‘Well, she was an American girl, raised on promises, she couldn’t help thinking that there was a little more to life, somewhere else. After all it was a great big world, with lots of places to run to, and if she had to die trying she had one little promise she was gonna keep.’
The novelistic opening to Tom Petty’s 1976 song smacks you in the ears with a healthy dose of romance, optimism and the dreams of an underdog. Just some of the traits that have given his songs such universal appeal and longevity. I will miss him – a man I never met, but one who’s simple vision and strength I loved.
I suspect that the first Heartbreakers LP I listened to was ‘Hard Promises’, released the year I was born – it remains a personal favourite – album opener ‘The Waiting’ still gets the blood rushing, the darkly comic ‘Something Big’ sucks me in to its fatalistic film noir, and ‘Insider’ with Stevie Nicks still tugs at my heart a little. However, I cut my ‘TP car-journey-karaoke’ teeth to The Traveling Wilburys’ ‘Vol. 1’ (‘88), Petty’s solo ‘Full Moon Fever’(‘89), and ‘Into the Great Wide Open’ (‘91).
Timeless records that I can’t imagine my life without, each one different in tone, each one a fine example of his skills as both a leader and team player. ‘Wildflowers’ came later and subsequently reinforced my view of Petty as a songwriting genius, it’s an understated masterpiece that mirrors the brashness of his early recordings, including the classic ‘Damn the Torpedoes’.
‘Wildflowers’ is a peaceful kind of rock LP. Reflective, tender and uplifting tunes sprawl over its 55 minutes, punctuated by classy musicianship and expert delivery from the main man, his Southern drawl now a fine vintage. It strikes me as his first fully matured record and a gateway to more recent material such as ‘Highway Companion’ and ‘Hypnotic Eye’ – made from the more comfortable standpoint of battles won and balance acquired through experience.
‘You belong among the wild flowers
You belong in a boat out at sea
Sail away, kill off the hours
You belong somewhere you feel free’
‘A red-winged hawk is circling
The blacktop stretches out for days
How could I get so close to you
And still feel so far away?
I hear a voice come on the wind
Sayin’ you and I will meet again
I don’t know how, I don’t know when
But you and I will meet again’
Tom Petty will be remembered forever for his service to the music industry, his unflinching attitude and his honesty.