When Tom Petty and Stevie Nicks Covered ‘Needles and Pins’
Tom Petty's first official live album, 1985's Pack Up the Plantation: Live!, covered a wide range of material. From older Heartbreaker songs to newly released tracks, it had something for everyone — including his frequent singing partner, Stevie Nicks. After numerous earlier collaborations, Petty confidently invited her to team up again for a cover of "Needles and Pins," a combination that just made sense.
"Some of my best musical memories of her are sitting on the couch and just playing the guitar while she sings," Petty told the Toronto Sun in 2014. As they each navigated their own paths, both songwriters found it reassuring to have support outside their respective bands.
"He gave me a lot of advice about stuff," Nicks recalled to Rolling Stone in 2017. "He was the kind of person who said, 'Here’s my advice. If you take it, great. If you don’t, that’s fine too.'"
Petty and Nicks' first collaboration came in 1981 at Nicks' request. Seeking to sound like the Heartbreakers but forbidden from joining the band herself ("No girls allowed" was the way Nicks remembered hearing it from Doug Morris, then-president of Atlantic Records.), she went for the next best thing: producer Jimmy Iovine — eventually earning herself a Petty duet, "Stop Draggin' My Heart Around," for her debut solo LP, Bella Donna.
“I almost preferred the Heartbreakers’ music to Fleetwood Mac’s music at that point,” Nicks said in the 2007 documentary Runnin’ Down A Dream. “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.”
However, their intense chemistry led fans to inevitably question: Were they really just friends?
"I pushed on this question," recalled Petty's biographer, Warren Zanes, "saying to him, after he told me they weren’t a couple, 'You sure sound like a couple.' Tom looked at me and said, 'We had our times.'
Regardless of specifics, the relationship between Petty and Nicks was consistently calm and productive. Another duet, "Insider," appeared on Petty's 1981 record, Hard Promises.
“There was no drama between her and the Heartbreakers,” keyboardist Benmont Tench told Classic Rock. “In Fleetwood Mac, there was a lot of personal stuff going on. Then she steps in the room with us, a rock’n’roll band that’s fronted by a guy she adores. I think it was a breath of fresh air for her.”
A live version of "Insider" also appears on Pack Up the Plantation: Live!, but "Needles and Pins" offers a unique chance showcase for Nicks and Petty. The song was originally written in 1963 by Sonny Bono (Sonny and Cher) and Jack Nitzsche, a longtime collaborator with Phil Spector. "Needles and Pins" was covered by various other artists like the Searchers, the Ramones and Gene Clark. But it was initially sung by Jackie DeShannon, proving the tune welcomed both male and female voices — and was perfect for Petty and Nicks in 1985.
"In 1978, we had just put out our second record, and I began to get calls from someone I never met before, but she was really nice," Petty said 32 years after "Needles and Pins," introducing Nicks at his July 2017 summer concert in London's Hyde Park. "And over the years, we've become very close, and she is the honorary girl in our band — Stevie!"