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Tom Petty – Wildflowers (1994)

In memory of Tom Petty, I have chosen Wildflowers as this week’s Classic Album Tuesday. Although it’s an album I haven’t been familiar with for long, it may already be my favorite of Petty’s prestigious catalog

Two weeks ago, I was watching a 2015 ELO concert on some descendant of MTV. MTV3? MTV 1/2? Where I watched it wasn’t important, rather it’s what followed the concert. Because in between regularly scheduled programming, the channel shows music videos. One of which, for whatever reason, was the music video for Tom Petty’s 1994 hit “You Don’t Know What it’s Like”. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d heard that song. It could have been ten years ago, it could have been twenty, but it opened my eyes and my ears to Tom Petty’s 1994 album Wildflowers.

When I think Tom Petty I tend to think of the ‘80s, I think that’s true for many of us. I used to think Tom Petty’s peak was in 1989 with the release of the smash hit album Full Moon Fever. Never had I thought to imagine my favorite Tom Petty album was lurking a few years later in a post-Kurt Cobain world. I find Wildflowers appealing because it seems to be reaching for something far more meaningful. It’s an album less about the hits and more about the words. An album that feels more for him than for us.

I found a post on our blog from three years ago where fellow Mildly Pleased contributor Mr. Colin Wessman pointed out that older artists like Tom Petty stayed relevant because they learned to adapt to the MTV generation. I think that’s very true because this collection of folky ballads and soft rockers feels considerably different from the getup and go of Petty’s ‘70s and ‘80s output. These feel more at home in a ‘90s coffee shop playlist then blaring out of the Hollywood Bowl. That’s not to say Petty lost his edge if anything the artist is more honest than ever on Wildflowers.

“You Don’t Know How it Feels” is a catchy radio staple, but it’s also a personal song about a desire for a life out of the spotlight. Look at the chorus “You don’t know how it feels… to be me” it’s fun to sing along to but there’s definitely a tinge of regret there. “Bittersweet” is a good way, to sum up, Wildflowers’ parts.

“It’s Good to Be King” has it’s so-lonely-at-the-top vibe to as does the downbeat “Hard On Me.” Even sunnier songs have a dark side to them. “To Find a Friend” featuring who else but Ringo Starr is a song about how we change and move on from things we love in this crazy hurricane called life.

But don’t fret dads out there. Tom Petty wouldn’t leave you out to dry like without delivering at least one dose of pure unadulterated rock. “You Wreck Me” is a classic speeding down the highway song. Yet its breeziness doesn’t make it feel out of place. It’s just a flower of a different shade and bloom then the rest.

Damn the Torpedos is often considered Petty’s best. Full Moon Fever is Petty’s most popular, but I think history will be good to Wildflowers and more will realize the brilliance of this album in the years to follow. RIP Tom. We miss ya already.

Favorite Tracks: “Don’t Fade on Me,” “Only a Broken Heart,” “You Don’t Know How it Feels”