How Stevie Nicks fueled her solo career with 'Stop Draggin' My Heart Around' and Tom Petty

Ed Masley
Arizona Republic
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The fact that Stevie Nicks could send a single up the pop charts had been well established by the time she dropped the first of four Top 40 hits from “Bella Donna,” her chart-topping, quadruple-platinum solo debut, in the summer of 1981.

The Phoenix-born legend had already topped the Billboard Hot 100 four years earlier as the voice of "Dreams," the biggest, most enduring hit on Fleetwood Mac's career-defining "Rumours," a 20-times-platinum triumph that remains one of the biggest-selling albums of all time.

And “Dreams” was merely one of several classics she’d written since joining the fold with her then-boyfriend Lindsey Buckingham on New Year’s Eve 1974, just in time to contribute two signature songs — the bittersweet album cut “Landslide” and “Rhiannon” — to the Mac’s first U.S. No. 1, a self-titled effort released in the summer of ‘75.

She also wrote and sang the mesmerizing “Sara,” which became the biggest hit on “Tusk,” the double album that followed “Rumours” in 1979.

'Stop Draggin' My Heart Around' was written by Tom Petty and Mike Campbell

Now here she was launching her solo career with the only song on “Bella Donna” that she played no role in writing, “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around.”

That song was written by Tom Petty and his right-hand man, Mike Campbell, for use on a Heartbreakers record.

Tom Petty and Stevie Nicks backstage at The 2003 Radio Music Awards at the Aladdin Casino Resort Oct. 27, 2003, in Las Vegas.

Campbell wrote the music. Petty wrote the lyrics.

But Petty’s producer Jimmy Iovine, who was producing “Bella Donna,” arranged for Nicks to add her vocals to the track that Petty had recorded with the Heartbreakers (with Donald “Duck” Dunn of Booker T. & the M.G.’s sitting in for Heartbreaker Ron Blair on bass) — which, as it turns out, was a brilliant move.

Petty met Nicks during recording of 'Damn the Torpedoes'

Petty had actually written a different song for Nicks to sing, a haunting ballad called “Insider.”

The two had met during the recording of Petty’s 1979 masterpiece, “Damn the Torpedoes.”

Stevie Nicks, left, and honoree Tom Petty perform "Stop Draggin' My Heart Around" at the MusiCares Person of the Year tribute at the Los Angeles Convention Center on Friday, Feb. 10, 2017.

In “Conversations with Tom Petty,” an oral history by Paul Zollo, he’s quoted as saying, “Stevie came to me around ’78. And she was this absolutely stoned-gone, huge fan. And it was her mission in life that I should write her a song.”

In “Runnin’ Down a Dream,” a Petty documentary released in 2007, Petty noted, “Stevie Nicks was saying all the time, ‘I’m gonna leave Fleetwood Mac and join The Heartbreakers.’”

In that same documentary, Nicks said, “I almost preferred the Heartbreakers’ music to Fleetwood Mac’s music at that point. So I called Jimmy Iovine and asked him if he would consider producing my first solo record. I thought maybe this is the way to get that Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers sound. And I wanted to be friends with Tom, and friends with the Heartbreakers.” 

The Heartbreakers were initially a bit wary of Nicks.

As Petty recalled in “Conversations,” “We didn’t quite know whether to like Stevie or not, because we kind of saw this big corporate rock band, Fleetwood Mac, which was wrong, they were actually artistic people. But in those days, nobody trusted that sort of thing and we just kept thinking, ‘What does she want from us?’”

Petty ended up keeping the song he meant to give to Nicks

Petty ended up keeping “Insider” (with Nicks on harmonies) for the Heartbreakers’ own 1981 album, “Hard Promises.”

As he recalled in “Conversations,” “By the time the track was coming to fruition with the band and everything, I was getting a little depressed about giving away this song. I was really attached to it. And it really hurt me when I did the track and the vocals. So  I said, [softly] ‘Stevie, I can’t give you this.’ 

And she said, ‘Well, I can relate to that. I completely understand. I’ll take something else.’”

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How 'Stop Draggin' My Heart Around' became a duet

It was after Petty took “Insider” back that Iovine suggested giving Nicks a shot at recording “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around” as a duet with Petty, despite the fact that Petty’s vocals had already been recorded and it wasn’t written to be sung as a duet.  

As Campbell recalled in an interview with Songfacts, “Jimmy being the entrepreneur that he was, he was working with Stevie, and I guess he asked Tom if she could try it, and it just developed from there. We cut the track as a Heartbreakers record and when she decided to do it, we used that track and she came in and sang over it. It became a duet.”

“Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around” and “Edge of Seventeen” were the last two songs recorded for the album, which Nicks had started working on between sessions for Fleetwood Mac’s “Tusk,” although she didn’t bring in Iovine and a full band of backing musicians, from guitarist Waddy Wachtel, drummer Russ Kunkel and E Street Band’s Roy Bittan on piano, until September 1980.

Introducing the song on stage in Philadelphia in 2016, Nicks recalled the story of Iovine convincing her to do the song.

When Jimmy Iovine told Stevie Nicks he didn't hear a hit

“We had pretty finished ‘Bella Donna,’” she said. “And Jimmy came to me one day and said — and Jimmy was my boyfriend at that point, too. Jimmy comes to me and says, ‘You don’t have a single on your record.’ And I said, ‘What does that mean?’”

Iovine explained to Nicks that she was “not the most commercial person in the world,” she recalled. “He said, ‘You don’t have a single and just take my word for it.’”

He then suggested doing Petty’s song.

“And me in my arrogant-ness,” Nicks continued, “I said, ‘So that means one of the songs we recorded is gonna have to go.’ And he said ‘Yes, that’s what it means.’ And he said, ‘But if it doesn’t go and you don’t have a single, what’s gonna happen is your record is going to tank and then you’re not going to have a solo career.”

'I didn't really like the idea at first, but I loved Tom Petty'

So Nicks took it under advisement, telling the fans in Philadelphia, "I went home and said, 'You've got to drop this self-esteem you've got going on right now and realize that the whole reason you even hired Jimmy Iovine was ‘cause he produced Tom Petty and you always wanted to be in Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Tom wants to give you a song and sing it with you.’”

In the liner notes to the “TimeSpace” album, Stevie Nicks said: "Jimmy played this song to me while he was still finishing Tom's album; it was one of those songs that Tom was not going to do, and he told Jim that I could do it. I wasn't used to doing other people's songs, so I didn't really like the idea at first, but I loved Tom Petty, so I agreed to try.”

Nicks said they sang it live together in the studio.

“I was completely entranced, and I instantly fell into love with the song,” Nicks said in the liner notes to “TimeSpace.”

“Duets were the things I loved the most … maybe this was a second beginning. And we would sing like no one else, and nobody else would ever sing like us."

'Stop Draggin' My Heart Around' became the biggest hit by either artist

The music video to “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around” shows Nicks and Petty in the studio performing the song at the helm of the Heartbreakers, including Blair.

The single was released on July 8, 1981, a week after Petty’s “A Woman in Love (It’s Not Me).”

In “Runnin’ Down a Dream,” Petty said, “It (expletive) me off because it came out at the same time as our single, and I think ours suffered."

“Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around” went on to peak at No. 3, where it remained for six straight weeks, becoming Nicks’ highest-charting entry on the Billboard Hot 100. It’s also Petty’s highest-charting U.S. single.

The song remains a staple of her live show. Billy Joel has been joining Nicks on stage, performing Petty’s parts, on the co-headlining tour that makes its way to downtown Phoenix for a stop at Chase Field on Friday, Dec. 8.

The other hits from “Bella Donna” were “Leather and Lace,” a duet with the Eagles’ Don Henley that peaked at No. 6, “Edge of Seventeen,” which made it to No. 11, and “After the Glitter Faces,” which peaked at No. 32.

In a cover story on the album, Rolling Stone called Nicks “the Reigning Queen of Rock & Roll.”

In 2018, Nicks became the first woman to be twice inducted to the Rock & Roll of Fame, this time as a solo artist. She’d been in with Fleetwood Mac since 1998.

'He was ready to headline':Billy Joel fans remember his 1st Phoenix concerts

Billy Joel and Stevie Nicks at Chase Field in Phoenix

When: 7 p.m. Friday, Dec. 8.

Where: Chase Field, 401 E. Jefferson, Phoenix.

Admission: Resale ticket prices vary. 

Details: 800-745-3000,  

Reach the reporter at or 602-444-4495. Follow him on Twitter @EdMasley.

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