the birth of Tom Petty’s masterpiece Wildflowers
In the spring of 1992, Tom Petty was sitting at his home in Encino with a six-string acoustic guitar and tape recorder. Three minutes and 11 seconds later, the 44-year-old had released a song, lyrics and all, fully formed of the cloudless California sky. Composed of only four verses and devoid of chorus, it was a composition of imposing grace and beauty. He called it Wild Flowers.
“I swear to God it was absolute improvisation from the start,” he told author Paul Zollo. “[I] then sat down and said, ‘Wow, what did I just do?’ And I listened to it [and] I haven’t changed a word. It was all there, off the top of my head.
The song became both the title track and the opening number for Tom Petty’s 10th studio LP. According to the criteria of writing, production, arrangement and performance, the album Wildflowers is both the masterpiece of its author and one of the best American rock records of the last half. -century. Made of patience, space, and the perfect analog vibe, the 62-minute set could hardly be more organic if it featured Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall on bass guitar.
And now there is more. This month the album is reissued in a lavish edition. In addition to the LP in its original form, Wildflowers & All The Rest also offers demo cuts, surplus takes, home recordings and live performances. Running at nearly five hours and consisting of 54 songs, it’s both a comprehensive collection of monomaniac proportions and, at under 30 pounds, a steal.
Originally unveiled on November 1, 1994, Wildflowers has sold over three million copies in the United States alone. For Thomas Earl Petty, its release came at the end of a period of remarkable domestic commercial success. The previous five years had seen a slew of albums find their way into the homes of 24 million American listeners. Two LPs of the very scenic Traveling Wilburys – starring Petty, Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Jeff Lynne and Roy Orbison – moved an additional three million units.
In 1994, the overseas public was less convinced. In Britain, Wildflowers limped on the Gallup album chart at a paltry number 36; although the 15-song set eventually made its Top 20 debut – at number 19 – none of its four singles became a hit. Of the 86 concerts Petty has undertaken in support of her imposing new record, with her supreme group the Heartbreakers, none have been staged on British soil.