Music

Revisit Johnny Cash's Gritty Tom Petty Team-Up, 'I Won't Back Down'

AP Photo/Mark Humphrey and Owen Sweeney/Invision/AP

For his first solo album, 1989's Full Moon Fever, Tom Petty bolstered as strong an A-side as you'll find on any album from the '80s with "I Won't Back Down," a rock hit that'd later suit a country music icon's late-life career renaissance.

This proved true when Johnny Cash and Petty recorded a grittier take with producers Rick Rubin and John Carter Cash for 2000's American III: Solitary Man.

Superstar collaborations were already par for the course for Petty when it came to "I Won't Back Down." For example, he wrote his statement of Heartland rock defiance with Jeff Lynne, a fellow Traveling Wilbury and the legendary leader of the Electric Light Orchestra. Members of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, namely future Chris Stapleton collaborator Mike Campbell, joined Petty and Lynne in the studio for "I Won't Back Down," as did Ringo Starr and George Harrison.

Read More: This Star-Studded Johnny Cash Tribute Left the Man in Black Fighting Tears

Petty gets vocalist and organist credit on an all-star Cash album featuring appearances by Sheryl Crow, June Carter Cash and Merle Haggard. Though the countrified reimagining of "I Won't Back Down" lacked the acclaim of the title track (Cash's Neil Diamond cover won a Grammy), it stands out over 20 years later as an example of how well Cash's weathered voice drained all the emotion from some of the 20th century's best popular songs.

It also reminds us that if you look past made-up genre boundaries, the Man in Black and Petty weren't so different. Indeed, both sons of the South excelled as acclaimed songwriters and roots-minded storytellers with their own instantly recognizable vocal deliveries.

Cash and Petty also worked together on the 1996 album Unchained plus a cover of Merle Haggard's "The Running Kind" for 2006's American V: A Hundred Highways.

"I Won't Back Down" Lyrics

Well, I won't back down
No, I won't back down
You can stand me up at the gates of hell
But I won't back down

Nom I'll stand my ground
Won't be turned around
And I'll keep this world from draggin' me down
Gonna stand my ground

And I won't back down
(I won't back down)
Hey, baby, there ain't no easy way out
(I won't back down)
Hey, I will stand my ground
And I won't back down

Well I know what's right
I got just one life
In a world that keeps on pushin' me around
But I'll stand my ground

And I won't back down
(I won't back down)
Hey, baby, there ain't no easy way out
(I won't back down)
Hey, I will stand my ground
And I won't back down

Hey baby, there ain't no easy way out
(I won't back down)
Hey, I won't back down
(I won't back down)
Hey, baby, there ain't no easy way out
(I won't back down)
Hey, I will stand my ground
And I won't back down
No I won't back down

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Revisit Johnny Cash's Gritty Tom Petty Team-Up, 'I Won't Back Down'