Growing up, I think I had a negative view of duets. Not that I gave them much thought, but something about them harkened visions of Sonny and Cher, Donny and Marie, the Carpenters, or other saccharine-sweet musical duos. Duets were something that variety show acts did, maybe country singers (Kenny and Dolly), but not rock and rollers. Then I heard the live recording of “Insider” from Tom Petty’s Pack Up the Plantation album, featuring Stevie Nicks; it not only changed my view of how two voices can come together and compliment one another so perfectly, it became one of my all-time favorite live recordings.
Stevie has often said in interviews that one of her great joys in making music is singing with other people and trying to replicate Everly Brothers-type harmonies. Outside of her work with Fleetwood Mac, she has collaborated with many artists in duets or singing background harmonies. Have you ever heard John Stewart’s “Gold” or Walter Egan’s “Magnet and Steel”? Both have awesome Stevie background vocals. Tom Petty does not share the microphone as often, but he also is capable of singing a tight harmony vocal. Among the superpowers that made up the Traveling Wilburys, his voice is often most prominent in many of the choruses of Wilburys song. Of all the people Tom Petty and Stevie Nicks have sung with separately, they most frequently have collaborated with one another. It is interesting that two unusual, unconventional voices can come together so beautifully.
I have listened to this live recording of “Insider” hundreds of times over the years. The opening notes of the song evoke the same involuntary reaction in me every time – my eyes close and I inhale deeply - as if I am preparing myself for the flood of emotion the song will bring. Then come the goosebumps when, several seconds into the song, you can hear a surge of applause from the audience as Stevie joins Tom on stage.
Tom originally wrote “Insider” for Stevie to record for a solo album, but then decided he did not want to give it up to her. It is the most beautifully bitter song he’s written; it’s about heartache, about being left behind by someone because you didn’t measure up. The kind of insecurity and inadequacy one feels from being on the losing end of a breakup is so evident in Tom and Stevie’s voices here. Stevie’s vocal is especially heartbreaking. This live version reaches a level of emotion that was not captured in the studio recording of the song. What I would give to have video of this performance . . . but for now, the audio will have to do. Click the play button below.