Southern Accents by Tom Petty’s production process seems like it should have been a living hell. As Petty attempted to create his most ambitious album to date, his drug use caused him to reject excellent songs like “Boys of Summer,” which resulted in a fit of rage where he ended up smashing his hand to powder. Petty would finally emerge from the drug-induced haze, but he ultimately acquired one of his greatest hits secondhand.
The idea was for Petty to produce the album himself while it was being recorded with the aid of veteran guitarist Mike Campbell. The album was originally planned to be a double disk concept focused on the American South, but because to Petty’s insistence on working with Jimmy Iovine again, it was ultimately reduced to a single disc.
Even though Iovine had been working on many Stevie Nicks sessions, he wasn’t quite ready to take the stage. Iovine had gotten to know Nicks through their collaboration on her first solo hit, “Stop Draggin My Heart Around,” and was in need of some creative direction when he originally took on the Petty project.
In Runnin Down a Dream, Tom Petty claims that Iovine was searching for songwriters, “He said, ‘Is there anybody new in the scene right now?’ and I said, ‘Well, I think this guy, Dave Stewart, is a really good songwriter. At the time, he was breaking onto the scene with the Eurythmics.”
‘Don’t Come Around Here No More’ was the title of a new song that Stewart had previously come up with, however she was eager to create a tune for Stevie Nicks. He recalls the lyrics being sent to Petty very fast since Nicks wasn’t writing them to Iovine’s satisfaction. He recalled, “Stevie said, ‘I want Tom to write the lyrics’. Tom writes the lyrics and then steals the song.”
Regardless matter who ended up penning the words, Petty’s voice sounds fantastic in this rendition, which combines the sounds of the 1980s—from drum machines to the synthetic sitar sounds—with his toughened heartland rock voice. It’s simple to imagine how Nicks may have benefited from this as well, given how nicely Petty’s eventual Alice in Wonderland-inspired video fit with her ethereal demeanor.
Stewart said that the other members of the band took some time to get on board with the concept of doing this single with the rest of the record. He said, “I’m sure they were wondering ‘what the hell I was doing? I mean, the album’s called Southern Accents and all of a sudden it sounds like we’re in India’”
Even having a heavy amount of overdubs, the song served as the album’s lead single and served as a springboard for some of Petty’s most daring studio experiments that would follow, like Wildflowers and Into the Great Wide Open. Petty was ready to stand by the record years later, saying despite entering the studio with a lot of craziness floating about. He said, “Southern Accents wasn’t the record that I set out to make, but I was more proud of the album it became.”