Exploring Arrangements: Sam Smith and Tom Petty – It’s in their DNA

When Sam Smith released “Stay with Me” in April of 2014, the track quickly climbed the charts and went on to sell more than 4 million copies worldwide. A number of people began to draw comparisons to the Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers classic “I Won’t Back Down,” released in April of 1989. Petty and Smith quickly settled out of court back in October, not wanting to draw attention to the matter. Petty and composer Jeff Lynn ultimately got a 12.5% writing credit on Sam Smith’s song.

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The 57th annual Grammy Awards took place this past Sunday – Sam Smith took the win in 4 major categories including Record of The Year, Song of the Year, Best Pop Vocal Album and Best New Artist. Both Petty and Smith settled the matter amicably and acknowledged the coincidence, believing in each other as musicians and that they instinctively composed their melodies independently.

“About the Sam Smith thing. Let me say I have never had any hard feelings toward Sam. All my years of songwriting have shown me these things can happen. Most times you catch it before it gets out the studio door but in this case it got by. Sam’s people were very understanding of our predicament and we easily came to an agreement. The word lawsuit was never even said and was never my intention. And no more was to be said about it. How it got out to the press is beyond Sam or myself. Sam did the right thing and I have thought no more about this. A musical accident no more no less. In these times we live in this is hardly news. I wish Sam all the best for his ongoing career. Peace and love to all” – Tom Petty

While it’s clear that there are some distinct differences between these songs such as tempo and arrangement style, there are also enough similarites that there is real validity in Tom Petty claiming partial credit for Sam Smith’s tune.

Sam Smith Score

Tom Petty Score

The melodies – while in two different yet related keys (C Major and G Major) – have a very similar arc shape overall and incorporate similar phrasing techniques. This is partularly evident in the initial climb of the melody and the rhythm of the syncopated notes that attack just before the end of the bar line and carry in to the next measure. While slightly different harmonically, both songs have a strong cadence that resolves to the tonic chord, which only adds to the sense of similarity. It’s true that great minds often think alike, and these things do happen – it’s great to see that both sides were able to come to an agreement with mutual artistic respect.

February 12, 2015