The Tortured History of Tom Petty’s ‘Wildflowers’ Outtakes
Sessions for Tom Petty's Wildflowers ended up producing enough material for a double album. He'd spent years crafting it, and that only bolstered his grandiose vision.
But Warner Bros. label boss "Lenny Waronker talked Petty and [producer Rick] Rubin out of making Wildflowers a double album," biographer Warren Zanes said in Petty: The Biography, "instead pushing them to assemble something that would stand as one of the great releases of its time." By the time Wildflowers arrived in 1994, it was in a trimmed-down, single-disc format boasting 15 songs.
Other tracks began trickling out, almost immediately. An acoustic version of the gritty rocker "Cabin Down Below" showed up on the flip side of "It's Good to Be King," a No. 6 finisher on Billboard's rock charts in 1995. An alternate take on "Only a Broken Heart" became the B-side to 1995's "A Higher Place," the final single from Wildflowers. (Both extras were on the compact-disc single edition of "You Wreck Me" too.)
Other tracks from the era – including "Hope You Never," "California" and "Hung Up and Overdue" – were then added to the soundtrack for 1996's She's the One, which Petty subsequently said was "almost Volume II of Wildflowers."
Still, Petty's larger plans remained unrealized. Fans were left to wonder what might have been.
Then he officially released the leftover song "Somewhere Under Heaven" in 2015, calling it a teaser for a proposed 20th-anniversary expanded edition that was to be titled Wildflowers: All the Rest. "There's probably six songs that nobody has heard," Petty told Rolling Stone, estimating that he had "11 or 12 [additional] songs" planned for the expanded version of the album.
Zanes said songs were arriving at such a furious pace back then that some simply got lost. In fact, Petty said he had no memory of "Somewhere Under Heaven" when archivist Ryan Ulyate first played it for him again in 2013.
There was even talk of a related tour, as Petty returned to the minutia of choices made long ago. “I think I put four of the [Wildflowers outtakes] on the She's the One soundtrack just to fill out the album, but they were very hastily mixed," Petty added. "I would like to go out there and perform the entire album as it was originally conceived."
Then Petty suddenly died, the victim of an accidental 2017 drug overdose, and Wildflowers: All the Rest has been in flux ever since.
It remains unclear when – or even if – the set will ever arrive, potentially leaving a key part of Petty's legacy scattered among soundtracks, single releases, box sets and the cutting-room floor. Here's a look at what was left behind, presented as both a reference guide and as a partial playlist until the official versions come along.
"California": One of three songs from the Wildflowers sessions included without any subsequent changes on 1996's Songs and Music From 'She's the One', along with "Hope You Never" and "Hung Up and Overdue." "Climb That Hill" and "Supernatural Radio," though also outtakes from Wildflowers, were reworked for the film.
"Climb That Hill": Petty likewise placed this song on his soundtrack follow-up, though he later admitted that he preferred an earlier take. "There's a version of that on She's the One," Petty told Rolling Stone in 2016, "but the Wildflowers one I think is extremely better."
"Confusion Wheel": Little is apparently known about this track, though it was reportedly submitted for copyright in the summer of 1994 as part of Wildflowers.
"Don't Fade On Me": A previously unreleased 1994-era alternate take on this Wildflowers song was later released on the posthumous An American Treasure set in 2018. Featuring only Petty and guitarist Mike Campbell, this song echoes the stark vulnerability that Rubin brought to his recent work with Johnny Cash. Campbell walked Petty through that distinct, drop D-tuned guitar sound, and Petty gave him a co-composing credit. "He said, 'Well, I didn't really write it,'" Petty remembered in Conversations With Tom Petty. "I said, 'Well, no, you did. You wrote that bit, because I wouldn't have known that if you didn't show it to me.'"
"Girl on LSD": This song, which eventually appeared as a B-side to the No. 13 hit 1994 single "You Don't Know How It Feels," was probably dropped from the final running order because of its overt drug references. Dig deeper, though, and "Girl on LSD" reveals a different kind of addiction. "Through ecstasy, crystal meth and glue," Petty sings, "I found no drug compares to you."
"Hope You Never": Another outtake that ended up on Petty's 1996 soundtrack follow-up, "Hope You Never" boasts a canny mix of revenge and blissfulness that would have fit well anywhere on the very adult, sometimes very dark Wildflowers.
"Hung Up and Overdue": Also initially released on She's the One, this song had apparently been updated for inclusion on All the Rest. "'Hung Up and Overdue" is another one we remixed and it turned into an epic," Petty told Rolling Stone. "I had Carl Wilson [of the Beach Boys] and [Heartbreakers bassist] Howie Epstein singing quite a bit of harmony that didn't come through on the original."
"Leave Virginia Alone": Written and recorded during Wildflowers, this track was later given to Rod Stewart, who made it a single off his 1995 album A Spanner in the Works. "It was for Tom Petty's album, and he took it off because it was too close lyrically to something that was a hit beforehand," Stewart told Billboard. Adding that he wasn't a Petty fan, Stewart said this song "absolutely went by me; it took me two or three good listens. I had to be persuaded to do it, in other words. But now, I'm glad I did." His version of "Leave Virginia Alone" reached the Top 10 on the adult-contemporary charts.
"Lonesome Dave": Named after Foghat's Dave Peverett, this 1993 outtake was released on An American Treasure. "I like that one because it's so raw," Campbell told the Los Angeles Times in 2018. "We had barely learned it at that moment, and we were all laughing about the lyrics," keyboardist Benmont Tench added.
"Something Could Happen": Still unreleased. Also reportedly submitted for copyright with the rest of the songs on Wildflowers in 1994.
"Somewhere Under Heaven": Issued as a stand-alone song, this track was also prominently featured on the soundtrack to 2015's film version of Entourage. "Rick mentioned that Tom Petty had a bunch of unreleased songs from when he did Wildflowers, and that there was gonna be a second album at one point. So I said, 'Can we hear it while we're sitting here?'," Entourage creator Doug Ellin told Fader. "It sounded like Tom Petty from 20 years ago, because it was Tom Petty from 20 years ago."
"Supernatural Radio": Also from She's the One, this was said to have emerged from the later 1994-era sessions for Wildflowers. Its arrival was somewhat, well, supernatural. "I wrote it at home one night after a session," Petty told Performing Songwriter in 2014. "I got into that space and it drifted in, and the very next day I brought it to the band and we cut it. We were all just knocked out." The released version, as with "Climb That Hill," was completely remade for Petty's soundtrack follow-up – leaving the original take still unheard.
"Time to Move On": As Petty tinkered with the project, he sometimes tried radically different approaches. "Cabin Down Below," for instance, arrived in both stripped-down and rock formats. Same with "Time to Move On," which was recorded as an acoustic number and also with a lush orchestral score arranged by Michael Kamen. "There's a funny line in it," Petty recalled in Conversations With Tom Petty, laughing: "Nauseous adrenaline, like breaking up a dogfight." "I was really pleased with that, to get those lines into a song that's pretty was really hard."
"U Get Me High": Not to be confused with "You Get Me High," a song Petty said he wrote onstage during a 1992 tour that later surfaced on the 1995 box set Playback. Instead, this Wildflowers-era tune – which replaces "you" with "U," and apparently originally shared some lyrics with "Don't Fade on Me" – sat unused before Petty returned to it years later. An updated version eventually appeared on 2014's Hypnotic Eye.
"Wake Up Time": Another track from the early sessions from Wildflowers, this 1992 outtake was reportedly cut by Petty on both an acoustic guitar and at the piano. A delicately conveyed, broken but beautiful coda on the original album, "Wake Up Time" also appeared as an alternate take on An American Treasure. Petty later said this song was always destined to be the last song on Wildflowers, even when he didn't know what the first one would be. "You know, you write so many of them, and you hope for something like 'Wake Up Time,'" he said, laughing in Conversations With Tom Petty. "And now and then, you get it. And that's enough inspiration to keep going."