Editor’s Note: Never have I struggled so hard to acquire music. I ordered the 4 CD version of All The Rest only to later discover there was a 5 CD version. It was an extra $100 so I probably would have stuck with the 4 CD version but more on that later. This box set came out on October 16th but mine wasn’t scheduled to ship until 10/20. It was delivered to the wrong house and never recovered. The second, replacement set arrived scratched. Finally, on the third try I finally got my copy… only last Friday. Hence it took me a while to live with this music long enough to write about it. I know this all sounds like “First World Problems,” but it was frustrating, I’ve got nothing else to do. Thank you for your patience.
I remember hearing an interview of Tom Petty some years back and he was discussing his and the Heartbreakers’ career. I’m paraphrasing here, but he said that the Heartbreakers had always been so consistently good nobody noticed when they were really great. I would argue with Tom, were I still able, that the Heartbreakers were more than consistently good, I think they were consistently great. There really aren’t any bad Tom Petty records. Some might argue that Southern Accents was a bit of a mess, but I like all the different directions producer Dave Stewart (the Eurythmics) took the band. I’d also suggest that when they were great, they were exceptional and everybody took notice. I would say over a great career that Petty recorded three stone cold masterpieces: Damn The Torpedoes, Full Moon Fever and finally, Wildflowers. Don’t get me wrong, there were other really great LPs, like Hard Promises, or Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, just to name a few. If you’re uncomfortable with the moniker “masterpiece” then perhaps you’d agree with me that those three albums mentioned above are perhaps his most beloved albums.
Wildflowers was Petty’s second “solo” album, his first being Full Moon Fever in 1989. While Petty has albums he described as solo albums, Mike Campbell (guitar) and Benmont Tench (keyboards) of the Heartbreakers were both involved in his solo efforts. Back in 84/85 Petty was recording what he wanted to be his “great southern album,” Southern Accents, and he punched a wall. Sadly, he hit a stud and broke his hand. Never punch an inanimate object, folks, there’s no upside. There was some question of whether he’d play guitar again. While he was convalescing, Mike Campbell wrote and recorded “Boys of Summer” with Don Henley. Henley’s album Building the Perfect Beast did a lot better than Southern Accents and I think Petty began to realize how valuable a collaborator Campbell was. The Heartbreakers then ended up backing up Bob Dylan on a tour – which I think came out of a chance meeting at a Farm Aid – and during that tour they managed to record the Stonesy, Exile On Main Street style LP, Let Me Up I’ve Had Enough. Petty always said that backing Dylan on that tour – which I saw at Sandstone Amphitheater…where Dylan dedicated a track to all the men serving sentences at Leavenworth prison up the road – taught him how to be a member of a band and not “the leader.”
During this whole Southern Accents… backing Dylan… Let Me Up I’ve Had Enough period Petty started to really come into conflict with Heartbreakers’ drummer Stan Lynch. Stan was always pushing the band and had rather narrow ideas of how they should sound. Weary of the struggle, Petty huddled up with producer Jeff Lynne and Mike Campbell and recorded Full Moon Fever with a more relaxed, laid back approach. The atmosphere was looser without Lynch and Petty responded with a great album. Howie Epstein came in to sing harmony vocals on a song, he was also pissed about the solo album thing, and complained that he didn’t like the new material. The song he was going to sing on was “Free Fallin’.” Sorry Howie, not buying it. Lynch was the only Heartbreaker who didn’t play on Full Moon Fever and I don’t think he and Petty’s relationship ever recovered. Petty enlisted Jeff Lynne again to produce the follow-up, Into the Great Wide Open, which was a full Heartbreakers album but it wasn’t as successful and at that point the writing was probably on the wall.
As a follow-up to Great Wide Open Petty announced he was going to do another solo album, this time produced by uber producer Rick Rubin. He said he wanted to do a solo album to “escape the confines” or limitations of a 5-piece band. Of course, it ended up being basically a 5-piece band recording it… so you reach your own conclusion. In the middle of recording the album that would become Wildflowers Rubin produced two new tracks for Petty & the Heartbreakers’ Greatest Hits compilation, “Something In the Air,” and “Last Dance With Mary Jane.” Those two tracks were to be Lynch’s final songs with the band. Campbell and Tench both play extensively on Wildflowers but like Full Moon Fever, bassist Howie Epstein was relegated to harmony vocals. I know Ringo Starr and Beach Boy Carl Wilson both made cameos as well, but it was really Petty/Campbell/Tench. Since Lynch wasn’t involved they brought in drummer Steve Ferrone who ended up staying with Petty for the rest of his career. Obviously they picked the right guy.
While recording Wildflowers Petty’s first marriage was starting to come unraveled. I was going through something similar with a girlfriend in 1994/95 and maybe that’s why I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for this album (Tom Petty: New Vault Song, “There Goes Angela” From The Upcoming ‘Wildflowers’ Box). That relationship was almost bookended by Wildflowers and the box set Playback. The original LP is probably my favorite Petty LP – although admittedly it’s hard to pick a favorite. It’s a timeless classic. It’s genuine, sincere music recorded with real instruments – acoustic guitars, electric guitars and real drums – not synths and drum machines and that instrumentation brings heft to this music. The lyrics have always grabbed me. They’re like onions, there’s just depth upon depth in these songs. My all time favorite lyric, and one that I apply to my life daily is from “Crawling Back To You.” It’s brilliant – “Most things I worry about, never happen anyway.” I love the mellow acoustic stuff like the title track, “To Find A Friend,” and “Don’t Fade On Me.” But this isn’t a wholly mellow album. The rockers are epic. “Cabin Down Below” and “Honey Bee,” a monster blues stomper are amongst my favorite. “You Wreck Me” is both mine and the Rock Chick’s favorite. This is simply the quintessential Petty album.
As far back as I can remember, perhaps even when it came out, I heard Petty say his original intention for Wildflowers was for it to be a double-album. Don’t get me wrong – I love all this unearthed vault material for what would have filled out that second disc – but this may be a perfect case for the old adage that every double-LP has a classic single disc hiding within. I think it would have been a great double-LP but its a perfect single disc. Before he died I heard Petty say he was working on packaging up the material for that Wildflowers double album but alas, he passed tragically early (RIP Tom Petty, 1950 – 2017, A Devastating Loss: The Composer of the Soundtrack to My Life Is Gone). Unfortunately his estate wasn’t buttoned up as tight as it should have been and his daughter Adria sued his second wife Dana. It took seemingly forever but at last the legal tussles that prevented this fabulous music from being heard has been settled.
All The Rest is a loving look back at this landmark album. Disc 1 is the original album. Disc 2 is the All The Rest piece meant to be that second, unreleased disc. There is a lot to love across these 10 tracks. I will say, a handful of these tracks were released (in different versions) on the follow up LP, Songs And Music From the Motion Picture She’s The One. “Hung Up And Overdue,” “California,” and “Climb That Hill” will all be somewhat familiar to you completist like me out there. The first track, “Something Could Happen” is a lovely, wistful ballad that would have been perfect on the original album. It’s that good. I love the original version of “Leave Virginia Alone,” one of the few tracks that Petty gave to another artist to record before he did, in this case Rod Stewart. Petty’s version is superior because of the wonderful Mike Campbell guitar work, especially at the end of the track. “Henry Green” is a beautiful character story and a wonderful tune. It sounds like something Dylan would have written. Henry apparently “kept a redneck from kicking my ass.” “Confusion Wheel” is dark, driving, acoustic number. “Somewhere Under Heaven” is a mid tempo, lilting love story. It’s all great stuff.
I have but one beef with the All The Rest box. I didn’t realize there was a Super Deluxe version of this box that was also available. It has a fifth disc entitled Finding Wildflowers. It looks like a bunch of demos. However, they kept the studio versions of “Girl On LSD” a beloved, long sought after B-side and “Drivin’ Down to Georgia,” a barrel-house rocker, previously only released in live versions to the damn fifth disc. Pulling those two tracks and a third, “You Saw Me Coming,” that I’ve never heard, off the All The Rest second disc and putting on the fifth disc of the Super Deluxe version that’s $150 vs $50 seems like a money grab by Adria Petty. I don’t think you can tell the entire story of the double-album without those tracks. Sure, “Girl On LSD” is a novelty song akin to Johnny Cash’s “Boy Named Sue” or “One Piece At A Time” but I defy you to find anybody who doesn’t love that track. Maybe Petty’s instructions were to leave “LSD” off the second disc…however, I’m mystified if he wanted “Drivin’ Down To Georgia” left off. A small knit, but it still bugged me. Like I said, I’m nothing if not a completist.
The third disc in the box is labeled Home Recordings. You can read that as “demos” but quite a few of these are fully realized. “There Goes Angela (Dream Away)” is still my favorite. I can’t believe he didn’t finish that one. “A Feeling Of Peace” is another highlight here. All of these songs on Home Recordings are the proverbial “glance inside the creative process” of Tom Petty. He’s such an important artist, all of this stuff will fascinate. I like how this box takes you from the demo/home recording phase, to the studio and then on to live versions, fully realized.
And speaking of live versions, the last (fourth) disc is all live versions of the tracks on Wildflowers. I was surprised that only a handful of the tracks overlap (albeit different live versions) with the 5-disc Live Anthology that Petty & the Heartbreakers put out a few years ago. For most people these are live versions that you haven’t heard before and any live Petty is good Petty. They do put a live version of “Girl On LSD” on here and even Petty laughs while performing it. It’s a nice moment. These live songs may all come from different concerts and sources but because they’re Wildflowers tracks the live disc holds together very well. I can listen to any live version of “It’s Good To Be King” out there. It’s like a jazz song, they do it different each time.
Overall this is a wonderful, loving look back to one of Tom Petty’s most popular, beloved and successful works. Its an important album for all fans of rock and roll. Beautifully produced by Rick Rubin and beautifully performed by Tom Petty, Mike Campbell, Ben Tench and company. This is definitely something any fan of Petty or of Wildflowers will have to check out.