Tom Petty…Wildflowers & All The Rest (Review)

Wildflowers is Tom Petty’s best album…and that’s according to Tom Petty.  After he said that, he qualified it a bit by saying Full Moon Fever & Damn The Torpedoes were right there too.  Tom had wanted Wildflowers to be a 25-song double album in 1994, but his record company convinced him to make it a 15-song single album.

In 2017, Tom was looking forward to releasing the full double album, or at least the All The Rest album he had originally planned.  He also hoped to do a special tour to promote the release.  Sadly, on October 2nd, 2017, Tom Petty passed away from an accidental overdose of pain killers he was taking for a broken hip.

(The 4 CD Deluxe edition)

Three years later, we have an extensive box set that includes the original 25 Wildflowers songs as well as demos, live versions, and alternate takes.  So, is Wildflowers & All The Rest as good as fans hoped?  We’ll look at the discs, beginning with the original album.

Wildflowers (Disc 1)

  1. Wildflowers
  2. You Don’t Know How It Feels
  3. Time To Move On
  4. You Wreck Me
  5. It’s Good To Be King
  6. Only A Broken Heart
  7. Honey Bee
  8. Don’t Fade On Me
  9. Hard On Me
  10. Cabin Down Below
  11. To Find A Friend
  12. A Higher Place
  13. House In the Woods
  14. Crawling Back To You
  15. Wake Up Time

Like most great albums, it starts extremely strong.  The first six songs are of such high quality, they would be considered a “perfect album side” for a regular 12-song album.  Besides the title song, there are three singles:  “You Don’t Know How It Feels”, “You Wreck Me” and “It’s Good To Be King”, one of Tom Petty’s favorites.  The song’s lyrics are meaningful, while still being humorous, and the arrangement with orchestration is perfection.

The song quality is high on the rest of the album too.  “Honey Bee”, “Cabin Down Below”, and “A Higher Place” are uptempo single-sounding songs The Heartbreakers often played in concerts.  “Don’t Fade On Me” and “Crawling Back To You” showcase Petty’s more sensitive side.

Tom Petty believed Wildflowers represents when he was at the height of his songwriting powers.  He said in an interview that the song “Wildflowers” flowed through him in its completed form.  Unlike most artists whose careers start strong and fade, Petty’s personal peak came mid-career.  The rest of his 40-year career shows his talent never faded, and his songwriting remained strong.

Producer Rick Rubin says that despite spending nearly two years recording Wildflowers, it still has an organic feel.

All The Rest (Disc 2)

  1. Something Could Happen
  2. Leave Virginia Alone
  3. Climb That Hill Blues
  4. Confusion Wheel
  5. California (released on She’s The One soundtrack)
  6. Harry Green
  7. Hope You Never (on She’s The One soundtrack)
  8. Somewhere Under Heaven
  9. Climb That Hill (on She’s The One soundtrack)
  10. Hung Up And Overdue (on She’s The One soundtrack)

Three songs on the All The Rest disc were available for streaming prior to the album release.  Both “Leave Virginia Alone” and “Confusion Wheel” were released recently, and are very welcome additions to the Tom Petty catalog. “Somewhere Under Heaven” was put out five years ago near the 20th anniversary of Wildflowers.  It has a “jangly” guitar like the Byrds, but with a harder edge.  “Something Could Happen” has a classic Tom Petty sound that would have been welcome on the original album, maybe even as a single.  “Climb That Hill Blues” is an acoustic blues arrangement of “Climb That Hill”.  It sounds like it’s one of Tom’s home recordings, and I prefer it to the more produced rock version.  “Harry Green” is believed to be about a real friend Tom knew in High School.  This one also sounds like a home recording, and it’s probably the best way a song like this could be done.

“California”, “Hope You Never”, “Climb That Hill”, and “Hung Up And Overdue” were on the She’s The One movie soundtrack in 1996.  The tracks here are alternate versions that are very similar to the ones on the soundtrack.  These songs plus “Walls” and “Angel Dream” were the best songs on the soundtrack..

Home Recordings (Disc 3)

  1. There Goes Angela (Dream Away)
  2. You Don’t Know How It Feels
  3. California
  4. A Feeling Of Peace
  5. Leave Virginia Alone
  6. Crawling Back To You
  7. Don’t Fade On Me
  8. Confusion Wheel
  9. A Higher Place
  10. There’s A Break In The Rain (Have Love Will Travel)
  11. To Find A Friend
  12. Only A Broken Heart
  13. Wake Up Time
  14. Hung Up And Overdue
  15. Wildflowers

The third disc has Tom Petty’s home-recorded demos for Wildflowers.  It’s a real treat.  Mostly it sounds like a Tom Petty Folk album, in a good way.  It starts with a really nice new song, “There Goes Angela (Dream Away)”.  Once fans get to know this cool little song, I think we’ll all be able to agree that Tom would have changed the name to “Have A Dream On Me”, before he put it on an album.  The song was not taken to the main Wildflowers sessions, but was recorded by Tom Petty in his home eight-track studio, as were all the other songs on this disc.

Other highlight tracks:  ”California” is probably the best version of the song, and even has an extra verse.  “To Find A Friend” seems better in this simpler version.  “Confusion Wheel” also sounds good in a stripped-down version.  “Don’t Fade On Me” and “Only A Broken Heart” have interesting vocal/melody choices that are different from the versions we know, and “Crawling Back To You” is “Comin’ Back To You”.

Tom’s demos show how much thought he put into arrangements before he took the songs to other musicians for the final album versions.  He played multiple instruments, and added vocal harmonies.  If you ever wished you could spend a little time with him in the studio, this is as close as it gets.  This disc has quickly become one of my favorite Tom Petty albums.

Wildflowers Live (Disc 4) [From 1995-2017]

  1. You Don’t Know How It Feels
  2. Honey Bee
  3. To Find A Friend
  4. Walls
  5. Crawling Back To You
  6. Cabin Down Below
  7. Driving Down To Georgia
  8. House In The Woods
  9. Girl On LSD
  10. Time To Move On
  11. Wake Up Time
  12. It’s Good To Be King
  13. You Wreck Me
  14. Wildflowers

Everyone knows Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers were one of the world’s best live bands, so naturally these tracks are high quality.  Eleven of the fourteen songs are from the Wildflowers album, and the other three are from around that same time.  It’s a solid disc, but the unreleased studio & home recordings are the real reason for the box set.

 Finding Wildflowers (Disc 5) [Alternate Versions]

  1. A Higher Place
  2. Hard On Me
  3. Cabin Down Below
  4. Crawling Back To You
  5. Only A Broken Heart
  6. Drivin’ Down To Georgia
  7. You Wreck Me
  8. It’s Good To Be King
  9. House In The Woods
  10. Honey Bee
  11. Girl On LSD
  12. Cabin Down Below (Acoustic)
  13. Wildflowers
  14. Don’t Fade On Me
  15. Wake Up Time
  16. You Saw Me Comin’

Since I declined spending another $100 to get the 5th disc, I haven’t heard the alternate takes yet.  Even though alternate versions are interesting, the final versions chosen for an album are almost invariably the best.

Summary:  Tom Petty fans will enjoy the expanded view of this time in his life.  Disc 1 is a killer album.  Disc 2 adds some songs you wouldn’t want to be without.  Disc 3 is an intimate look at a great songwriter & musician.  And Disc 4 is a solid live album.  Fans should be happy with the collection Tom’s family put together with the help of Heartbreakers Mike Campbell and Benmont Tench.

(Photos of Mike, Benmont & Tom from the 1994 CD booklet)

Bonus Story:  The single “You Don’t Know How It Feels” was Tom’s last Top 20 hit single, but that wouldn’t have happened without a one word change to get it played on CHR (Contemporary Hit Radio) stations.  I had been working at KFRX-FM in Lincoln, which was a popular Top 40 station that reported for the national charts.  Most people don’t realize that Radio stations have to follow FCC rules about drug references on stations that have large teens-and-younger audiences, like CHR stations always do.  Program Director Sonny Valentine had previously approved “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” for airplay, but this time she was concerned about the line “Let’s roll another joint.”.

Fortunately, Tom Petty recorded a special “radio edit” of the song for CHR stations.  It changed the word “roll” to “hit”.  By singing “Let’s hit another joint”, the interpretation could be they were going to another bar, instead of rolling a joint.  The song would not have reached #13, and been heard by millions more music fans, without that change.

I have that “radio edit” recording, and the funny thing is, it sounds really good.  “Let’s get to the point.  Let’s hit another joint” makes a nice rhythmic rhyme scheme.  After this, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers had songs that made the Mainstream Rock chart, but because of the changes in radio formats (Rock gave way to Hip-Hop & Pop), they had no more big hits on the major singles chart, the Hot 100.

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