December 4, 2020

OPINION: Tom Petty vs. Sam Smith – Sample of similarity

Pop culture fans have taken notice. Sam Smith’s 2014 emotional ballad “Stay With Me” and Tom Petty’s 1989 powerful hit “I Won’t Back Down” are strikingly similar.

Tom Petty noticed it too, took legal action, and now Sam Smith will be paying royalties. A simple mash-up of the song, linked below, shows how close these two tracks really are.

Although those defensive of Sam Smith can cite the common practice of sampling, these two tunes are too similar to be written off as sampled. Sampling in music is defined as “act of taking a portion, or sample, of one sound recording and reusing it as an instrument or a sound recording in a different song or piece.”

Many of the Top 40 hits heard on the radio today utilize sampling, or sounds that have been used before. The website WhoSampled.com, shows easily accessible samples for listeners to browse.

One example of a popular song today that uses sampling is Kanye West’s “Bound 2,” which features a sound recording from the Ponderosa Twins Plus One’s “Bound.”

WhoSampled.com rightfully recognized Sam Smith’s sample of “I Won’t Back Down, claiming that it is an “Interpolation (Replayed Sample) of Multiple Elements.”

What separates this case from the thousands of other examples on the website is this lack of initial credit given to Tom Petty for being a strong inspiration in “Stay With Me.”

The cooperation between the two artists in this issue is a good sign for music lovers everywhere. “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,” said Petty on the issue.

Although if Smith wins a Grammy, Petty will receive a mere certificate, at least he will be acknowledged for having played a role in a hit song of today. Smith defenders can argue that Smith was not actively trying to steal music, but the subtle sampling happened, and needs to be recognized.

This example should not be seen as a case of blatant plagiarism, but it is clear that Smith did not intend to steal this music. Nonetheless, this case has been rightfully handled by both Smith and Petty, and is a good omen for pop culture fans everywhere.

(Matt Lieberman ’16, Editor-in-Chief)

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