How Tom Petty And Stevie Nicks Were Separated By A Song

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In 1987, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers released “Runaway Trains” as part of the album “Let Me Up (I’ve Had Enough).” While it didn’t skyrocket in popularity, fans cherish it for its heartfelt lyrics and the vibrant music crafted by guitarist Mike Campbell. The song delves into the pain of a breakup, resonating with many listeners.

A Twist of Fate and Musical Styles

The backstory of “Runaway Trains” adds layers to its creation. In 1984, Petty initially rejected a synth-heavy demo from Campbell, which ended up becoming Don Henley‘s hit “The Boys of Summer.” Learning from this experience, when Campbell presented a similar demo to Petty later on, the singer embraced it, resulting in the birth of “Runaway Trains.” The album aimed to blend Petty’s raw style with Campbell’s polished production, creating a fusion that felt like two distinct musical journeys. Petty himself described this duality in “Conversations with Tom Petty” by Paul Zollo, noting the contrast between his raw sound and Campbell’s more produced tracks like “Runaway Trains.”

A Musical Misunderstanding and Resolution

Interestingly, “Runaway Trains” also played a role in a brief misunderstanding between Petty and Stevie Nicks. Nicks, who admired Petty and had collaborated with him before, mistakenly took a demo tape of the song from his home, assuming it was for her. She wrote lyrics for it and started recording with Fleetwood Mac. When she played it for Petty over the phone, he realized the mix-up and was initially upset. However, they resolved the confusion, and Nicks used her lyrics for a different song, “Ooh My Love.”

Capturing Heartache Through Lyrics

The lyrics of “Runaway Trains” vividly express the anguish of a breakup, likening it to overwhelming forces:

It’s like when an angel cries / Like runaway trains or Like when something dies.

These lines convey profound sadness and a sense of being adrift. Petty paints a poignant picture of emotional distance:

She’s up there all alone / I’m down here changing lanes.

Yet, amidst the pain, there’s a glimmer of resilience:

I’m used to being alone / And holding my own hand / I’m stronger than you know.

The pre-chorus hints at hope for healing with time, though the music hints at lingering doubts:

And I’m depending on time / To get you out of my mind.

“Runaway Trains” encapsulates the tumultuous emotions of heartbreak in a way that resonates with anyone who’s experienced similar struggles.

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