The Story Of The Song That Tom Petty Took 30 Years To Release
via Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers / YouTube
Tom Petty’s journey to success is nothing short of inspirational. He wasn’t an overnight sensation; rather, he was a tenacious artist who worked tirelessly to achieve his dreams. Growing up in Gainesville, Florida, Petty faced his fair share of challenges in the music industry.
Yet, through sheer determination and unwavering passion, he managed to carve out a path that would lead him to become one of the most iconic rock musicians of all time.
Three years after his death in 2017, Petty was still able to serenade his fans with the release of his contemplative take on “Leave Virginia Alone”, a song he wrote in 1993 but was given to Rod Stewart, who made a hit out of it in 1995 off his 17th studio album, A Spanner in the Works.
Petty’s 2020 version was the intended style he wanted all along, and fans loved it. His immense gift as a storyteller shines through as he gives “Virginia” a different vibe, which you see and hear below:
“Leave Virginia Alone”
The character Virginia was breathed into life once again in the video above, directed by Tom Petty’s daughter, Adria Petty, along with acclaimed photographer Mark Seliger.
The video, which features Casimere Jollette of the Netflix series Tiny Pretty Things, presents a somewhat vague storyline about a woman running away from the stressful baggage of fame.
Seliger was the person behind the lens who captured Tom Petty for the latter’s Rolling Stone cover in 1995, and he was able to help Adria visualize the late singer-songwriter’s unique intention for the song.
Penned in 1993, the single was originally intended for inclusion in the 1994 album Wildflowers but ultimately didn’t find its place there. Instead, Petty handed it over to Rod Stewart, and the British rockstar’s version remained the most well-known rendition of the track until 2020 when listeners finally had the opportunity to experience the song in the way Petty had envisioned it.
Petty had an extraordinary talent for weaving narrative stories into his songs, and “Leave Virginia Alone” was no exception.
“Leave Virginia Alone” boasts robust lyrical content that tightly embraces the song, infusing it with a profound sense of purpose. Lines such as “Some sunny day when the hands of time have had their way you’ll understand why it was so hard to run away” bear considerable emotional weight, beautifully complementing the ethereal instrumental arrangement.
While Petty had already carved out a significant legacy as a solo artist, it’s evident that his collaborations with friends like Bob Dylan and George Harrison in the supergroup Traveling Wilburys have left a deep mark, with this track seamlessly fitting into any of their individual discographies.
Happy Sunday 🌞
Tom photographed by Joel Bernstein pic.twitter.com/A5fBG86sz3
— Tom Petty (@tompetty) March 28, 2021
Nevertheless, the song’s tailored tone and the sheer sincerity conveyed through Petty’s velvety, buoyantly tender vocals propel it into a league of its own.
“Leave Virginia Alone” is bound to delight any devoted Tom Petty fan, as it is a nostalgic ode to the glory days of the Heartbreakers. Meanwhile, for younger listeners encountering it for the first time, Petty’s lyrics, imbued with a youthful perspective, are sure to strike a resonant chord, forging a meaningful connection.
Wildflowers finally complete
Tom Petty’s second solo album might have become one of the best albums ever made (at least according to Rolling Stone), but it was still an incomplete project. The iconic singer-songwriter had long wanted to finish it, as it was intended to be a double album.
There was no sense of finality and, instead, this project continued to linger in his creative psyche until his passing in 2017. The incomplete Wildflowers had long captivated and intrigued Petty’s fans.
In continued celebration of the prolific Wildflowers era of Tom’s career, the Petty family and @warnerrecords have announced Angel Dream (Songs and Music from the Motion Picture “She’s The One”) — remixed, remastered and reimagined as a Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers album. pic.twitter.com/kuge2YmbpO
— Tom Petty (@tompetty) June 10, 2021
But thanks to the arrangements of his family and bandmates, his long-time wish finally came true. The extended version, titled Wildflowers & All The Rest, was released in 2020.
The release included the ten songs that didn’t make the cut in their original form, as well as demos and live tracks. A super deluxe edition of this box set included a fifth CD that featured alternate versions of the tracks from the original 1994 Wildflowers.
In April 2021, this album of alternate versions was released separately with the title Finding Wildflowers.
A cherished wish that was left unfulfilled until his death
The sessions for the Wildflowers date back to 1992 when Tom Petty collaborated with producer Rick Rubin, aiming to craft a follow-up to his 1989 solo debut, Full Moon Fever.
Much like its predecessor, this endeavor featured the core members of the Heartbreakers. Still, Petty sought to break free from the artistic confines of his band’s collective output while preserving their collaborative synergy.
Over the span of two years, Rubin later disclosed, they managed to record “between 26 and 28 songs,” for the ambitious double album. However, Warner Bros. Records had an alternate vision; label head Lenny Waronker persuaded Petty to pare down the LP to a 15-track single-length release, believing it would possess stronger marketing appeal.
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And Waronker’s intuition turned out to be right as Wildflowers soared to No. 8 on the Billboard 200 chart, and its singles, including “You Don’t Know How It Feels”, “You Wreck Me”, “It’s Good to Be King”, and “A Higher Place”, all found their place in the top 20 of the Mainstream Rock Chart.
While some of the unreleased material eventually saw the light of day, it did so in various forms, often as B-sides on Wildflowers singles.
In 2015, in anticipation of a 20th-anniversary expanded release, the single “Somewhere Under Heaven” was introduced, although the much-anticipated expanded version of Wildflowers never came to be.
In the twilight years of his life, Petty began to contemplate the idea of completing the Wildflowers project. He and Rubin even reconvened in 2015 to revisit the unreleased material, some of which had been refined over the years.
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The producer recounted his astonishment at the quality, saying, “Some of them just hit me like, ‘Wow, what a great song! How did we ever miss this?'”.
During their meeting, Petty admitted to having a complex relationship with the leftover tracks, describing Wildflowers as somewhat unsettling.
Rubin recalled: “He told me Wildflowers scares him, because he’s not really sure why it’s as good as it is. So it has this, like, haunted feeling for him. … He loves it, but it’s not like he can turn that on again. He couldn’t make Wildflowers 2 today. That was the point. The point was, ‘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.’”