Will the 'Stay With Me' Credit Change Affect Sam Smith's Grammy Chances?

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
Paul Grein
·Writer
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
image

What effect will this week’s news that Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne will henceforth be listed as co-writers of Sam Smith’s “Stay With Me” have on the way the Grammys handle the song? The gospel-tinged ballad is the frontrunner to take the award for Song of the Year at the 57th annual Grammy Awards on Feb. 8.

To briefly recap: The writers of “Stay With Me” — Smith, James Napier, and William Phillips — agreed to share the songwriting credit with Petty and Lynne, who co-wrote Petty’s 1989 hit “I Won’t Back Down,” after acknowledging similarities between the two songs. (The writers say they weren’t previously familiar with Petty’s hit.)

The news about the credit switch on “Stay With Me” came too late to impact Grammy voting. Final ballots were due on Jan. 16. That’s good news for Smith, because the confusion might have hurt his song’s chances.

But are Petty and Lynne suddenly in line to possibly win a Grammy for Song of the Year for a song they wrote more than 25 years ago? No such luck.

"Since Lynne and Petty didn’t do any new writing for this work, we are considering their original work to have been interpolated by Napier, Phillips, and Smith for ‘Stay With Me,’" Bill Freimuth, the Recording Academy’s senior vice president, awards, told Billboard's Keith Caulfield.

"Lynne and Petty will not be considered nominees nor will they be considered Grammy recipients, should the song win. Rather, they would be given certificates to honor their participation in the work, just as any other writers of sampled or interpolated work."

That’s in keeping with Grammy practice in situations like this. Three of this year’s five nominees for Best Rap Song borrow from old songs, yet the writers of the original songs aren’t listed as nominees. Nicki Minaj’s “Anaconda” samples Sir Mix-a-Lot’s 1992 smash “Baby Got Back.” Kendrick Lamar’s “I” includes elements from the Isley Brothers’ 1973 hit “That Lady.” “Bound 2” by Kanye West and Charlie Wilson includes a phrase from Brenda Lee’s 1960 hit “Sweet Nothin’s” and also samples songs by Wee and Ponderosa Twins Plus One.

Several past winners of Best Rap Song have included samples or interpolations, but the writers of the original songs didn’t share in the Grammy glory. These include Kanye West’s “Diamonds From Sierra Leone,” which samples Shirley Bassey’s 1971 hit “Diamonds Are Forever”; “Good Life” by West featuring T-Pain, which samples Michael Jackson’s 1983 hit “P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)”; and “Empire State of Mind” by Jay Z and Alicia Keys (which samples the Moments’ 1970 hit “Love on a Two-Way Street”) 

Incidentally, “Stay With Me” wouldn’t be the first Grammy-winning Song of the Year to face a situation like this. The 1964 winner, Jerry Herman’s “Hello, Dolly!,” experienced a similar fate because of its similarity to a popular 1949 song, “Sunflower.”

Mack David (1912–1993), an Academy Award-nominated composer (and the older brother of famed lyricist Hal David), wrote “Sunflower,” which was a hit for six different artists, including Frank Sinatra, in 1949. Fifteen years later, when “Hello, Dolly!” became a smash, David sued for copyright infringement. He argued that the first four bars of “Hello, Dolly!” were the same as those in the refrain of “Sunflower.” Herman insisted he hadn’t heard “Sunflower” before the lawsuit, but settled before the case would have gone to trial.

The other Song of the Year nominees are Hozier’s “Take Me to Church,” Sia’s “Chandelier” (which she co-wrote with Jesse Shatkin), Meghan Trainor’s “All About That Bass” (which she co-wrote with Kevin Kadish), and Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off” (which she co-wrote with Max Martin and Shellback).

As it happens, Petty is also a Grammy nominee this year (along with his band, the Heartbreakers). Hypnotic Eye, the first No. 1 album of Petty’s career, is a finalist for Best Rock Album.

Deep trivia: “I Won’t Back Down” didn’t receive a Grammy nomination on its own in 1989, but Full Moon Fever, the album from which it was taken, was a finalist for Album of the Year.