by Cash’s rendition that he felt it surpassed his own version. Cash’s heartfelt delivery made Petty wish he had never recorded it himself.
Although Petty’s music often had simple arrangements, the power of his songs came from the openness of his lyrics.
While the exact meaning of “I Won’t Back Down” remains unknown, it serves as a reminder to never let life’s challenges bring you down.