Thursday, May 6, 2021

Countdown to 30: My Favorite Album From 1994


There's really no contest for 1994. As much as I like the runner up, my favorite album of 1994 will always be one of my favorite albums.

The runner-up is Last of the Independents by The Pretenders. This album was a staple of my early high school years. I dropped most of my Christmas money on Pretenders CDs one year, and this one was in the bargain bin, so I had to get it. I absolutely loved it. It was an album I felt properly expressed my feelings going through puberty. It did not, it was way edgier than I was, but it will always hold a special place in my heart. From the blatant sexuality that I knew nothing of, to the songs about identity ("Every Mother's Son") and the activism displayed in "Revolution." There's even a Bob Dylan cover thrown in for good measure. Not to mention the single, possibly one of the most well-known Pretenders songs, and one of my favorite love songs, "I'll Stand By You," which I think I somehow got to be our class song? I don't want to take credit for it, but I only recommended two songs in the class song primaries, and that one ended up on the ballot and as class song, so I think I did it...

Last of the Independents was like my emotional equivalent to a punk album. I thought I was taking on all of these alternative viewpoints and laughing in the face of society or whatever. 

Anyway, I leveled out a little bit by senior year, when my dream was of driving off to college in California whilst blaring my favorite album of 1994: Wildflowers by Tom Petty. 

Wildflowers is almost a Heartbreakers album, but not quite. Drummer Stan Lynch is the only  member of the Heartbreakers not on the album, but the person on drums, Steve Ferrone, replaced Lynch as part of the Heartbreakers lineup the following year. Still, they didn't want to call it a Heartbreakers album, they wanted more freedom. And it doesn't feel like a Heartbreakers album. It feels like you're hanging out with Tom Petty. It's acoustic, intimate. The production is warm, like you're relaxing in the country during the summertime. Originally, the album was planned as a 25-track double album. That vision came close to realization only last year, with the release of Wildflowers and All the Rest

The title track kicks off the album with sincerity. As we millennials were all rediscovering Wildflowers in the '00s, "Wildflowers" was the song that spoke to our little snowflake souls. At least that's how I interpreted it. "Wildflowers" has the distinction of being one of Petty's most beloved non-singles. Of the writing of it, Petty said "I just took a deep breath and it came out. The whole song. Stream of consciousness: words, music, chords. Finished it. I mean, I just played it into a tape recorder and I played the whole song and I never played it again. I actually only spent three and a half minutes on that whole song. So I’d come back for days playing that tape, thinking there must be something wrong here because this just came too easy. And then I realized that there’s probably nothing wrong at all."

"Time to Move On" is a solid road song. It has the rambling energy only someone with intense wanderlust can truly understand. I think that song alone made me want to ride to California listening to this album. Singles like "You Wreck Me" and "You Don't Know How It Feels" will always be feel-good radio jams, on par with anything the Heartbreakers released. "You Don't Know How it Feels" and "It's Good to Be King" are both fairly personal songs about Petty's feelings as a public figure. 

Future Tom Petty fan in 1994, hot on the heels of the removal
of an aggressive cyst. I have had plastic surgery, but it was 
when I was 3, and not exactly elective. 
The remainder of the songs on the album are not to be ignored, but it should be noted that they are almost all, delicate presentations. Even with harder electric sounds added in for "Honey Bee," it still has the feel of a live song performed in a barn or similar country setting. "Don't Fade on Me" is almost a whisper of a song, with sparse production and instrumentation.

I got this album on CD at Goodwill when I worked there. The album art and liner notes are printed on a matte paper, unlike the glossy paper of most CDs of the time. When you look at that album cover, it almost feels like you could plant those liner notes and grow your own wildflowers (that's not true though, don't bury your liner notes).

Just before Petty's untimely death, I had the good fortune to see him play with the Heartbreakers, and he played a few songs from Wildflowers live. Apparently, he was testing the waters for a Wildflowers specific tour for its 25th anniversary. He had every intention of making that his next tour. But fate had other plans. 

Wildflowers will always be one of my top chill-out albums. I don't think anyone in their right mind would call it a bad album, and for me, it's my favorite of 1994.

Let's throw it up on the leaderboard!

Join me tomorrow for my favorite album of 1995.

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