Album Revisit: Tom Petty’s ‘Wildflowers’

This is the first of a series of blogs where I revisit some classic albums that I  love, used to love or has made an impact on pop culture whether I am familiar with it or not. You can also make suggestions on a classic album, and I may give a whirl and review it.

My first rock concert was in 1994, when after I really got into Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, was when my father took me to see them on the “Wildflowers” tour (I don’t recall if that was the name, but it was when Petty released his second solo album called that). It was a great time and a fun concert from what I remember (I was 12 or 13 at the time).   

But it would be as an awkward high schooler that I would begin to really get into that album. It became a regular on my disc man (wow, that right there sure aged me a bit). Back then, I biked everywhere and always had my headphones on. A variety of music would be my soundtrack as I biked to school, work, wherever. Music  makes traveling even better.

Last week I listened to Petty and the Heartbreakers’ new album, “Hypnotic Eye.” I enjoyed it, but tonight, as I’m writing my business story and listening to Spotify (love this service) for writing fuel and was going to give it another go, I saw “Wildflowers” pop up. I realized I hadn’t listened to this in many, many years. Mostly because I burned my self out on it long ago. Since it had been a while, I decided to revisit this gem. Which also inspired the concept of this blog series.

And it reminded me why, for years, “Wildflowers” was always in my top 5 favorite albums of all time. It is a great album. Not merely very good, this is a pretty near flawless album in my opinion. It is Petty’s best album with or without the Heartbreakers (they all play on it, so calling it a “solo” effort is misleading).

The album begins with “Wildflowers,” a nice, beautiful song that really hits the right tone for the rest of the album. It was also used in an episode of “Parks and Recreation” when Ann and Chris leave Pawnee. I think that also got my mind thinking about giving the album another go after all these years.

It is followed by “You Don’t Know How It Feels,” which has always been the weak link on the album for me, despite it being the album’s breakout hit. Not that it’s a bad song, it just doesn’t do much for me. Plus, having lived in St. Cloud a bulk of my life, the reference to certain chemical use was hooted and hollered way too often for me from frat boys on or near SCSU campus. Seriously, that town has an endless stream of college dudes who listen to that song and Bob Marley obnoxiously way too often.

I’m not going to do a track by track, because the album is 20 years old and has many of those anyway.

A personal favorite of mine is  “It’s Good to be King.”  I saw the band on the Fourth of July, 2001, in Milwauke, Wis.  What I enjoyed was that they played an extended version of this song, which I always enjoy when bands break the mold live. It’s also the only concert where I saw a drunk guy scream “Play ‘American Girl,'” chug a beer, vomit and pass out all in less than a minute. Memories.

Of course, this is preceded by a decent one-two punch of the jaunty “Time To Move On” and the more rock-fueled “You Wreck Me.”

And that’s another thing I really enjoy about this album. It has incredible balance in the song sequence. Since this, in my opinion, was Petty’s most adventurous album musically to this point (the sounds and genres on each track are pretty eclectic) that if it wasn’t balanced in the right way, it may have changed the whole experience of the album.

Remember the times when people listened to albums and not just random songs?

This is great. From the rocking “Honey Bee” to to the peaceful and laid back “To Find A Friend” and finishing with the piano driven “Wake Up Time” this is all around just Petty’s greatest work. Everything that he has put out since has it’s moments, but I don’t think he will top this album.