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.

John Lennon Sounds Better Than Ever

We all know John Lennon’s songs from his solo career, but we’ve never heard them sounding this good.  In honor of what would have been his 80th Birthday (October 9th), 36 of his songs have been completely remixed from the master tapes.  The collection is called Gimme Some Truth.

The result is that we hear John Lennon’s voice more fully.  John tended to have producers process his voice with effects.  The new collection remixes the songs to better reflect John Lennon’s natural voice.  The instrumentation also benefits from the new mixes.  The recordings simply sound warmer and clearer.  Even though I’ve purchased these songs in multiple ways before, the improvement is worth the expense to me (though it might not be to casual listeners).  The main presentation is the deluxe 2-disc set.  There is also a one-disc 19-song version with selected songs from both discs (which are shown below).

(Click lists separately or zoom to enlarge.)

The collection was curated by Yoko Ono and Sean Lennon.  One could quibble with some of the song selections, and wish that the title wasn’t Gimme Some Truth, which had already been used for a John Lennon collection.  They could have just gone with the collection’s subtitle:  The Ultimate Remixes.

(My CD’s)

It’s always interesting to see what songs are most popular as they sell on iTunes.  “Instant Karma”, “Imagine” and “Watching The Wheels” are the top three.  “Instant Karma”, “Stand By Me”, and “Mind Games” were especially improved by the remixes, and really, all the songs are better.

The change in the quality of the audio will help John Lennon’s  songs be better received by future listeners.

It All Begins With A Song (Film Review)

Songwriting is an amazing process.  It creates some of the greatest art in the world, seemingly out of thin air.  The new documentary It All Begins With A Song lets us hear directly from some of the world’s most successful songwriters who work in Nashville, and it’s fascinating.


The accent is on country songs, but Nashville songwriters have written some of the biggest Rock and Pop hits too, like “Don’t Stop Believin’”.  The basics of songwriting are universal, even though individuals may incorporate various approaches.  Some start with an idea for a title or a topic.  Others start with various chord changes or riffs.  And sometimes, songwriters just wake up with a song in their heads.

That’s what happened to songwriter Michael Busbee, who wrote the song “Try” for Pink.  Busbee said the song was 95-percent from his “dream”, and then he worked with Ben West on developing it into a hit.  “Try” sold over 2-million copies.  It was a common theme in the film that songwriters often feel like they are able to “tap into something” that delivers a song through them.

It All Begins With A Song introduces us to successful songwriters like Brett James, shown above.  James has earned songwriting credits on 25 #1 country hits, including “Jesus Take The Wheel”, which was a hit for Carrie Underwood.  James sang the song to great effect in the film.  You’ll see that all these successful songwriters are talented instrumentalists, as well as good singers.

Still, it was telling when the film went from Jon Randell, one of the songwriters of “Whiskey Lullaby”, to the hit’s performers, Brad Paisley and Alison Krauss.  There’s a whole other talent level with singers like that.  “Whiskey Lullaby” was another 2-million seller, and the Country Song of the Year in 2005.

The documentary is filled with stories that will draw you in.  It includes references to some of Nashville’s legendary writers, like Kris Kristofferson and Harlan Howard.  Although not as famous to the public, Howard wrote a long list of country hits, including “I Fall To Pieces” for Patsy Cline.  He’s an inspiration to other songwriters, and he famously said…”Country Music is three chords and the truth.”

And the truth is, you’re going to be very moved when you see the story of a song written by Jessi Alexander (shown above), Connie Harrington, and Jimmy Yeary.  It’s called “I Drive Your Truck”.  Despite what could be the title of a light country song, it packs an emotional wallop.  It won the Country Music Association and Academy of Country Music 2013 “Song Of the Year” awards.

Besides being an extremely interesting 90-minutes about all that goes into songwriting, It All Begins With A Song is also high quality in all aspects of production.  The film is now showing on Amazon Prime, and is available for rent or purchase.

Even though Nashville songwriters have to compete with each other to get their songs recorded, they’re willing to share their expertise and work together.  A lesson for the world.

500 Greatest Albums List…A Big Fail

It was a good try in 2003, but the new list is a failure.

Rolling Stone magazine just released its updated “500 Greatest Albums” list. They originally published the list in 2003, and in 2012 they updated it slightly.  This time, they blew it up.

(Some of my remaining CD’s)

The wild movement of albums up & down from the previous list proves there is no such thing as a definitive list of the best albums.  Let’s look at the Top 10 of 2003/2012 compared with the new Top 10.

2003/2012:  (New rank in parenthesis)

  1. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band…The Beatles (#24, dropped 23!)
  2. Pet Sounds…The Beach Boys (#2)
  3. Revolver…The Beatles (#11)
  4. Highway 61 Revisited…Bob Dylan (#16)
  5. Rubber Soul…The Beatles (#35, dropped 30!)
  6. What’s Going On…Marvin Gaye (#1)
  7. Exile On Main St….The Rolling Stones (#14)
  8. London Calling…The Clash (#16)
  9. Blonde On Blonde…Bob Dylan (#38, dropped 29!)
  10. The Beatles (White Album)…The Beatles (#29, dropped 19!)

2020:  (Former rank in parenthesis)

  1. What’s Going On…Marvin Gaye (#6)
  2. Pet Sounds…The Beach Boys (#2)
  3. Blue…Joni Mitchell (#30, up 27!)
  4. Songs In The Key Of Life…Stevie Wonder (#56, up 52!)
  5. Abbey Road…The Beatles (#14)
  6. Nevermind…Nirvana (#17)
  7. Rumours…Fleetwood Mac (#25)
  8. Purple Rain…Prince (#72, up 64!)
  9. Blood On The Tracks…Bob Dylan (#16)
  10. The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill…Lauryn Hill (#312, up 302!)

The original 2003 ranking at least seemed to reflect the thinking over the decades, because The Beatles’ albums, along with the Pet Sounds album, were so highly regarded.  I could go along with ranking Sgt. Pepper #1, Revolver #3, and Rubber Soul #5.  For the rest of the old Top 500, I agreed with some of the order of rankings, and of course there were some genres and albums I knew nothing about.

The 2003 list was sometimes criticized for featuring “too many white guys”.  Of the Top 50 then, 24% of the albums were by black artists (blacks make up 13% of the population).  The real slight was women.  There were only 3 women in the Top 50 (women make up 51% of the population).  The new 2020 Top 50 has doubled the number of black artists to about 50%, but only 7 women are ranked (14%).  Okay, so using percentages will never work out.

What about common sense?  I love Pet Sounds, which I bought when it was released in 1966.  It’s well known that Brian Wilson was inspired to make Pet Sounds when he heard the quality of Rubber Soul.  In turn, The Beatles admired Pet Sounds and were inspired to get even more creative with Sgt. Pepper.  Brian had been working on his follow-up album, Smile, but when he heard Sgt. Pepper, he knew it had passed Pet Sounds, and exceeded what he thought he could do with Smile, so he backed away from music at that time.  The world had already lived with Sgt. Pepper and Pet Sounds for decades when they were ranked #1 & #2 in 2003/2012.  Now, we’re expected to believe that a mere 8 years later,  Pet Sounds is still #2, but Sgt. Pepper is only the 24th best album.  It makes no sense!

It’s impossible to understand how in the world an album previously at 312 could now magically be better than 302 other albums and be ranked 10th.  What they’re really saying is that the album by Lauryn Hill is better than Sgt. Pepper, Revolver, Rubber Soul, and better than all of the albums by Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, The Eagles, James Taylor, Carole King, Tom Petty, The Rolling Stones, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Crosby Stills Nash & Young, Bruce Springsteen, U2, Elton John, CCR, Billy Joel, R.E.M. and so many more!

There are other similar big jumps and big drops that defy logic.  Over half of the albums were moved by 50 places or more.  Of those, 90 albums moved over 200 places, and 22 of those moved over 300 places!  The list has no continuity and no credibility.  The shame is that this list will be referenced in articles, and it’s simply an inaccurate revision of history.

Here’s another example.  Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours was placed in the Top 10.  It may have been moved up 18 spots, because it was a way to get another two females there, but it deserves the ranking.  The Eagles’ Hotel California should have been right next to it, but it was dropped 81 places to 118th.  These two albums both came out in 1977.  Rumours edged out Hotel California for the Album Of The Year Grammy, but The Eagles’ album edged out Fleetwood Mac with the public.  It became the 3rd best-selling album of all time.  The point is, from an historical/quality perspective, these two albums should be ranked very close to each other.  Any list that puts them 111 places apart has failed history.  By the way, Pink Floyd’s Dark Side Of The Moon was only at #55.  That’s a Top 10 album.

Looking at the full list of 500 albums, it’s obvious no one could be intimately familiar with all of them.  Also, it’s hard to compare art that is so wide-ranging in styles.  There’s no real comparison between a 2015 Hip-Hop (Rap) album, and a 1967 Rock album.  Rolling Stone had artists submit lists of their choices.  Someone who’s a Rock expert or a Rock artist should not be ranking Hip-Hop, and vice versa.  Trying to find even one expert in all forms and decades of music is like looking for a unicorn.

Here’s a solution.  Rolling Stone could still call it the 500 Greatest Albums, but divide the 500 into multiple lists based on genres of music, or maybe by decades.  Then use appropriate music historians and experts to rank the categories.  They should do it soon, and then forget they ever did a 2020 list.

Epilogue:  After writing the article, I continued to research how Rolling Stone approached this list.  They wanted to downplay the opinions of the writers who originally selected which albums were best in 2003/2012.  It was felt they had too much reverence for Classic Rock.  That meant adding more black artists and moving them up the list (often by giant leaps).  To make room, there was a downward trend of classic (older) albums by white artists.  That’s why there was a net loss of 5 of those from the Top 10.  They did their best to move female artists into more prominent positions.  That’s why Joni Mitchell was moved from 30 to 3, and why Lauryn Hill was moved from 312 to 10.  It also explains why the female-led Fleetwood Mac moved up to 7, while the white male rock band Eagles (who have the #1 & #3 best-selling albums of all time) was dropped to 118.  It’s a shame they couldn’t have updated the list while still keeping some semblance of reason for the moves.

One of the people selected to submit a list for the project admitted he didn’t even try to actually chose the best albums.  He said he wanted to improve the rankings of black artists and women, and didn’t include any Beatles albums, because others would do that.  People trying strategies to manipulate the list makes it inaccurate.

Rolling Stone accomplished their goal of “inclusion”, and in their opinion “made it more reflective of today”.   So, basically they’re saying it’s not the 500 Greatest Albums Of All Time, but rather it’s 500 albums placed in an order more pleasing to today’s younger people.   Old Classic Rock albums are mostly important to old Classic Rock fans.  They’re a dying breed, and no longer Rolling Stone’s target audience.

Vinyl Album Sales Pass CD’s

It was 1986 when Compact Discs first outsold vinyl record albums.  Now, 34-years later, the sale of vinyl albums has passed the money spent on CD’s.

(Our son, Paul, has collected some classic albums recently.)

The Record Industry Association of America reports that during the first half of 2020, vinyl record sales were about $232-million, and sales of CD’s totaled about $130-million.

The vinyl album was developed in 1948, and soon became the standard of the industry.  Thirty-eight years later, 1986, CD’s passed vinyl in sales, and held that position for thirty-four years, until 2020.

Of course, the new figures just represent physical sales.  Digital downloads of music accounted for $351-million, although it’s declining fast.  The real power of music sales is now subscription streaming, such as Apple Music, Spotify, and Amazon Music.  Streaming accounts for 85% of all money spent on recorded music ($4.8-billion in first 6 months of 2020), and it’s growing fast.

(Today we just ask for a song or playlist.)

Even though overall physical sales are declining, Vinyl fans are enjoying the resurgence of their beloved records.  So what are they buying?  The biggest sellers are The Beatles, followed by other classic artists like Fleetwood Mac and Pink Floyd.  Every once in a while, a current artist like Billie Eilish or Taylor Swift will make a splash on vinyl.  Interestingly, Taylor Swift sold her latest album, Folklore, on Vinyl, CD, and Cassette.

(Listening to Crosby & Nash in 1972.)

So, physically owning a music collection is mostly a thing of the past, but at least a segment of music lovers are still “dropping the needle” on records of their favorite artists.

Roy Orbison…Only The Lonely

Roy Orbison almost gave away the song that started his successful career.

Roy Orbison was born in Texas in 1936.  He made his way to Sun Records in Memphis in the mid ‘50’s to join other Rockabilly singers like Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, and Carl Perkins.  Orbison saw very little success at that time (his recording of “Ooby Dooby” only made it to #59 in ‘56), but in 1958 he wrote a song about his wife, “Claudette”, and The Everly Brothers took it into the Top 30 as the flip side to “All I Have To Do Is Dream”.

So, when Roy wrote “Only The Lonely” (with Joe Melson), he offered it to The Everly Brothers and Elvis Presley.  They both turned it down, which was really fortunate, because the song kick-started Roy Orbison’s career.  Roy had moved to Monument Records, and began recording with Nashville musicians.  The magic was there, and “Only The Lonely” became Orbison’s first hit.  It went to #2 in 1960, sold over half-a-million copies in the U.S., and was an international success.

From 1960 to 1963, Roy had 15 Top 40 hits, including “Running Scared” (#1), “Crying” (#2), “Dream Baby” (#4), “In Dreams” (#7), “Mean Woman Blues” (#5), and “Blue Bayou” (#29).

In 1963, Roy Orbison went to England to co-headline a tour with some English bands.

(Roy Orbison with The Beatles and Gerry & The Pacemakers)

The Beatles hadn’t broken in the U.S. yet, but when Roy realized how popular the group was over there, he decided to let The Beatles close the shows.  However, his performances were so strong, he would get multiple encores, even though The Beatles would be on when he finished.  Roy became friends with all four of The Beatles.  His friendship with George would be especially important for him later.

That trip to England also provided Roy Orbison with his signature look.  He had accidentally left behind his regular glasses, so when he got off the airplane in London, he wore his prescription sunglasses.  The photographers took shots of him like that, and he decided to wear the sunglasses for performances in England, and then for his entire career.

The next year, 1964, would be the peak of popularity for Roy Orbison.  In April he hit #9 on the charts with “It’s Over” (#1 in England), and then in September, Roy was #1 all over the world with his signature hit “Oh, Pretty Woman”.

(My 1964 copy of “Oh, Pretty Woman”)

I was in high school back then, and bought Roy Orbison’s singles of “Crying”, “It’s Over”, and “Oh, Pretty Woman” (Nearly everyone just called the song “Pretty Woman”).  In my room, I loved singing along with the records.  I could hit the notes back then, but I knew I wasn’t sounding anything at all like that amazing voice coming through the speakers.

Interesting trivia:  There is a one word difference between the single and the album version of “Pretty Woman”.  The single says…”Come to me baby, be mine tonight.”, but the album version has…”Come with  me baby, be mine tonight.”  Why the difference?   My guess is that Monument Records (or maybe Roy) thought that changing the “with” to “to” would make it sound a little more innocent.  That way, no one could possibly read anything salacious into it.  (“Why does she have to go with him, and what does he mean by ‘be mine tonight’?”)  Remember, in 1963 some radio stations banned “Louie Louie”, because they thought it might have “dirty” lyrics.  Roy sang “to” when he performed the song live.

Professional musicians were awed by Orbison’s voice.  He got the nickname “The Big O”, because of his vocal power, and the almost operatic style of his songs.  He wrote efficient 3-minute stories that sometimes defied the verse-chorus-verse style of most songs.  Instead, his recordings often built to dramatic crescendos.  Elvis Presley called Roy Orbison “The greatest singer in the world”.  Bruce Springsteen said  that when he went into the studio to record “Born To Run”…“I wanted to sing like Roy Orbison.  Now, everybody knows that nobody sings like Roy Orbison.”

Orbison’s songwriting  showed emotions more openly than many other performers.  He wasn’t afraid to express loneliness (“Only The Lonely“), fear (“Running Scared”), or physical sadness (“Crying”), hardly the persona of some rock singers.

Roy Orbison seemed to have it made, but that whole British Invasion thing of 1964 knocked down all of the male vocalists (like Roy, Ricky, and even Elvis) to the lower part of the charts.  Although he continued to release albums (for MGM), his career languished for years.

(Roy with his wife Claudette)

There were also two major personal tragedies in the mid-sixties.  Roy lost his wife Claudette in 1966, when her motorcycle struck the side of a truck that had pulled out in front of her.  Then in 1968, while Roy was on tour in England, his home in Nashville burned, and two of his three sons died.

Roy later remarried, and he and his wife, Barbara, had two sons.

(Roy and Barbara Orbison)

The music side of things very slowly began to return Roy Orbison into the public consciousness.  In 1977, Linda Ronstadt released what would be the definitive version of Orbison’s “Blue Bayou”.  It went to #3 and sold over a million copies, just in the U.S.  Then in 1986, Director David Lynch featured Roy Orbison’s recording “In Dreams” in his movie Blue Velvet.  Although the way the song was used was kind of creepy, Roy was again getting public attention.

In 1987, Roy Orbison was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame by long-time admirer Bruce Springsteen.  Later that year, Roy began work on a new album with Producer Jeff Lynne.  Jeff was also producing albums for George Harrison and Tom Petty.  When George asked Roy, Tom, and Bob Dylan to help him with a track, it resulted in “Handle With Care” and formation of The Traveling Wilburys.

This “Super Group” fully returned Roy Orbison to the spotlight, and the songs showed off his strong voice.  His vocal soars in “Handle With Care” as he sings a section written specifically for him: ”I’m so tired of being lonely, I still have some love to give.  Won’t you show me that you really care?”  He also has an appropriate solo song, “Not Alone Anymore”.  He sounds great.

(Roy Orbison in 1987)

The album, Traveling Wilburys, Vol. 1 and “Handle With Care” put Roy back on the charts after nearly 20 years.  Then two months after the success of The Wilburys, Roy Orbison died of a heart attack.  It was December 6th, 1988, and Roy was just 52 years old.

The Jeff Lynne produced solo album, Mystery Girl, was released in January of 1989.   The album and the single “You Got It” (written by Roy, Tom Petty & Jeff Lynne), made the Top 10 on the Billboard charts.

Fortunately for his fans, Roy Orbison had also recorded a live concert with some A-list musicians, including Bruce Springsteen, Jackson Browne, Bonnie Raitt, J.D. Souther, Elvis Costello and many more.  This is not some “take turns singing Roy’s songs” album.  No, all of these stars are paying tribute to Roy by backing him.

Naturally, the concert starts with Roy’s first big hit, “Only The Lonely”.  The Black & White Night album/video has most of Roy Orbison’s best songs, and these versions are very good.  Some are even better than the original hits.  The only song that didn’t quite reach the impact of the original is “Oh, Pretty Woman”.  It’s still good, but they tried too hard to make it an “event” with extended guitar solos.

It was wonderful that Roy Orbison made the return to his rightful place as one of the best artists of the Rock era.  Based on his excellent passionate vocals on his last three albums (Wilburys, solo, and live) it’s obvious he still had “some love to give”.

Instrumentals Of The ‘60’s

The #1 most popular song from the 1960’s is “Hey Jude”.  I would never have guessed the second most popular song of the decade, but maybe you can.


(My two-disc set featuring classic instrumentals.)

My guess would have been another Rock song, but it was an Easy Listening instrumental from 1960, ”Theme From A Summer Place”.

“A Summer Place” was arranged and recorded by orchestra leader Percy Faith, and was from a popular movie of the same name.  After the instrumental was #1, the song was also released with lyrics…”There’s a summer place, where it may rain or storm, but I’m safe and warm…”  Adding lyrics to popular instrumentals was a common practice.

The ‘60’s was a huge decade for instrumental hits, and the CD collection Instrumental Gems of the ‘60s put together 40 of them.  (Click to enlarge and make clearer.)

If you lived through the sixties, you may recognize quite a few of the songs, although since there are no lyrics, it’s sometimes tough to remember which melody belongs to which title.  Despite the British Invasion re-energizing Rock & Roll in 1964, instrumentals didn’t fade away.  Another big #1 hit, and the 12th most popular song of the decade was from 1968…”Love Is Blue” by Paul Mauriat, an orchestra leader from France.

Some other notable songs from the above collection include:  Mason Williams’ virtuoso guitar work on “Classical Gas” (#2, 1968).  Jazz trumpeter Al Hirt’s “Java” (#4, 1963).  “Meditation” by guitar legend Charlie Byrd, is one of those melodies I have  trouble remembering from the title, but it’s a sublime listen.  A couple of songs were originally recorded for commercials…”Music To Watch Girl’s By” (#15, 1966) for Pepsi, and “No Matter What Shape (Your Stomach’s In) [#3, 1965] for Alka-Seltzer.  There are a couple TV themes, “Bonanza” and “Batman”.  And, a couple of major movie songs that are still used in films half-a-century later, the themes for “James Bond” and “Mission Impossible”.

Big sixties instrumentals not on the discs include “Stranger On The Shore” by Acker Bilk, “Peter Gun” and “Pink Panther Theme” by Henry Mancini, “Soulful Strut” by Young-Holt Unlimited, “Grazing In The Grass” by Hugh Masakela, and “Time Is Tight” by Booker T & The MG’s.

A true instrumental phenomenon of the ‘60’s was the unbelievable popularity of Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass.  Herb Alpert (who played trumpet from the age of eight) attended a bullfight in Mexico in the early sixties.  The sound of a mariachi band and the trumpets at the bullfight inspired his first hit, “The Lonely Bull” in 1962.  His real breakthrough came in 1965, with the above album containing “A Taste Of Honey” (#7 Pop, #1 AC).  Quickly following were “Zorba The Greek”, “Tijuana Taxi”, “What Now My Love”, and “Spanish Flea”, all Top 10 on the Adult Contemporary chart, and Top 40 on the Pop chart.

Herb Alpert’s albums were even bigger.  Whipped Cream sold over 6-million copies.  The title song was used on the TV show The Dating Game.  In 1966, Alpert set a chart record with five of his albums in the Top 20 at the same time!  It’s still the record.  Eventually, Herb Alpert had 14 platinum albums.  By the way, Alpert is an American-born son of Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe.  Our next amazingly successful instrumentalist is from Germany.

(A rare disc I found in the ‘90’s)

Bert Kaempfert was an orchestra leader, a composer, a multi-instrumentalist, arranger, and producer.  His first big American hit was “Wonderland By Night”, #1 in 1960.  The list of instrumental hits he wrote and recorded include: “Strangers In The Night”, “Danke Schoen”, “Afrikaan beat”, Bye Bye Blues”, “Spanish Eyes (Moon Over Naples)”, “L-O-V-E”, “Magic Trumpet”, and “Red Roses For A Blue Lady”.  Other composers added lyrics to many of his songs.

Here’s some trivia to help you win a bet at parties.  What was the first song written by The Beatles that was professionally produced & released…and…who produced it?  Answer:  The instrumental “Cry For A Shadow” by John Lennon and George Harrison, produced by Bert Kaempfert.  It was in 1961.  The Beatles were playing in Germany and backed Tony Sheridan on an album.  They got two tracks of their own, the other being “Ain’t She Sweet”.

(The front & back of my “Surf Rock” CD.)

The final major trend being covered here is Rock Guitar instrumentals.  While guitar songs like “Rebel Rouser” by Duane Eddy and “Rumble” by Link Wray led the way in 1958, it was the surf sound of the early ‘60’s that became the golden era of guitar instrumentals.

The above collection starts with what may be the best of the surf instrumentals, “Pipeline” (#4, 1963) by The Chantays.

The Surfaris’ “Wipe Out” (#2, 1963) was a garage band staple.  Other major tracks include “Miserlou”, “Baja”, and “Penetration”.

The Ventures are the best-selling instrumental band of all time, with over 100 million records sold.  It started for them in 1960 with “Walk Don’t Run” (#2) and “Perfidia” (#15).  They did more of a surf arrangement and hit #8 with “Walk Don’t Run ’64” (which I wore out on the jukebox at Flossie’s Cafe), and their final Top 40 hit was their theme from the TV show “Hawaii Five-O”, #4 in 1969.  But what really sold, were their albums.  The Ventures charted 38 LP’s!

Update:  Hey, I found my old very-used copy of “Walk Don’t Run ‘64”.  I think it’s the actual record that was in the jukebox, and I bought it for a quarter.  The guy would change out the records, and then leave a box of the old records at 25-cents each.

(My favorite Ventures album is “Ventures In Space”.)

The 1960’s contained so many great instrumentals, but it seems the songs are seldom highlighted in reviews of the decade.  Maybe if we could just match up the melodies with their titles…

Tom Petty…Wildflowers (Box Set)

This article has been updated with a full review.  Here’s the link:

https://ontherecords.net/2020/10/wildflowers-all-the-rest-review/

The long-awaited Wildflowers box set was released on October 16th, 2020.  Click the above link for the review.

Wildflowers & All The Rest completes Tom Petty’s desire to release his original vision of Wildflowers as a 25 song double album.  His plan to release it was stopped by his untimely death (at the age of 66) on October 2nd, 2017.  Now, Tom Petty’s daughters, Adria & Annakim, his wife Dana, and Heartbreakers Mike Campbell & Benmont Tench, have put together various sets of the 1994 recordings.

Tom Petty considered Wildflowers a personal peak.  It was a solo project that he undertook with producer Rick Rubin.

Tom said working on the album as a solo effort gave him more freedom to write whatever he wanted, without thinking about how the songs would work for the band.  Of course, when he started recording the album, he included Heartbreakers Mike Campbell, Benmont Tench, and Steve Ferrone among the numerous musicians.  Drummer Ferrone was actually invited to become a Heartbreaker, after his work on this album.

The basic 2 CD set includes the songs Tom originally planned for the album.  Had it been released as a double album in 1994, it probably would have had a different running order, with the songs more evenly divided between the two discs. The Deluxe version has 4 discs, and the Super Deluxe version has 5.  Here are the songs:

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

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)

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

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

 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’

For Tom Petty fans, the main parts of this project are the unreleased songs on Disc 2 (plus alternate versions of the She’s The One songs), and all 15 of Tom’s Home Recordings on Disc 3.  Tom was an excellent musician.  He played all of the instruments on these demos, using an 8-track studio recorder in his music room.  You can find three of those home recordings on YouTube…”You Don’t Know How It Feels”, “Wildflowers”, and “There Goes Angela”.  They’re all nicely-realized high-quality recordings.

Fans of vinyl will be happy that all of these will be available in multi-record sets.  If you have an extra half-a-grand lying around, you could get the limited “Ultra Deluxe Edition”.  The actual price is $499.98.  (Seriously, some marketing genius said “Let’s take all the package prices down 2-cents to make the prices seem lower.”)  Here are the various versions as shown on the Tom Petty website.  Images can be enlarged.

The pricing seems odd.  The 2 CD set is $10 per disc.  The extra two discs in the Deluxe version cost $15 extra per disc.  (It turns out the extra cost is for a booklet built into the CD holder.)  If you want the 5th disc, it will cost an extra $100 (and you get an 80-page book).  It’s a long way from when Tom Petty fought to keep his record company from charging one-dollar more for his albums.  Anyway, I ordered the 4 disc set for $50, and hopefully will be able to stream the 5th disc.

Even though my wife and I have an extensive music collection, Tom Petty earns an “unfair share” of our listening time.  We miss him, and will welcome having some previously unreleased recordings to enjoy.

Taylor Swift…Best Album, “Folklore”

It’s been an amazing journey for singer-songwriter Taylor Swift.  She was just 16 when her first album was released in 2006.  That self-titled album was Country, and a huge success.  Two years later, her Fearless album was an even bigger breakthrough with songs crossing over to the Pop charts.  Swift won four Grammys, including album of the year.  Her impressive string of successes and awards continued into 2019 with the albums Speak Now,  Red,  1989,  Reputation, and Lover.  That’s seven multi-platinum albums, with six-in-a-row debuting at #1 on Billboard’s album chart.

Over those 13 years, Taylor Swift became the most consistently successful Pop Star in the world, and had some of the highest-grossing tours.  Then in early 2020 the pandemic hit.  Swift and other artists were forced to cancel major tours, costing them millions of dollars.  What was Taylor Swift to do?

On July 23rd, Taylor surprised the world by announcing she had completed a new album in less than three months, and was releasing it the next day!

As surprising as the announcement was, the album itself was even more surprising.  Folklore was not a highly produced Pop album, rather it was a much more minimalistic recording with an Indie vibe.  Critics are calling it Taylor Swift’s best album.

You might also wonder why an old Classic Rock guy like me is even paying attention to music by Taylor Swift.  My wife and I only had four of Swift’s songs in our collection, but during this pandemic, we decided to watch a Taylor Swift concert from her  Reputation tour that was available on Netflix.

We were pretty well blown away.  Those adoring Taylor Swift fans got a huge production that took hundreds of people to pull off.  Swift could sing while doing group dance numbers, and then intimately sing by herself while playing acoustic guitar or piano.  It was obvious she is extremely talented, and gave the fans their money’s worth.  Then we watched a Netflix documentary on Taylor Swift, Miss Americana, that was also very impressive.

With any popular artist, there will always be people who react negatively to them.  So, there are some people who don’t like Taylor Swift.  I remember one Rolling Stone magazine reader survey in the 1970’s when Elton John topped both the “Favorite Artist” and “Least Favorite Artist” categories.

(Click or zoom to enlarge)

Having been convinced of Taylor Swift‘s musicianship and songwriting ability, I decided to get Folklore.  Swift is now 30 years old.  Most artists deliver their best work in the first 5 years of their popularity, and then trail off from there.  Taylor Swift has given fans her best album after 14 years of staggering success.  Folklore is her 7th straight album to debut at #1.  In just one week, it became the most popular album of 2020, with the biggest first week since her own Lover album came out less than a year earlier.

Billboard’s album ranking combines actual sales with streaming, but if you look at sales alone, Folklore sold more that week than the other top 50 albums combined!

Update:  Folklore spent 6 consecutive weeks at #1 on Billboard’s Top 200 album chart, and then came back for a 7th non-consecutive week at the top.  That’s the longest at #1 for an album in four years.  It also means Taylor Swift has had more weeks at the top of the album charts (47) than any other woman in history.

Simultaneously, Swift’s first single “Cardigan” debuted at #1 on the Hot 100.  All 16 of her album tracks also made the Hot 100.

Credit for the album’s success also goes to Aaron Dessner of the Indie Rock band The National.  Dessner co-wrote eleven of the songs, and assisted with production.  He started working with Taylor Swift at the end of April.  That’s when he sent her several instrumental tracks as song starters.  He says a few hours later, about 3 A.M., Swift sent back the completed song “Cardigan”.  They spent almost three months working remotely back-and-forth to finish the project.

Another Indie favorite, Justin Vernon of the band Bon Iver, contributed vocals and songwriting to the track “Exile”.

On Folklore, Taylor Swift sings many of the songs in third-person as a storyteller, rather than the autobiographical style she has often used.  For example, three songs introduce characters that form a love triangle.  “Betty” tells the story from the perspective of 17-year-old James.  He lost Betty by impulsively cheating on her with another girl.  “Cardigan” tells the same story from the perspective of a grown up Betty looking back on her early lost love.  Usually the “other woman” is ignored, but here she gets her own song, “August”, as she relates the feelings she experienced in the love triangle.  The album is filled with quality songs like these with good melodies and very clever and insightful lyrics.  If you take the time to get to know the album’s songs, you’ll be rewarded.

Taylor Swift is named after James Taylor, and was thrilled when she performed with him.  She says her biggest musical idol is Paul McCartney.  Plus, she cites Kris Kristofferson for his excellent lyrics, and expresses admiration for the careers of Bruce Springsteen and Emmylou Harris.

With Folklore and her career, Taylor Swift reflects many of her influences, but in her own unique ways.

Maybe the pandemic was a great excuse for Swift to do an album with much less production.  By getting away from the pressure of putting out another album with big arena-ready Pop songs, she has freed herself to do Indie/Alternative or whatever style works for the “adult” portion of her career.  It may or may not have been a calculated move, but it was brilliant.

Extra:  Taylor Swift returned to her Country roots at the ACM awards in Nashville in September, 2020.

She had an excellent acoustic performance of “Betty”, a Top 10 hit on the Country chart.

Tom Petty & George Harrison

Conversations With Tom Petty…what a great read!


Author Paul Zollo did extensive interviews with Tom Petty, including discussing almost all of his songs, and the results are fascinating.  I strongly recommend the recently updated book to all Tom Petty fans.  There is so much revealed, and it was particularly interesting to hear about Tom’s relationship with George Harrison.

Tom said he originally saw George Harrison and Ringo Starr in 1974, when they visited Leon Russell’s studio.  It was right after Tom and his band began practicing there for their first album.  It wasn’t until the next decade, when Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers were in England with Bob Dylan in 1987, that Tom actually met George Harrison.

This was a really big deal for Tom.  He said seeing The Beatles during their first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1964 was when he wanted to form a band.  But by the time he actually met George Harrison, his own experience with fans informed him to not act like one with George.

Here’s an excerpt from the book, with Tom describing how it was to meet George Harrison:

“The Hindus think that when you meet someone and you feel really close to them immediately, that maybe you knew them in a past life.  And that was how it was with George.  We instantly became very close.  And I remember him saying to me, ‘You know I’m not going to let you out of my life now’.  We really got along well.  And shared a sense of humor.  And we became very close friends.”

Petty said The Heartbreakers and Bob Dylan played several more nights in London.  After one of the shows, they hung out with George, Ringo, former Beatles publicist Derek Taylor, and their wives.  It was a day later, on Tom Petty’s birthday (October 20th), that George gave Tom a cassette with his just completed album, Cloud Nine, and asked him to “Let me know if you like it.”

The album was produced by The Electric Light Orchestra’s Jeff Lynne, and of course Tom loved it.  When it was released later in 1987 (November), it went Platinum and had two hit singles, “Got My Mind Set On You” (#1 on the Hot 100) and “When We Was Fab” (#2 on the Rock chart).

Tom Petty’s meeting with George Harrison also led him to a friendship with Jeff Lynne.  In fact, Tom happened to  spot Jeff while they were both driving in L.A. traffic one day.  As it turns out, Jeff Lynne had moved into a house not far from where Tom lived.  The two got together and eventually Jeff Lynne produced Tom’s most successful album, Full Moon Fever.  Jeff even co-wrote “Free Fallin’”, “I Won’t Back Down”, and “Runnin’ Down A Dream”.

Shortly after that (still in 1987), there was another chance meeting.  This time, Tom and his daughter, Adria, we’re out Christmas shopping and decided to stop at a restaurant.  After they we’re seated, the waiter told Tom that someone in the restaurant had asked to see him.  Tom and Adria were escorted to a room and found George Harrison and Jeff Lynne.  George had just been asking Jeff for Tom’s number, because he wanted to visit with him.  George followed Tom to his house.  They hung out all afternoon, laughing and playing guitars.

The next day was Christmas Eve, and George returned with his wife Olivia and son Dhani.  After that, the two families made it a tradition to spend Christmas together whenever possible.

All of these friendships…Tom Petty, George Harrison, Bob Dylan, and Jeff Lynne led to The Traveling Wilburys in 1988.

Of course Roy Orbison was added because Jeff Lynne was producing an album for him at that time, and also because all of them were Roy Orbison fans.  Tom and Jeff even wrote two songs with Roy…”You Got It” and “California Blue”…the two best songs on Roy’s album.

Tom Petty says George Harrison’s reputation as “The Quiet Beatle” wasn’t how he really was.  Petty said…”He was so funny.  It’s hard to explain.  He was the funniest guy I ever met.”

“Such a keen sense of humor, a lot of fun!  He was a wise person, and really wanted to know the meaning of it all, but he was light-hearted.”

That’s just an extremely small sample of Paul Zollo’s book.  It’s filled with Tom’s very forthcoming comments.  The above picture of Tom was taken by the author as Tom exited the stage at his last concert, September 25th, 2017…exactly one week before he died.

We miss both Tom Petty and George Harrison, two great friends who enriched our lives with timeless music.