This was the second Tom Petty album on the Backstreet Records label. The album's release was delayed while Petty and his distributor MCA Records argued about the list price. The album was slated to be the next MCA release with the new list price of $9.98, following Steely Dan's Gaucho and the Olivia Newton-John/Electric Light OrchestraXanadu soundtrack. This so-called "superstar pricing" was $1.00 more than the usual list price of $8.98. Petty voiced his objections to the price hike in the press and the issue became a popular cause among music fans. Non-delivery of the album or naming it Eight Ninety-Eight were considered, but eventually MCA decided against the price increase.
During the recording of the album John Lennon was scheduled to be in the same studio at the same time. Tom Petty was looking forward to meeting him when he came in. The meeting never occurred; John Lennon was murdered before he could ever make it into the studio. In order to pay tribute to one of their influences the band decided to etch "WE LOVE YOU JL" on the master copy of the album. To this day "WE LOVE YOU JL" is seen on every Hard Promises first issue US non-masterphile vinyl copy pressed. The album's title comes from a line in the chorus of "Insider."