Certain Songs #1028: Tom Petty – “Crawling Back To You”

Album: Wildflowers
Year: 1994

Usually, I like to prepare for all of this: when I know I’m getting near time to write about an artist about whom I’m going to go really deep, I’ll start incorporating their music in my life in weeks in advance — watching YouTube videos while on the elliptical; putting their songs on my house mix; reading books about their life and/or works.

That’s what I did with Led Zeppelin earlier this year, and what I’ll be doing next year with Neil Young.

But of course, because he basically dropped dead with no warning, I had no chance to do all of that with Tom Petty. Of course, in the weeks since he died, I’ve immersed myself in his music, hoping to glean some kind of insights on old favorites, as well as maybe discover some new favorites.

Like “Crawling Back To You,” a song that sits near the very end of 1994’s Wildflowers, and a song that I know that I totally ignored at the time. And in fact, it didn’t catch my attention until 2009’s The Live Anthology, and even then, I probably didn’t realize that it was from Wildflowers until — well, just a couple of weeks ago, I guess.

But man, what a song!

Waiting by the side of the road
For day to break so we could go
Down into Los Angeles
With dirty hands and worn out knees

(Oooooh oooooh oooooh)
I keep crawling back to you
(Oooooh oooooh oooooh)
I keep crawling back to you

Dominated by Benmont Tench’s piano and some slight shimmering guitar from Mike Campbell, “Crawling Back To You” is one of the more musically sparse songs on Wildflowers, and continually stopping and starting, getting cut short every time it picks up any kind of momentum, because he’s not running back to her, he’s crawling, plus he really wants you to pay attention to this masterful verse.

I’m so tired of being tired
Sure as night will follow day
Most things I worry about
Never happen anyway

Which, of course, never stopped Tom — or you, or me, or anyone really — from worrying about those things.

And the end, after a pair of Roger McGuinn-esque guitar solos from Campbell, the song stops dead, and he repeats the title over and over — sad, resigned, not really wanting to, but knowing it seems like the only choice. At least for now.

Compared to some of the more showy songs on Wildflowers — the three-chord crunch of “You Wreck Me,” the grandly sly sarcasm of “It’s Good To Be King,” the bouncy jangle of “A Higher Place” — I guess it was easy for me to sleep on “Crawling Back To You,” but no more. I just wish I could have finally discovered it under better circumstances, you know?

“Crawling Back To You”

“Crawling Back To You” performed live on Soundstage, 2008

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