Review: Tom Petty, ‘Finding Wildflowers’ – For “Completists” Only

unnamed_320

What a fiasco this Wildflowers – All The Rest rollout turned out to be. The blame falls squarely on his estate, namely his daughter Adria and his 2nd wife Dana who will essentially be known as Greed Heads from now on. 

Long before Petty passed away he was saying in interviews that he wanted to revisit his 1994 masterpiece Wildflowers. He had recorded enough material for a double-album but legendary Warner Bros. music man Lenny Waronker told him he thought it was too long and should be pared down to a single disc. It’s always the record company guys who ruin things. Petty wanted to go back and release the album in that original double-LP format.   Sadly, Petty died before the project was completed. Then his daughter got a lawyer to challenge his 2nd wife’s control and ownership of the estate. We all waited while the lawsuit played out to hear what was in the vaults especially around Wildflowers. Naturally that took years. 

Finally last year we got Wildflowers – All The Rest. I was delighted and popped for the Deluxe Edition that was four CDs long. I thought that had everything I could possibly want included. Well, everything but “Lonesome Dave” an outtake that was released already on American Treasure. I only later found out there was a 5 CD Super Deluxe edition that was $100 more. I’m not sure I would have sprung for that but it would have been nice to know about. There were several songs that were omitted that I felt should have been on All The Rest, which was essentially disc 2 of the double-LP version of Wildflowers that Petty had spoken about. I was rather vocal about the studio version of “Girl On L.S.D.” being omitted from All The Rest. But the folks who run the estate – his daughter and his 2nd wife – chose to hold that song and several others back and put them on the fifth disc, entitled Finding Wildflowers. Charging an extra $100 for a disc of early versions of songs, listed as an “alternative versions” on the album, seems to run counter to Petty’s lifelong commitment to his fans. He was the artist, when the record company wanted to increase the price of Hard Promises from the prevailing $8.98 a dollar more to $9.89, who threatened to name the album “Eight-Ninety-Eight.” Petty never wanted to gouge his fans. 

There were a lot of fans who did lay out the cash for the somewhat exclusive Super Deluxe. Then the Petty camp announced that the fifth disc, Finding Wildflowers was going to be released stand alone, for $20 bucks. While I felt shafted because I hadn’t been made aware of the fifth disc version until after it was released, I’ve now come to the realization that I’d be really, really pissed if I paid an extra $100 only to see that “exclusive” fifth disc released for $20. As it turns out, it worked for the best for me. But if on-line music chat rooms are to be believed Petty’s estate has pissed off a lot of his die-hard fans. File this one under “How to fuck up an artist’s legacy.” 

But enough about that. Let’s move on to the actual music on Finding Wildflowers. I have to admit that this disc, besides a handful of songs left off of All The Rest, is really for completist only. Once, a friend of mine was at the house having a night cap and I showed him the then-new Robert Plant boxset Nine Lives which I’d recently picked up. Despite previously owning all of the albums contained, I’d purchased the box in order to get all those tasty bonus tracks. My friend looked up at me incredulously and said, “Man, you’re quite an audiophile.” Actually what he meant to say was that I was a completist. I have an obsessive need to own an artist’s output in totality. Audiophiles have to have the absolute best sounding music – and I probably suffer from that malady as well – but for purposes of this post, I am a completist. Naturally, I had to have Finding Wildflowers. I’m not sure most people need this.  

The album is not a reimagining of Wildflowers containing early (or “alternative”) versions of every song in the same running order. Finding Wildflowers omits several songs from the original LP including “You Don’t Know How It Feels,” and “Time To Move On” to name a few. The early versions of songs that are on the album are close proximities to what ended up on the album. I didn’t hear too much that was revelatory. The band tightened the material up quite a bit on the released record. There’ll be a stray piano fill or a little sidebar jam on some of the tracks. It’s all fascinating if you’re into learning about an artist’s creative process, which I totally am but not everyone is. It shows you how they got from A to B.

In terms of stuff that I feel is exceptional, I’ve got to star with the outtake “You Saw Me Coming.” This is the absolute best thing on here. I’ve been listening to it since it was released as a teaser for the album. I heard somewhere that it was recorded long before the Wildflowers sessions… I think Stan Lynch is even on drums and he wasn’t on the Wildflowers album. The aforementioned “Girl On L.S.D.” is finally here in the studio version – although it sounds like it might be remixed slightly differently than the original B-side release. I know that it’s practically a novelty song, but I still love it. There is a studio version of “Drivin’ Down to Georgia” that I’d only heard live on the Live Anthology boxset. I dig the studio version but the Rock Chick felt it was too speeded up. There are acoustic driven version of “Cabin Down Below” and “You Wreck Me” that I really loved… but let’s face it the released version of “You Wreck Me” is not only definitive it’s one of the greatest songs Petty ever did. The acoustic “Cabin” is actually quite good and another track that everyone should check out. 

At the end of the day you’ve got 3 previously unreleased tracks: “You Saw Me Coming,” “Girl On LSD,” and “Drivin’ Down To Georgia” and two great alternative versions of previously released tracks: “Cabin Down Below (Acoustic Version)” and “You Wreck Me (Alternative Version)” that I feel are worth checking out here. Leave the rest to the completists. If this one disappoints you, you can always look forward to Petty’s upcoming Angel Dream, which is a reworking of the She’s The One soundtrack. It too will have a few unreleased songs, new album artwork and a different running order than the original…If you missed that soundtrack album – and many did – a lot of it grew out of the Wildflowers sessions and will be well worth looking into…

Cheers! 

Tom Petty: New Single The Sublime “You Saw Me Coming” From The “Upcoming” ‘Finding Wildflowers’

unnamed_320

As long time readers of B&V know, I am a huge fan of Tom Petty and his Heartbreakers. I’m not sure any of his true fans are really over his sudden, tragic passing (RIP Tom Petty, 1950 – 2017, A Devastating Loss: The Composer of the Soundtrack to My Life Is Gone). Heaven knows, I’m not over it. And, as many of you know, all of us down here at B&V were anxiously awaiting for the Petty camp, his daughter and the band, to release the expanded version of Wildflowers, (Tom Petty: ‘Wildflowers & All The Rest – Deluxe Edition (4 CDs)’ – A Petty Masterpiece Lovingly Revisited). The box set, for a time anyway, became my “White Whale” as it seemed like I’d never get my hands on it…

As early as its November 1994 release, Petty had made comments in the press that he had originally intended Wildflowers to be a double album. His first marriage was crumbling and there had been conflict between Petty and some of the members of the band (notably drummer Stan Lynch but also bassist Howie Epstein) over Petty’s decision to “go solo” in recording Full Moon Fever. All of that turmoil led to a creative tsunami for Petty. He holed up in a studio with producer Rick Rubin and guitarist Mike Campbell with Benmont Tench close by and recorded what could arguably be called his greatest album. From quiet acoustic tracks like the title track to explosive rockers like “You Wreck Me” it covers the Petty waterfront. It is probably my favorite Petty album in a career chock full of great albums.

As the Heartbreakers neared their 40th anniversary, Petty began to talk more and more about how he wanted to revisit and release all the material from Wildflowers in its original double-LP configuration. I heard an interview during the 40th anniversary tour, which I was lucky enough to see (Concert Review: Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, Kansas City, 6/2/2017), and he mentioned it even then. I could feel it, the expanded Wildflowers was getting close to becoming a reality! At the time the only track I had from those sessions, outside the original LP, was a bootleg version of “Girl On L.S.D.” It’s a novelty song, much like “Boy Named Sue,” but it always makes me smile. It’s lighthearted and funny. I wanted an official copy of that and I wanted whatever other brilliant songs he’d left in the can… and then, sadly Tom left us.

As seems now typical with rock stars, I don’t think he had his estate properly buttoned up. After his first marriage ended he remarried… the second wife thing often causes conflict on these music estates. His daughter got into the fray as well and thus the box set for Wildflowers was again pushed out… so close, so out of reach. Finally, in 2019, all of the legal issues were settled. Petty’s daughter Adria was at the helm of his catalog and along with a great box set, American Treasure (LP Review: Tom Petty, ‘An American Treasure’ – A Different Path Through a Brilliant Career) it appeared Wildflowers – All The Rest was set to finally see the light of day. Singles began to trickle out and I was delighted. I placed my order for the big 4-CD package and sat waiting by the mailbox staring at the postman like he was bringing me a birthday card from my grandmother, which was usually stuffed with currency. The due date for my box came and went and nothing… It turns out the US Postal Service delivered my box to the wrong address and the scoundrels who got it, kept it. I can’t begrudge them too much, it’s rock n roll. The second order came in scratched… completely unplayable. I should have gone with vinyl but for some reason I wanted this on CD… maybe because I’d bought the original on CD…

Eventually, I finally got a workable copy of the album and really loved it. I was surprised that the All The Rest disc was a mere 10 songs. When I realized the studio version of “Girl On L.S.D.” was not on the album I was distraught all over again. There was a fine live version where Petty chuckles as he introduces the song, but it wasn’t that studio version I was hoping for. There were a couple of other tracks I was familiar with, notably “Drivin’ Down To Georgia,” that were also missing. It was then that I found out that there was a 5-CD version of All The Rest. Despondent, I couldn’t help but think, “Fuck, I can’t win for losing here.” The 5-CD thing was an extra $100 and I couldn’t help but think, Tom Petty who once threatened to name an album ‘$8.98’ when his record company threatened to increase the LP price a dollar to $9.98 would not have stood for this douche fuckery. I had heard he’d wanted to make the bonus material available for purchase without having to re-buy the original, but that might just be rumor. Regardless, in the ‘Super Deluxe,’ 5-CD version of All The Rest the fifth disc, entitled Finding Wildflowers had 16 additional songs on it. And yes, for those of you keeping score, “Girl On L.S.D.” is on the fifth disc. So is “Drivin’ Down To Georgia” among others. I was so close, and yet I’d purchased the wrong version. I put the music in and let it soothe my rattled nerves over the experience. I really did love the disc of live tracks from All The Rest so I just turned that up loud.

This week, I’m slowly coming out of my Black Crowes (Review: The Black Crowes, ‘Shake Your Money Maker – 30th Anniversary’ – Revisiting Their Classic Debut) and Neil Young (Review: Neil Young, ‘Archives Vol. 2 (1972 – 1976)’ – An Epic Deep Dive Into The Ditch Trilogy And Beyond) immersive, addictive fog and discovered that the Petty camp has relented and is releasing the fifth disc as an album in its own right, Finding Wildflowers. It seemed at first to me to be a cash grab. But if its only $20 instead of the additional $100 the 5-CD version of All The Rest would have cost me, I figured, why argue with this? As part of this last bit of Wildflowers they’ve released a new song “You Saw Me Coming” and holy crap, after about 20 listens this afternoon, I felt compelled to write about this song immediately. It’s amazing.

I ran down and played this song for the Rock Chick and she looked over at me and said, “This song is amazing… how did they leave it off the original album?” I married well above my station folks, a truly brilliant woman. This song has an almost ethereal quality to it. The drums/bass drive the song forward. It’s not hard rocking, it’s not mellow… its just intense. There’s a guitar figure that Mike Campbell plays through out the song that bores into your ear and seemingly into your soul. “You saw me coming… then you watched me go…” Ben Tench’s piano insistently plays throughout the track. It’s a classic “good riddance” track. If you like Petty or you dug Wildflowers but did’t jump in on the box set, I urge you to check this track out. It comes with a beautiful video of landscapes – desert scenes, ocean scenes etc – but no images of Petty or the band. I’ll leave it here so you can take it in and hear the track:

It’s unclear to me why the label “alternative version” is slapped on each of the tracks on Finding Wildflowers as there are a handful of tracks that have never been released, but hey, who am I to quibble. The album comes out in early April but I hope you spend your beautiful early spring day with this tune cranked up.

Cheers!