Certain Songs #1029: Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers – “Wildflowers (Toronto 3-17-1995)”

Album: The Live Anthology
Year: 1995

On the short list of The Prettiest Songs Ever Written, Tom Petty Division, “Wildflowers” was an atypical opening number for the album for which it also served as the title track : it was neither a single nor an uptempo rocker, which was usually how he opened his records.

But of course, it didn’t matter: “Wildflowers” was always about setting a mood of wistfulness. And hope. And regret. But most of all, inevitability of change.

You belong among the wildflowers
You belong in a boat out at sea
Run away, kill off the hours
You belong somewhere you feel free

It also sets the scene for the rest of Wildflowers — a record about a relationship that was totally and completely falling apart — and a song that Petty at some point realized was at least partially about himself, which made the lyrics somehow even more poignant.

Run away, go find a lover
Run away, let your heart be your guide
You deserve the deepest of cover
You belong in that home by and by

Also making the song more poignant: Benmont Tench’s piano coming in after that verse; a spirit guide for dancing among the wildflowers, sailing out at sea, feeling free.

On Wildflowers, “Wildflowers” feels fragile, lonely, lost and forlorn, like none of those things are ever going to happen to the song’s protagonist. I mean, it’s still lovely as hell, and is a song that has barely left my head since I first it, but on The Live Anthology, with the full support of his band — listen to Howie Epstein harmonize near the end — it feels like all of those things are way more possible.

“Wildflowers (Toronto 3-17-1995)”

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