Why Tom Petty Let Don Henley Record ‘The Boys of Summer’
Tom Petty's rejection of a demo made by Heartbreakers guitarist Mike Campbell paved the way for Don Henley to record one of his biggest solo hits, 1984's "The Boys of Summer."
On Brian Koppelman's podcast The Moment, Campbell said he had created the demo with a new Linn drum machine, complete with all the chords and the guitar parts but no words. He played it at his house for Petty and producer Jimmy Iovine, both of whom were underwhelmed.
"In Tom's defense, when I got to the chorus, I went to a different chord," Campbell said. "It was kind of like a minor chord. As the song ended up, on the chorus it goes to that big major chord. You know, it lifts up. And so he heard a slightly inferior version. And I remember when it went by, we were kind of grooving to it, and it got to that chord and Jimmy Iovine goes, 'Eh, it sounds like jazz.'"
Campbell was "completely deflated" by the response, but he also realized Iovine was right. So he changed the chords on the chorus and dropped them onto the demo. Then Iovine called him and suggested he play it for Henley, who was looking for music for what would become Building the Perfect Beast. Figuring that Petty, even with the new chords, was "probably fed up with it" and had plenty of other music to work with, Campbell agreed and took the tape to the former Eagles drummer's house.
"It was just me and him," Campbell noted. "We sat at a big table. He sat at the other end like the judge, totally quiet and didn't bat an eye - just listened with his eyes closed. And then he said, 'Okay, maybe I can do something with that.'"
Listen to Don Henley's 'The Boys of Summer'
Campbell, who'd never met Henley before, said the drummer was so serious that he couldn't tell if he liked it. Then he got a phone call from Henley. "He's like, 'Oh, I just wrote the best song of my life to your music,'" Campbell remembered. "'Really? I'd like to hear that.'"
But the demo was in a key ill-suited for Henley's voice. So, when it came time to track the song in the studio, Campbell had to re-learn all the guitar parts he had improvised on the demo, which was in a higher key. He was able to get it all down, but he made one spontaneous change: the song's classic outro solo.
Campbell also recalled that during the sessions for Southern Accents, he and Petty went out to a car to listen to a mix of "Don't Come Around Here No More," only to turn on the ignition and hear the radio playing "The Boys of Summer." Thinking it might upset Petty, Campbell immediately changed the station, only to hear another station playing the song, too.
"'Boy, you know, you were really lucky with that,'" Campbell remembered his partner as saying. "'I wish I would have had the presence of mind to not let that get away.' That was a real 'brother' moment we had."