Earlier today, the Tom Petty estate finally rolled out details of the long-awaited deluxe edition of his 1994 solo LP Wildflowers. The five-CD set (also available as a nine-LP box) will feature 10 unreleased songs cut during the original Wildflowers sessions, 15 homemade demos from the era, live songs, and alternate versions of the album tracks.
It’s a project that Petty spoke about often in the final years of his life. “There’s 11 or 12 [new] songs on the album,” he told Rolling Stone in 2016. “I think people are going to like it a lot. I like it a lot. … At one point the label really just wanted to put it out as a standalone album. And then there’s the point of view where they want to put both records together. There’s also the point of view that wants the box set with the demos and all that. I don’t see that as much fun, but other people do.”
Many Petty fans consider the Wildflowers era to be his peak moment as a songwriter. It was also the last time he produced hit singles (“You Wreck Me,” “You Don’t Know How It Feels,” and “It’s Good to Be King”) that were embraced by Top 40 radio and MTV. In the years after Wildflowers, the industry changed in dramatic ways and older artists like Petty had a near-impossible time landing new songs on the radio.
Wildflowers songs were a key part of Petty’s live show with the Heartbreakers all the way until his final tour in 2017. Here’s an incredible performance of the Wildflowers gem “Crawling Back to You” from Chicago’s Vic Theater in 2003 that was taped for the PBS show Soundstage. The song contains one of Petty’s most beloved verses: “I’m so tired of being tired/Sure as night will follow day/Most things I worry about/Never happen anyway.”
“That’s one of my favorite verses that I ever wrote,” Petty revealed to author Paul Zollo in his book Conversations With Tom Petty. “‘Cause it just rings so true. My cousin gave me that line. She sent me a little book of phrases once. I opened that book, and just saw that phrase: ‘Most things I worry about never happen anyway.'”
The deluxe edition of Wildflowers comes out on October 16th. In 2018, Heartbreakers guitarist Mike Campbell told Rolling Stone that a Wildflowers tribute show was a possibility down the road. “It would be a great tribute to Tom to just do that album,” he said. “We’d probably have four or five different guest singers with us. We don’t know who they might be, though, or when this might happen.”
The pandemic makes that virtually impossible any time this year, but there’s no shortage of A-list singers who would be happy to take part in such an event once concerts resume. It would be the perfect way to honor Petty and one of his greatest musical achievements.