Tom Petty Was Haunted By Unreleased 'Wildflowers' Music, Rick Rubin Says

By Andrew Magnotta @AndrewMagnotta

August 17, 2020

Rick Rubin knew Tom Petty was onto something as they worked on Petty's mid-career masterpiece, Wildflowers, in the early-'90s.

Petty was one of the first present-day superstars Rubin ever got to work with, and he tells Malcolm Gladwell on the Broken Record Podcast that he got the best version possible of the singer/songwriter.

While Wildflowers was a big hit for Petty in 1994, the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer was never completely satisfied with it. He loved the album, but he wrote far too many songs to encompass just one release. Some 35 tracks from the Wildflower album sessions didn't make the final version and Petty spent years trying to determine the best circumstances to reveal that trove of unreleased music.

"When I heard [the unreleased songs] for the first time [in years], Tom came over and played them for me...I was floored," Rubin said. "I had like a vague memory of them, but some of them just hit me like, 'Wow, what a great song! How did we miss this?'"

Prior to his death in October of 2017, Petty had been working on the unreleased Wildflowers tracks, planning to reveal the full version of the album and support it with a celebratory tour.

"He very much wanted to re-release it," Rubin continued. "He thought it was really important because the legacy of the Wildflowers album loomed large in his career, and he knew that the second half of Wildflowers was an important statement. His issue was he didn't want to put it out as a new Tom Petty album because it's not a new Tom Petty album — was recorded 25 years ago. And he didn't want to release it as an old catalog album because he thought it deserved more than being a catalog album. He felt like it was too good to just put out and [he] was sort of looking for the right story, where it would have the exposure that it deserved. And he never came up with it."

Petty considered each song and each album to be a time capsule of the person and the musician he was at the time he made it. As such, it didn't make sense to put out the remaining Wildflowers material as anything but part of the original work.

"He told me Wildflowers scares him because he's not really sure why it's as good as it is. So it has this haunted feeling for him," Rubin said. "...Like he loves it, but it's not like he could turn that on again. He couldn't make Wildflowers 2 today. That was the point. 'I can't do this now. This was then, and it was where I was then and it was a prolific period. This is an extension of that moment.'"

Listen to the full conversation in the video player above.

Last month, Petty's estate revealed one of his earliest demos for Wildflowers' biggest hit, "You Don't Know How It Feels."

Tom's daughter Adria Petty told Rolling Stone that the song contained some of her dad's favorite lyrics he'd ever written: the lines, "I'm so tired of being tired / Sure as night will follow day / Most things that I worry about never happen anyway."

Adria also created a music video for her dad's song, "For Real," a previously-unheard song of his that headlined the An American Treasure deluxe box set of outtakes and live versions that was released in 2019.

Tom's estate is working to release the full version of Wildflowers. Adria said in late-June that the set is still not ready. Fans can download one of the previously-unreleased Wildflowers tracks, "There Goes Angela," here via

Photos: Getty Images

Tom PettyTom Petty & The Heartbreakers with Jeff Lynne & Dhani Harrison
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