Walking, waiting and hoping on the rest of Tom Petty’s Wildflowers
By NICK TAVARES
STATIC and FEEDBACK Editor
Yesterday, I was out on another walk with Cosmo, winding through cemeteries and under trees at a safe distance from my neighbors while letting the little dude smell as many shrubs and patches of grass as he felt the need to smell.
It’s a process that takes a while — usually at least an hour — in order to get him properly tired and satisfied that he has, indeed, sniffed everything within two square miles. So while he does that, I usually have something going in my headphones to keep me patient through the whole process. Most recently, it’s been an epic Wildflowers playlist that I’ve curated for myself as a placeholder and in anticipation for the sprawling Tom Petty box set of demos and unreleased outtakes of my dreams.
A couple of months ago, the good folks who run Petty’s estate released his demo for “You Don’t Know How It Feels” into the world. For a song that carries a weight that belies it’s jaunty tempo, Petty’s home recording comes closer to capturing the lonely weariness of its narrator. The inclusion of a line that eventually found a home on “Crawling Back to You,” a much more somber song and the emotional centerpiece of Wildflowers, drives this idea even further home:
“I’m so tired of being tired
Sure as night will follow day
Most things that I worry ’bout
Never happen anyway.”
As with many classic albums, the process around Wildflowers is fascinating. Planned as early as 1991 following Into the Great Wide Open, Petty’s last album for MCA, he began collecting songs and recording them in a much more intimate environment than the structured setting Jeff Lynne utilized for his prior work. Along the way, Petty accumulated nearly 30 songs that were originally considered for a sprawling double-album statement, eventually pared down to the 15 songs we now know.
It’s hard to fault what was included — those 15 songs sound as if they were specifically composed to run with each other, each handing off to the next until “Wake Up Time” sends the listener off to another dimension. The record’s effectiveness apparently even spooked Petty himself. So the idea of that only being one half of the conversation is fascinating. And this has been in the works for a while, with the Petty family moving closer to getting the rest of the songs out in a way that makes sense and provides the proper context. But it’s been a process, as Petty explained himself in 2016:
“I think I put four of the [Wildflowers outtakes] on the She’s The One soundtrack just to fill out the album. But they were very hastily mixed. Take ‘Climb That Hill.’ There’s a version of that on She’s The One, but the Wildflowers one I think is extremely better. I’m gonna put that out. ‘Hung Up And Overdue’ is another one we remixed and it turned into an epic. I had Carl Wilson [of the Beach Boys] and [Heartbreakers bassist] Howie Epstein singing quite a bit of harmony that didn’t come through on the original. Then again, there’s probably six songs that nobody has heard. There’s 11 or 12 [new] songs on the album. I think people are going to like it a lot. I like it a lot.”
I’ve been hanging on that paragraph for four years now, waiting and wondering what’s next. “Somewhere Under Heaven” was released as a stand-alone single in 2015, promised as one track from Wildflowers — All The Rest, with the “You Don’t Know How it Feels” demo following five years later. “There Goes Angela (Dream Away)” was next, available after passing a quiz on TomPetty.com. Personally, it’s been about eight years since I spent about a month and more than a few bottles of wine writing, editing and laying out an overly long opus on Wildflowers, and about 20 since I wrote my first piece of published music writing — about 400 words on the album in the high school newspaper, which helped to break the perception at the time that I only cared about sports.
Not to exaggerate, but Wildflowers likely made me care about a lot of things I wouldn’t have cared about before. It’s a record that is loaded with emotion and empathy, with its various characters and stories all detailing a small piece of what it means to be human and how to get through life with all of it. How one guy managed to get all of this down is a mystery I won’t ever solve or cease trying to solve.
In the meantime, I’ve had a “Wildflowers — All the Rest” playlist going for a few years, and it’s getting longer as more songs trickle out. I’ve pulled from the songs that have been officially released somewhere, made the most of my understanding of which She’s the One songs originated from the Wildflowers recording (where I could be wrong), “Girl on LSD” and some of the acoustic versions from various b-sides, added in “U Get Me High” from Hypnotic Eye and tossed in some live tracks which, if you’re at all internet adept, shouldn’t be too hard to track down. With just in assembling what’s out there, it’s already pretty extensive and runs right at three hours in length. Toss the 400 Days documentary into that package and it’s already a set that could sell for a pretty penny if properly boxed and collated.
|Disc one: Wildflowers||Disc two||Disc three|
|1. Honey Bee [Live on Saturday Night Live, with Dave Grohl]||1. You Don't Know How It Feels|
|2. You Don't Know How It Feels||2. Somewhere Under Heaven||2. Honey Bee|
|3. Time to Move On||3. You Don't Know How It Feels [Home Recording]||3. You Wreck Me|
|4. You Wreck Me||4. There Goes Angela (Dream Away)||4. Girl on LSD|
|5. It's Good to Be King||5. Climb That Hill||5. Cabin Down Below|
|6. Only a Broken Heart||6. U Get Me High||6. Wildflowers|
|7. Honey Bee||7. Girl on LSD||7. It's Good to Be King|
|8. Don't Fade on Me||8. Cabin Down Below [Acoustic version]||8. Crawling Back to You|
|9. Hard on Me||9. Only a Broken Heart [Acoustic version]||9. Wake Up Time [An American Treasure version]|
|10. Cabin Down Below||10. Don't Fade on Me [An American Treasure version]||Tracks 1-5: Live at the University of Alabama, 6/10/95|
|11. To Find a Friend||11. Grew Up Fast||Tracks 6-8: From The Live Anthology|
|12. A Higher Place||12. Hope You Never|
|13. House in the Woods||13. California|
|14. Crawling Back to You||14. Supernatural Radio|
|15. Wake Up Time||15. Hung Up and Overdue|
There’s a lot going on in the world, and this is obviously not the thing that’s needed most, of all things. But whenever the real Wildflowers box set arrives, it will be welcomed and cherished and, above all, listened to, for hours and hours. Until then, if you see me out with the dog and a mask over my face and headphones over my ears, there’s a better-than-decent chance that I’m listening to this.
Aug. 19, 2020
Update, Aug. 20, 2020: Ha. There it is.
Email Nick Tavares at firstname.lastname@example.org