The Lyric Tom Petty Refused to Change in ‘Listen to Her Heart’
If fans learned one thing about Tom Petty over his four-decade career, it's that he won't back down, even when his bosses asked him to.
The Cost of Cocaine
One of the first examples of his persistence took place in 1978, as Petty and the Heartbreakers were gearing up to release their second album, You're Gonna Get It! Petty had planned on releasing a single titled "Listen to Her Heart," but ABC Records, the company that distributed Shelter Records, the label Petty was signed to, wasn't thrilled with a particular line in the song: "You think you're gonna take her away with your money and your cocaine."
They asked if Petty would swap "cocaine" for "champagne" — an illegal drug for a legal one.
READ MORE: Tom Petty's Rarest Songs: Playlist
Petty wouldn't budge. "It would have made it a different song," he explained in 2005's Conversations With Tom Petty. "I didn't really see the character as caring about the price of a bottle of champagne. Cocaine was much more expensive."
This begged the question: Who was the person in the song?
Listen to Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers' 'Listen to Her Heart'
Writing From Real Life
Like any songwriter, Petty took some liberties in his storytelling, but the basis for "Listen to Her Heart" came from a real event. Not long after he and the band first moved from Florida to Los Angeles, Petty's then-wife, Jane Benyo, had gone to a party at Ike Turner's house with "a lot of cocaine and drugs around" with Heartbreakers producer Denny Cordell.
The timeline isn't clear, but it was around the period in which Turner's wife of more than a decade, Tina Turner, had filed for divorce. It wasn't until several years later that Tina Turner detailed the alleged abuse - including physical assaults - she suffered at the hands of her ex-husband.
Later in the evening at the party, Benyo told Petty that Ike Turner had locked the doors so guests couldn't leave. At the time, this seemed like more of a playful joke to Petty. "When they told me this story, I thought it was really funny," he said. "I think that had something to do with the cocaine line."
READ MORE: All 47 Tom Petty Videos Ranked
Plus, it worked well in the song. "It came out really good," Petty noted. "I remember going to the rehearsal the first day I had it, and playing it with the band, and really being knocked out with it because it was one that really suited me and [guitarist] Mike [Campbell] when we played that riff. And when the song kicked in I thought, 'Oh, God, this is great.'"
"Listen to Her Heart" was released as the second single from You're Gonna Get It! and went to No. 59 on the Billboard Hot 100. The cocaine lyric meant the song got less airplay, but in the end, Petty felt the line was the most realistic.
"I mean, first of all, it's anti-cocaine. I don't even like the stuff," he told Rolling Stone in 1978. "And second, what's champagne going for these days? Two bucks a bottle?"
Watch Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers Perform 'Listen to Her Heart' Live