It seems that Chrissie Hynde wrote "I'll Stand By You" with Tom Kelly and Billy Steinberg, who have written many hit songs, including "True Colors," I'll Strand by You is a favourite song of mine, and Billy Steinberg's contribution to the "True Colors" episode of the Soul Music podcast in which he explains how Tom Kelly persuaded him to change the lyrics to make them less personal provides real insight, I think.
Here is what he says about working with Chrissie Hynde.
"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."So now you know, and I have something to jog my memory about yesterday.