Monday, July 5, 2021

Tom Petty - Wildflowers (Double Album)


 Tom Petty – Wildflowers
(soniclovenoize double album reconstruction)

Disc 1:
1.  You Don’t Know How It Feels
2.  You Wreck Me
3.  To Find a Friend
4.  California
5.  Don’t Fade On Me
6.  Honey Bee
7.  Wildflowers
8.  Leave Virginia Alone
9.  Only a Broken Heart
10.  Hard On Me
11.  Thirteen Days
12.  Cabin Down Below
13.  Hung Up and Overdue

Disc 2:
1.  A Higher Place
2.  House in the Woods
3.  Time to Move On
4.  Crawling Back To You
5.  Something Could Happen
6.  Climb That Hill
7.  It’s Good To Be King
8.  Lonesome Dave
9.  Confusion Wheel
10.  Hope You Never
11.  Wake Up Time
12.  Girl on LSD

Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers – Ghosts On The Highway (1993 album reimagining)
1.  Mary Jane’s Last Dance
2.  You Saw Me Comin’
3.  Honey Bee
4.  Something Could Happen
5.  Thirteen Days
6.  Lonesome Dave
7.  Something in the Air
8.  House in the Woods
9.  Crawling Back To You
10.  Cabin Down Below
11.  Wake Up Time
12.  Come On Down To My House

Happy Fourth of July!  Even though that really doesn’t apply to my international followers, I thought I would regardless give everyone a true American treasure: my reconstruction of the double-album configuration of Tom Petty’s seminal 1994 album Wildflowers.  Originally conceived as a double-disc by Petty and producer Rick Rubin, the pair trimmed down the set into a single-disc, in order to keep the compact disc at a reasonable price for fans.  Songs from the remaining half of the album have trickled out on various releases throughout the last 25 years, notably on the She’s The One Soundtrack and the Wildflowers & All The Rest box set.  This reconstruction attempts to gather all 25 songs originally intended to make the cut onto it’s double-album configuration, organized in a logical and musically cohesive manner as it could have been originally released in 1994.  As a bonus, I have also included a reimagining of what a true Heartbreakers version of the album could have been, as it existed in 1993 before drummer Stan Lynch left the band.  

After nearly twenty years and an unfathomable slew of hits, Tom Petty was ready to move on to the next phase of his musical career.  A pair of albums produced by his buddy Jeff Lynne—Petty’s 1989 solo album Full Moon Fever and 1991’s Into The Great Wide Open with The Heartbreakers—produced a string of hits that ensured his longevity into the 1990s.  But his desire for a change mapped out a new road for the singer/songwriter, as Petty desired a more organic, live-sounding recording as compared to the sonically perfectionistic "Jeff Lynne sound."  Legendary Def Jam producer Rick Rubin was drafted to capture the rawness of the band, who immediately hit it off with Petty despite a nearly ten-year age difference and a completely different musical background.   Additionally, Petty wanted this new project to be his second solo album, desiring the freedom to work with different musicians and from the established sound of The Heartbreakers.  It would also be his first at Warner Brothers Records, a deal he had signed while still owing MCA two more records.   

After recording some pre-production demos with The Heartbreakers in August 1992 at guitarist Mike Campbell’s home studio, Petty, Rubin and Campbell gathered into Sound City studios that fall as a production team, beginning work on the new untitled project.  Moving on to a full band sound, the trio auditioned a number of session drummers, trying to find the percussionist with the correct ‘feel’.  The trio eventually settled on Steve Ferrone, formerly the drummer for Average White Band, Chaka Khan, Eric Clapton and Duran Duran.  Throughout December 1992 and spread into Spring of 1993, a number of songs were recorded: “Time To Move On”, “It’s Good To be King”, “Leave Virginia Alone”, “House in the Woods”, “Only a Broken Heart”, “A Higher Place” and “Hard On Me”.  In June, the trio relocated to Ocean Way to record a few songs with Petty’s old pal, Ringo Starr: “Hard To Find a Friend”, “Hung Up and Overdue” and “Wildflowers” -- the later of which was adopted as the flagship song for the project, winning over "It's Time To Move On."  Everyone agreed the songs were of unusually high quality, many that seemed to address Petty’s failing marriage.  Petty specifically believed he was channeling something magic, and later admitted he could not replicate this later in his career.   

A kink in the chain suddenly emerged, as MCA still needed a final Heartbreakers album to complete their contract with the label.  Reaching out to abandoned drummer Stan Lynch, the quintet reassembled at Ocean Way in July 1993 to record a few songs to round off a Greatest Hits compilation, to round off the contract.  Not wanting to sacrifice any of his strong songs for the Wildflowers project, Petty wrote a new chorus for an unfinished Full Moon Fever outtake, thus creating one if his signature songs: “Mary Jane’s Last Dance”.  But this session was not simply a one-and-done scenario, as over two and a half hours of material was recorded with The Heartbreakers: Petty originals such as “Lonesome Dave” and “Something Could Happen”; improvisations like “105 Degrees” and “Come On Down To My House”; a number of takes of his newer Wildflowers songs like “Crawling Back To You”, “Cabin Down Below” and “Honey Bee”; and a large number of cover songs, such as: Thunderclap Newman’s “Something in the Air”, JJ Cale’s “Thirteen Days”, Elvis Presley’s “Wooden Heart” and “Baby Let’s Play House” and the ubiquitous “Blue Moon of Kentucky”.  The productivity was bittersweet, as Lynch left the session without really saying goodbye, their musical differences taking the better of both.  Greatest Hits was eventually released in November 1993, with “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” reaching the Top 20 on the Billboard charts.  

Petty, Rubin and Campbell rejoined Ferrone at Sound City for more work on the Wildflowers project, as Petty seemed to have an endless parade of new compositions that rivaled his previous work.  The trio realized this was a rare intersection of both quantity and quality, so they pushed the project to be a tentative double album.  That fall and into Spring 1994, a second disc’s worth of top-tier material was recorded: “Climb That Hill”, “Honey Bee”, “Cabin Down Below”, “Crawling Back To You”, “You Don’t Know How It Feels”, “Girl on LSD”, “Don’t Fade On Me”, “Hope You Never”, “Confusion Wheel”, “Wake Up Time”, “You Wreck Me” and “California”.   By the summer of 1994, a total of twenty-five songs were compiled as a rough master for the final album and played for WB Records head Lenny Waronker; even though admitting the quality was high throughout the entire double-album, the material was almost too overwhelming and Waronker suggested to trim the album down to a single disc.  

While Petty and Rubin had their sights on the artistic statement of a career-defining double-album, Petty regardless acquiesced as he was personally concerned about the price of a 2CD album for the average fan.  After several months of reworking the 25-song tracklist, the pair had dropped ten songs to make a 15-track single disc. After over two years of production, Wildflowers was released in November 1994 to massive critical and commercial success, spawning a number of hits including “You Don’t Know How It Feels”, “You Wreck Me” and “It’s Good To Be King”.  Throughout Petty’s later career, he and the rest of The Heartbreakers maintained Wildflowers was their best work.  

But Petty never forgot the ten songs dropped from Wildflowers and following it’s release, planned to use them as the core of a follow-up album.  Simultaneously, director Edward Burns approached Petty to record the soundtrack to his film She’s The One.  The two projects somehow merged into one, and four of the Wildflowers outtakes were remixed or rerecorded (“Climb That Hill”, “California”, “Hope You Never” and “Hung Up and Overdue”) along with several new compositions and covers.  The resultant soundtrack album released in August 1996, seemed strangely hodge-podge—because it was!—and failed to live up to Wildflowers’ legacy.  Aside from She’s The One, other Wildflowers cast-offs emerged in the 90s: “Girl on LSD” was released as a b-side to “You Don’t Know How It Feels” and “Leave Virginia Alone” was given to Rod Stewart, who recorded a version for his 1995 album A Spanner In The Works.  But the remaining four unheard songs were a complete mystery to Tom Petty fans, and there was endless speculation of what the original 25-track Wildflowers sounded like... and if they’d ever be able to hear it! 

Luckily, Tom Petty wanted his fans to hear the remaining songs, albeit in a proper context.  While diving through his massive vaults in 2014, Petty rediscovered the Wildflowers outtakes, and prepared a follow-up disc meant as a supplement to the original album.  Petty was treading carefully between not wanting this new disc as simply a bonus disc of outtakes, and releasing it anachronistically as it’s own album.  Additionally, the collection, which he called Wildflowers II, was not simply the specific ten songs scrapped from the 25-track Wildflowers album; it was a wholly new configuration of Wildflowers outtakes (although it did contain seven of the original ten), it’s own entity.  Not knowing exactly how to present Wildflowers II to the public, Petty put the project on the back-burner to focus on touring to support his latest album, Hypnotic Eye.  Unfortunately, Petty was never able to see the Wildflowers II album released, as he passed away in October 2017.  

The dream did not die with Petty, though.  The posthumous 2018 box set An American Treasure featured the Wildflowers outtake “Lonesome Dave.”  Finally, Wildflowers II was released in 2020 as the second disc of Wildflowers & All The Rest, which also included a disc of Tom’s demos for the album and a fourth disc of even more outtakes, Finding Wildflowers.  The final, twenty-fifth of the original Wildflowers songs, “Thirteen Days”, was released on Angel Dream in 2021, a modern reimaginging of the She’s The One soundtrack.  With all twenty-five of the original songs meant to be on the double-album version of Wildflowers, we can now reassemble what Petty & Rubin originally intended in 1994...  Or can we?

While we know which particular twenty-five songs were to be on the Wildflowers double-album (thanks to surviving songlists), no one knows the actual track order as no records or notes were ever located.  Petty’s daughter Adria recalled listening to a long-lost gold CD-R of the rough master throughout her childhood, but could only specifically remember that “Girl on LSD” was tagged onto the end.   Because of this, we have no possible way to know how Petty, an artist who took extensive care in sequencing his albums, would have sequenced it.  Thus, this construction of the twenty-five songs will be my own invention, using my own musical instincts and choices.   

General methodology would to be find similar-sounding “sister songs” and evenly distribute them onto different discs (mid-tempo singles like “You Don’t Know How It Feels” and “It’s Good To Be King”; up-tempo singles like “You Wreck Me” and “A Higher Place”; hard rockers like “Honey Bee” and “Climb That Hill”; retro rockers like “Cabin Down Below” and “Lonesome Dave”; epics like “Hung Up and Overdue” and "Wake Up Time"; somber acoustic ballads like “Don’t Fade On Me” and “Confusion Wheel”, etc).  While I often sequenced contrasting songs next to each-other, I also put care into creating a rough narrative with the songs that follows the destruction of Petty’s marriage on Disc One and both the hopeful possibility of reconciliation and subsequent acceptance of it’s demise on Disc Two.  Interestingly enough, I chose the heretical move off the bat, moving “Wildflowers” to the middle of Disc One rather than as an opening track; I felt that “You Don’t Know How It Feels” functioned as a better opener, with Petty literally addressing the listener, through your sound system, that the following double-album is about love and loss.  Appropriately, Disc One ends with “Hung Up and Overdue” and Disc Two ends with “Wake Up Time”, followed by “Girl on LSD” after ten seconds of silence, as Petty had sequenced it.  

As a bonus, I have created a reimagined album I call Ghosts On The Highway, which presumes that The Heartbreakers recorded and released a full album of new material instead of the Greatest Hits album.  Using only the August 1992 and July 1993 sessions with Stan Lynch, it is effectively The Heartbreakers version of Wildflowers.  That disc opens obviously with “Mary Jane’s Last Dance”, taken from The Best of Everything, followed by the haunting “You Saw Me Comin’” and the amazing Heartbreakers take of “Honey Bee” from Finding Wildflowers.  Even though there was some overlap from the reconstruction proper, this album didn’t seem to be complete without “Something Could Happen” from All The Rest, “Thirteen Days” from Angel Dream and “Lonesome Dave” from An American Treasure.  “Something in The Air” begins side B, remastered from Greatest Hits to match the rest of the songs.  “House in the Woods”, “Crawling Back To You”, “Cabin Down Below” and “Wake Up Time” all follow from Finding Wildflowers, with the album concluding with a blast of punk rock energy from “Come On Down To My House” from Nobody’s Children.  

Sources Used:
An American Treasure (2018)
Angel Dream (2021)
The Best of Everything (2019)
Finding Wildflowers (2021)
Greatest Hits (1993)
Nobody’s Children (2015)
Wildflowers & All The Rest (2020)

flac --> wav --> editing in SONAR Pro and Goldwave --> flac encoding via TLH lv8
* md5 files, track notes and artwork included