Chrissie Hynde wrote this with Tom Kelly and Billy Steinberg, who have written many hit songs, including "True Colors," "Eternal Flame" and "Like A Virgin." Steinberg told us how they met:
"Tom and I never had a publisher, we both published ourselves. Jason Dauman was somebody who, for a commission, was willing to provide some of the service that a publisher would. He once said to me, 'Who would you like to collaborate with?' and it was sort of an annoyance to me. I didn't take him all that seriously, but almost facetiously I said, 'Prince, Bruce Springsteen and Chrissie Hynde.'
I said those names because they were three of my favorite songwriters and he sort of took it seriously. He went off and I just thought, 'Well I got rid of him, didn't I.' Then a little while later he called me up and he said, 'Chrissie Hynde wants to write with you and Tom,' and I thought, 'Right.' So anyway, I get a phone call and this woman said, 'Billy, this is Chrissie Hynde,' and I thought somebody was playing with me or something. I couldn't imagine it, but then in a minute it was quite clear that Chrissie was on the other end of the telephone.
Chrissie is a very complicated person, a very no-nonsense person especially when she doesn't know you. She was a little intimidating on the phone. The butterflies in my stomach were fluttering so much I could barely speak because I love The Pretenders. She said she'd like to get together and write some songs with Tom and me, and I went, 'Woo Hoo!' She came to Los Angeles and she was so determined. She said, 'I want to write a hit.' Over a period of about two weeks Tom and I wrote a handful of songs with her. The first one we wrote together was called 'Love Colors Everything.' Then we wrote 'Night In My Veins' which was also a hit single, and we wrote '977,' 'Hollywood Perfume' and 'I'll Stand By You.'"
Ben E. King's song "Stand By Me" was a big influence on this.
Steinberg: "'I'll Stand By You,' like the other hits that Tom and I wrote, started out as a lyric that I had in a notebook. I had the title and the chorus lyric. Chrissie is a very, very strong songwriter in her own right. She's very ruthless, she would get out her pen or her pencil and I remember I was fascinated the way she would write in the notebook because she wouldn't write on the lines. I use a Mont Blanc fountain pen and I tend to write kind of neatly. She would just scribble across pages. Very few lines would fit on a page and they wouldn't stay on the line. I remember she would just take a pen and she would cross out any lines I had written that she didn't like, and usually the lines that she didn't like would be ones that were too tender or too poetic. She would toughen up stuff I'd written. On 'I'll Stand By You' she added lines and changed lines."
This was written based on the piano. Tom Kelly played the piano on the record.
Steinberg: "I remember when we wrote it I felt two things: I felt one, we had written a hit song and I felt two, a little sheepish that we had written something a little soft, a little generic for The Pretenders. Whereas 'Night In My Veins' really felt like a great Pretenders rocker, 'I'll Stand By You' felt a little generic. I know that Chrissie felt that way too to some extent. I don't think she really entirely embraced it to begin with, but she certainly does now because when she plays it live, it's one of the songs that gets the strongest response. It's done really well for her and for us." (Check out our Billy Steinberg interview.)
This song has returned to both the UK and US charts with different cover versions. In 2004 Girls Aloud achieved their second UK #1 with their version recorded for the annual BBC Children In Need charity telethon. Girl Aloud Sarah Harding explained in 1000 UK #1 Hits by Jon Kutner & Spencer Leigh that the fivesome "were drawn to the lyrics straight away, we've all been in situations where we have needed someone or been there for someone."
In 2007, Carrie Underwood achieved the highest chart entry by an Idol contestant for a song never performed on the show in competition when her version debuted in the Hot 100 at #6. Her record was later taken by David Archuleta, whose single "Crush" flew straight into the US singles chart at #2.
Hynde admitted to Mojo feeling slightly disgusted after writing the tune. "When I did that song, I thought, Urgh this is s--t. But then I played it for a couple of girls who weren't in the business and by the end of it they were both in tears. I said, OK, put it out."
For Hynde, working with outside songwriters was a big step, as she was used to writing on her own. Fortunately, it was a very positive experience that led to more collaborations, including the 2016 Pretenders album Alone, where she worked with Dan Auerbach. "After collaborating with Tom and Billy, I've learned how to collaborate with people and I found that was really fun," she said in a Songfacts interview.
She added that this song was "really a cold-blooded attempt to write something to get on the radio."
Other artists to cover this song include Rod Stewart (on his 2006 album Still the Same... Great Rock Classics of Our Time), and Shakira, who released it as a charity single for Hope for Haiti in 2010 to help with earthquake relief. In 2009, the Cast of Glee took the song back to the charts, reaching #73.
Hynde, a resident of England, didn't know about the Rod Stewart or Carrie Underwood covers until we told her about them.
This was used in a 2013 commercial for Progressive Insurance where their spokesperson, Flo, sings the ballad. As with all songs written by Chrissie Hynde, PETA had to approve the use and royalties from it were sent to the organization.
Suzanne Benson from Utica NyThis song was popular during the time of my dad's hospitalization in Miami FL in early 1995 while he was fighting AIDS. It helped me to "get through" his illness and after he succumbed to the disease. He never heard the song to my recollection ~ but even now, when I think of him, or at my lowest point, this song will come on the radio, as though to comfort me...
Camille from Toronto, OhAn incredibly written song given its very proper and perfect emotional content by Chrissie Hynde. She just nails it. The musical arrangement, not that I know much about it, but it just adds to the heartfelt emotions. Top-notch.
Zoe from That One, AustraliaThis song is from God to Us :)
Kay from Meredith, NhThis song came on the radio immediately after my mother passed away. I could not believe it. I talked at her funeral about how she stood by her family always, in the end we stood by her, and now she would always be with us to guide us. Then I played the song. Very powerful.
Dee from Oklahoma City, OkI am getting married next month. We are playing this song as the processional. I hope to get a string quartet to play the beginning and after the vows, use a CD for the chorus. As the ceremony is informal, this is a perfect song for two individuals who share a mutual respect and love for each other.
Nicola from London, EnglandThis song is great to listen to, and this is about friendship. For being there for your boyfriend/girlfriend. And being there for friends.
John-martin from Silver Creek, MsWhat I would not give to have someone as strong as Chrissie Hynde is in the "I'll Stand By You" video. I know what it is to feel hopeless, oppressed and depressed and feeling no one cares. When family is not there for you and friends you thought you had weren't really friends at all. This is a great song and I wondered if Chrissie "felt" this one?
Bethan from Somerset, Uk.The Girls Aloud version of this song, recorded for BBC Children In Need, reached #1 in the UK in November 2004. It was #1 for 2 weeks, before being knocked off by Band Aid 20.