I’m participating in an album draft with nine other bloggers, organized by Hanspostcard. There will be ten rounds, with draft order determined randomly by round. I’m leading off Round 7 with my favorite Tom Petty album.
Well here it is, my one and only “contemporary” selection in the draft. I just finished peeling off that last annoying bit of tape from the top edge of the CD case (had to wait until my fingernails grew out a little). I wonder how much staying power this album will have… Kidding aside, Wildflowers sounds to me as though it could’ve been released in the last decade and not 26 years ago. Much of that is most likely due to producer Rick Rubin, whose work tends to sound fresh yet timeless. But for the most part, that’s just the nature of Petty’s music. This particular album is officially a solo release, though all members of the Heartbreakers except Stan Lynch played on it.
I confess that I didn’t fully appreciate this album as a singular work until years after its release. Petty’s songs were all over contemporary rock radio in the 90’s, and for a while I kind of lost track of which albums the various singles were on from Into the Great Wide Open onward. I eventually bought it, and when I dropped it into the player I was stunned at the quality from start to finish. Late to the party once again. Of course I knew the tracks that received radio play, my favorites being You Don’t Know How it Feels, It’s Good to be King, and You Wreck Me. However, there’s not a weak song among the 15 on this rather sprawling release, with some just as strong as the singles including Time to Move On, Honey Bee, Don’t Fade on Me, House in the Woods, Crawling Back to You, Wake Up Time, and the title track.
Wildflowers is a great collection of songs – hard rockers and wistful acoustic numbers – which compliment one another perfectly. In that light, of the 30 or so songs he had written for it before recording sessions even began, some equallly strong material that didn’t blend with the rest to Petty’s ears was left off the record after he was talked out of releasing it as a double album. Many of those left behind songs will see the light of day on the upcoming Wildflowers & All the Rest. Listening objectively as a detached music fan, it’s a beautiful masterpiece of a rock album.
But there’s also a bit of sadness attached to Wildflowers. First, it marked the end of Petty’s working relationship with drummer Stan Lynch after years of increasing personal and professional differences (enter Steve Ferrone as the new drummer). Second, he had spent close to two years in the studio working on it, a time which Warren Zanes, author of the authorized biography Petty: The Biography, describes as a period when Tom was also avoiding the inevitable at home. Wildflowers was Tom’s self-described divorce album.
As Petty’s daughter Adria describes in the book, the family gathered at their Florida home to listen to the finished album as was tradition, and she knew when she heard it that her parents’ long strained marriage was finished, starting with the lyrics in the title track: Sail away, kill off the hours, You belong somewhere you feel free… Down the line, Tom’s therapist suggested he’d written that song to himself, and Petty agreed. As Zanes puts it, there’s an “almost unnerving openness” to the songs on Wildflowers. There was so much discord in Petty’s personal and professional life, but as is often the case in the art world, some wonderful creations came from it.
Tom Petty went on to release eight more studio albums including those with the Heartbreakers and the reunited Mudcrutch before his passing. We’re coming up on three years, and it’s still hard to believe he’s gone. You can add that as a third reason why there’s melancholy attached to Wildflowers. Sometimes it’s just not possible to listen as an indifferent fan to the great music pouring from my speakers. It’s time to move on, it’s time to get goin’…
- You Don’t Know How it Feels
- Time to Move On
- You Wreck Me
- It’s Good to be King
- Only a Broken Heart
- Honey Bee
- Don’t Fade on Me
- Hard on Me
- Cabin Down Below
- To Find a Friend
- A Higher Place
- House in the Woods
- Crawling Back to You
- Wake Up Time