When Tom Petty started working on his debut solo album, Full Moon Fever, he turned to George Harrison for help. The two musicians were friends and had worked together in The Traveling Wilburys. Harrison was a fan of the album and helped champion it. He also helped Petty improve some of the songs. Petty explained that there was one line in “I Won’t Back Down” that confused Harrison. His feedback helped bring the song to its finished form.
Tom Petty considered George Harrison one of his closest friends
Petty said that he and Harrison clicked immediately.
“I think I needed a friend really badly,” he said in the book Petty: The Biography by Warren Zanes. “My friendship with the band was a different kind of friendship. And it was frayed. I’d become very lonely. George came along, and we got so close; it was like we had known each other in some other life or something. We were pals within minutes of meeting each other.”
Harrison made it clear that he felt the same way.
“I remember him saying to me a couple days after we’d known each other — he’s hugging me, holding me, and saying, ‘Tommy, you’re in my life now whether you like it or not,'” Petty explained. “It was like I’d been sent the very person I needed. He healed a lot of wounds.”
The former Beatle was initially confused by ‘I Won’t Back Down’
Petty explained that he wrote “I Won’t Back Down” very quickly after an arsonist burned his house down. He didn’t necessarily love the mantra-like quality of the song, but it fit his experience.
“It’s so bare, without any ambiguity. There was nothing there but truth,” he told Rolling Stone in 2009, per The Petty Archives. “There was another issue going on, though. Someone had tried to kill me, with the arson at my house. I took that personally. Surviving something like that makes you feel alive.”
He explained that he wrote it quickly and only changed one line at Harrison’s suggestion.
“I changed one thing,” he said. “There was a line I was singing, ‘I’m standing on the edge of the world.’ When we cut the record, George Harrison was there. He played and sang on that track. And he goes, ‘Tom, what the f*** is it with “standing on the edge of the world”?’ I was like, ‘Oh, busted.'”
He replaced the line with a Harrison-approved version.
“I went, ‘Yeah, you’re right. That doesn’t mean anything,'” Petty said. “I thought for a minute and went, ‘How about, “There ain’t no easy way out?”‘ George went, ‘Much better.'”
George Harrison also helped Tom Petty with ‘Free Fallin”
Harrison was also instrumental in getting “Free Fallin'” released. Petty’s record label had rejected Full Moon Fever, but Harrison still encouraged Petty to play “Free Fallin'” at a dinner party with executives at Warner Bros. Records. They were so impressed with the song that they secretly signed Petty. While he owed his label, MCA, a few more albums, he began recording with Warner Bros. in 1994.