Tom Petty’s “lost” double album version of ‘Wildflowers’ is the masterpiece he intended
In 1994, at the height of grunge, punk, and alternative rock, '70s/'80s rock giant Tom Petty released his second solo album (and first of three produced by Rick Rubin), Wildflowers, a tender, folky album that is still widely and deservingly considered one of his best. He had originally intended to release it as a 25-song double album, but Warner Bros' then-President Lenny Waronker suggested he whittle it down to 15, and most of the remaining ten songs got shelved. (A few were re-recorded for the She's The One soundtrack and one was given to Rod Stewart.) Over 25 years after the album's release and three years after Petty's death, his family and Heartbreakers bandmates have released Wildflowers & All the Rest (following a lengthy legal battle), featuring 70 tracks including a live album, home recordings, and the entire 25-song version of Wildflowers that Petty originally intended to release. The live and the home-recorded versions of his classic songs are of course very cool to hear, but the main selling point of this massive reissue is the disc of the ten "lost" songs, All The Rest.
Petty himself chose the name All The Rest, and he had actually been planning to finally release it himself before his tragic, unexpected passing. As Rick Rubin recalled to Rolling Stone, Petty had come to visit him in the years before his passing to dig up these songs. "I had forgotten we had recorded all of those songs. It was surreal. They sounded just like Wildflowers, but none were on the album," Rick said.
Rick Rubin's reaction is likely going to be shared by many. The ten newly-unearthed songs have that same warm, folky vibe as the 15 Wildflowers songs that have been out for over 25 years, and they instantly feel as classic as those songs already are. The "lost" songs are all at least as good as the songs that did come out in 1994 -- some are even better. These are not "outtakes," they're album-quality songs that the world should've heard a quarter century ago.
As Heartbreaker Benmont Tench would agree, Petty's creative juices were clearly flowing in the early '90s, which was at least a little unusual given how long he'd already been in the game. "It was a period when song after song was coming," Tench told Rolling Stone, "which doesn’t always happen 20 years after your first release." It feels like any song he wrote in that era could stand tall next to his most iconic classics, even the few home demos of songs that never made it onto Wildflowers or All The Rest. Among them: "There Goes Angela (Dream Away)," a genuinely gorgeous song that Tench said he never even knew existed until Petty's bandmates and family members started digging through his vaults to put this reissue together. There's also "There's A Break In The Rain," a softer, warmer early version of what became "Have Love, Will Travel" on 2002's The Last DJ, and another lovely song called "A Feeling of Peace." All of the previously unheard material on Wildflowers & All The Rest feels timeless and essential already; it's hard to believe such sure-to-be-crowdpleasing music was shelved for so long, and hard not to wonder how Petty's career might have been altered if he went through with the double album as planned in 1994. But rather than focus too much on what might've been, we're more than happy to focus on how wonderful it is that these songs have finally arrived as fully-formed as Petty always wanted. We just wish he was here to see the impact this material will have.
Wildflowers & All The Rest is out now on Warner. Stream it and watch a couple accompanying videos below.