Damn, that Sam Smith Song Sounds a Lot Like Tom Petty
by Cat Johnson
You know that Sam Smith song “Stay With Me”? Ever think the hook sounded a lot like Tom Petty’s song “I Won’t Back Down”? Yes? So did Petty.
Petty brought a copyright dispute against Smith and, over the weekend, won co-writing credit. As Smith’s rep told Rolling Stone:
“Recently the publishers for the song ‘I Won’t Back Down,’ written by Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne, contacted the publishers for ‘Stay With Me,’ written by Sam Smith, James Napier and William Phillips, about similarities heard in the melodies of the choruses of the two compositions. Not previously familiar with the 1989 Petty/Lynne song, the writers of ‘Stay With Me’ listened to ‘I Won’t Back Down’ and acknowledged the similarity.”
Listening to the songs side-by-side, the similarity is undeniable. But not everyone agrees that Petty was right to pursue legal action against Smith. In the Daily News, Jim Farber argues that doing so was unnecessary. He points out that “Born This Way,” Lady Gaga’s “homage” to Madonna is a clear case of “borrowing” a song, yet Madonna chose not to sue, letting the evidence speak for itself. He explains that many genres “clearly cross the line from homage, or shared heritage, to potential rip-off,” and that pursuing every case of a similar hook or song could lead to endless law suits.
Should the Petty/Smith standard apply to all of those, the courts would be tied up for a millennium. For that reason, this case sets a bad precedent. It throws the doors open for countless songwriters to cry foul when the offense may be so minor, it requires more of a polite acknowledgment than a run of suits and credit changes that may never end.
Regardless of where you come down on the issue, the songs are entertainingly similar. Have a listen: