How Tom Petty and Stevie Nicks Were Separated By A Song

How Tom Petty and Stevie Nicks Were Separated By A Song | I Love Classic Rock Videos

Stevie Nicks and Tom Petty for "Stop Draggin' My Heart Around" - Stevie Nicks / Youtube

“Runaway Trains” by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers came out in 1987 from the album “Let Me Up (I’ve Had Enough).” Although it wasn’t a big hit, many fans love it for its lyrics and dynamic music, created by Mike Campbell, the guitarist. The song deals with feelings of sadness after a breakup.

A Mix of Styles and a Misunderstanding

In 1984, Tom Petty had turned down a synth-heavy demo from Campbell, which Don Henley then used to create his hit “The Boys of Summer.” Learning from this, when Campbell brought Petty a new demo similar in style, Petty accepted it, leading to the creation of “Runaway Trains.” The album aimed to get back to basics, mixing Petty’s raw style with Campbell’s polished production. This blend caused the album to feel like it was split between two different styles. Petty explained in the book “Conversations with Tom Petty” by Paul Zollo:

“If you hear that record, it’s two records in one. There’s my stuff, and there’s Mike’s stuff. And all of Mike’s stuff sounds completely different from mine does. His stuff is this really produced stuff, like ‘Runaway Trains.’ Then you’ll hear my side of things, and it’s much cruder.”

The song also played a part in a temporary disagreement between Stevie Nicks and Petty. Nicks, who had admired Petty and worked with him before, mistakenly took a demo tape of the song from his house, thinking it was for her. She wrote lyrics for it and began recording with Fleetwood Mac. When she played it for Petty over the phone, he realized the misunderstanding and got upset. They resolved the issue, and Nicks used her lyrics with different music for her song “Ooh My Love.”


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Exploring the Heartache in “Runaway Trains”

The lyrics of “Runaway Trains” compare the pain of a breakup to large, uncontrollable events:

Like when an angel cries / Like runaway trains or Like when something dies.
These lines express deep sadness and the feeling of being lost.

Petty paints a vivid picture of the emotional distance in a breakup through the verses:

She’s up there all alone / I’m down here changing lanes.
As the song progresses, it shows the resilience of the person left behind:
I’m used to being alone / And holding my own hand / I’m stronger than you know.

In the pre-chorus, Petty captures the hope that time might heal his wounds, even though the music suggests it might not:

And I’m depending on time / To get you out of my mind.