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Wildflowers (the album) and a bunch of other stuff

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Wildflowers is a strange album for me, for many reasons. It’s definitely one of the three most significant albums Tom released (the other two being DTT and Full Moon Fever) and is responsible for bringing in a new wave of fans the same way FMF did.

 

It’s possibly the best sounding album; all the instruments are clear, powerful and skillfully interwoven.

 

 

 

Wildflowers took years to grow on me, and even then I have mixed feelings. One thing that’s clear though, is how good this record sounds. This could be the best sounding album Tom ever made. Every instrument clear, lush, warm. And those drums…very crisp.

 

But the songs and the record are a dividing line, for me, the largest point of departure in his entire career.

 

Part of that is connected to Stan but not much; it’s with the songwriting and approach that Tom changed his style of music, a style that pretty much lasted until Mojo, though its effects would even be felt on that album. I speak of the midtempo groove, the emphasis on the acoustic and songs that seem more peronsal and emotional yet are musically lacking.

 

Listening to this album for the first time in years, my opinion hasn’t really changed that much, except for a few songs here and there.

 

 

 

Wildflowers——As with much of this album, my opinion on this one shifted back and forth before finally settling on…it’s all right. Even though it’s only three minutes and some seconds, it’s too long. THere’s not much going on her musically but if you like it, it’s probably the perfect little song. It feels like another variation, at least in feel, with Alright For Now. It just goes on too long, repeating itself, I mean, the whole song is four chords over and over, and while that can work, in this case it grates a bit.

 

By the two minute mark I’ve had my fill; had the song stopped there I’d probably like it quite a bit; it would be an odd little song, one verse, one chorus and that’s it. Petty cool. But no, it goes on and on. Only three minutes that feel much longer. I am impressed that he did it spontaenoulsy in one take…that is pretty special regardless of what I think of the finished song.

 

 

You Don’t  Know How It Feels——oh no! I really hated this song for years. Now, it’s tolerable on live recordings simply because it’s fresh to me. But it’s still not that good. That awful repetitive beat…so bland. It sounds like the death knell of the TPATH I enjoyed and really, it kinda was. it feels like this song served as a template for so much of what was to come.

 

Even when Tom went for something faster, like Zero From Outer Space, it was the lone fast song on She’s The One. Of course, it came from these sessions, but didn’t land on this album so that’s all I’ll say about that. Regarding this song, I don’t like it. That it ended up played second on many tours just made me dislike it even more.

 

 

 

Time To Move On——I like this more than I did when I first heard the song. The positive theme fits well with the jaunty music. But, much like Wildflowers, it goes on a bit too long and just feels the same. It kinda wears out its welcome and what seemed so instantly catchy is now a bit dull and repetitive.

 

 

You Wreck Me——it’s about fucking time! After a rather somnombulent beginning, it’s good to hear something that rocks. Sure, hearing it on countless live recordings and at nearly every show I attended wore out its welcome; as did his intro for it; but…hearing it now, I can appreciate the riff, so simple yet very effective, some quick sharp drumming by Steve. This song is quite catchy in a way that other filler rock songs by him aren’t. I quite like it, despite how much I’ve heard it played.

 

The bit at the bridge and the end is good; a very dramatic chord change, and some nice soloing by Mike. More of this on this record! It’s just what was needed. But alas…this is the only song of this tempo and caliber on here.

 

 

It’s Good To Be King——a moody, dreamy song that feels epic. While they did too many midtempo grooves, they are quite good at them. A powerful, sad and self-deprecatingly funny, charming song. I like the repeating guitar line in it as well. I’m glad they extended it into the  twelve range in concert. Part of the solid chunk of good songs on this record that began with You Wreck Me.

 

Only A Broken Heart—-A devastatingly sad song. The longing in his voice is very effecting. A really great bridge, too. Musically the song has a steady beat that works in contrast to the lyrics. The organ over top everything just brings out more feeling. A very nice guitar solo during the outro.

 

 

Honey Bee—-much like You Wreck Me, a desperately needed shot of adrenaline. Sure, it sounds derivative of something, some old blues song or something but I still like it. Some very fun lyrics, particularly the Pomona line. I like this one. Sure, if they go deep in their catalog I’d rather have them play something else in concert but if it’s between this and some of the other standard hit songs, I’ll take this. Especially when they extend it as they did in 99. Really good chords during the chorus, what a contrast between that and the riff!

 

Don’t Fade On Me——The guitar playing alone makes this a good track. I think this is his most mournful song. Pure sadness. It’s one of his most heartwrenching songs. The lyrics are poignant yet open as well, one can put their own depressing spin on them. I believe this to be the bleakest song he’s ever written, a lament.

 

 

Hard On Me—This is a pretty good song. Some nice playing. I feel like it could’ve been put on the end of the album. Also sounds like something from Echo. The thing is, I’ve already forgotten what it sounds like.

 

 

Cabin Down Below—Reminds me of Honey Bee. It’s all right, I’ll listen to it and enjoy it on a live track; just feels like a midtempo filler type song but I like it nonetheless. Lyrically, well…interpret them as you will. I like the heaviness of the main riff.

 

 

To Find A Friend——It reminds like a slightly faster version of the title track. It’s okay, I guess. I go back and forth on the lyrics, sometimes I find them charming, other times cloying. 

 

 

A Higher Place——The upbeat energy on this song is really refreshing at this point in the album. I like this one; I think I’d love it if the tempo were faster and it had more of an electric edge to it. A very bright pop song! Quite enjoyable.

 

 

House in the Woods——I feel Wildflowers has three different closing songs. Each of these feels like a definite stopping point to me. All three in a row is too much. Nice drum fills by Steve in the middle. Very nice! Some nice playing and usually I enjoy a good extended outro (mainly live) but this goes on too long for me. These last three songs feel like sitting through the overlong credits of a special fx blockbuster. 

 

 

Crawling Back To You——A very interesting song. It occupies that unique space between ballad and midtempo groove, more of the latter than former. Reminds me a bit of Runaway Trains. I like it. Some of the lyrics aren’t to my liking but the tempo is interesting.

 

 

Wake Up Time——A sleepy song that belies its title. Very tasteful strings. I like when he takes his voice up a notch while singing “…a long way from home…” This melody just gets right to me; it’s heartbreaking in a whole different way, if Don’t Fade On Me is dark clouds and rain, this is the rainbow shining in the sky afterwards.

 

 

 

As an album, for my taste, it doesn’t work. Too much midtempo sad songs or strange bobdylanesque ramblings. Practically no upbeat energy. Sometimes, when I’m in just the right mood, I’ve thrown this on and appreciated for what it is but that doesn’t happen very often.

 

 

I’d say its influence extends all the way, in one form or another from here through Mojo. 

 

When Tom and the fellas hit on a good riff, they can deliver powerful, chugging midtempo grooves, but when they don’t, the result is a song that goes on too long and sounds bland. Too many of these and an album is mired in quicksand.

 

 

From this point forward, songs like You Wreck Me are the minority. Which doesn’t mean that he didn’t continue to record good songs, just that a certain style was largely ignored. 

 

Another weak album cover. I like the color but the imagery is so dull. Better perhaps to just have an all brown cover with that weird flower/fleur de lis-like symbol on Tom’s guitar in one corner and his name.

 

I think I’d enjoy the songs more (possibly) had they been scattered across a variety of albums, but gathered here together, it’s all a bit one flavor for me. Still, together or separate, a lot of this I can take or leave, while still recognizing the quality of the composition, the skill with which it was recorded, every instrument just pops! and the performances. 

 

But it’s not a record I ever really listen to, the last time I heard the majority of these songs was about nine years ago. 

 

 

Wildflowers is, in my opinion, the largest shift in Tom’s career and one I didn’t like. 

 

cheers

 

 

 

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Interesting, thanks for sharing.

I too revisited Wildflowers after what seemed like a long hiatus. That was a little over a year ago, when expecting an archival release (later known as 'All The Rest' and still to this day unreleased) from the sessions to be imminent. While I think the change in mode, or rather mood, musically, that you seem to refering to, what you call the "midtempo groove" and "emphasis on the acoustic", really happened in the close approx of personas and methods of older rock icons during the work with Traveling Wilburys and Full Moon Fever, a a TP coming of age as it were, I think you are certainly right to point out the mellower, darker and richer sound and the impact of Rubin as a watershed in its own right, an even more mature way to channel the midtempo and the acoustic, if you will. Wildflowers, to me, stands out as an opus that way.

As for the material, over the years I have come to find that some of my early days doubts about certain songs, in terms of compostition and one or two minor details in arrangements (Don't Fade On Me, House in The Wood and You Don't Know How It Feels) it's over all a fantastic sounding album. Some tracks even grown on me over the years and I come to like them a lot with age, despite former doubts (You Wreck Me, It's Good To Be King - both are to me quite preferable in their studio versions, imagine that! - Honey Bee, I used to dislike, but at least live it have had it's moments.) Plenty of good songs on this album and some of my all time favorites of their's are on here - Crawling Back To You and Wake Up Time. Midtempo magic! 

Another aspect: Wildflowers also being a watershed in terms of TP utilizing the CD play length for the first time, loading it excessively and highly untraditionally with 15 songs, when 12 or 13 would have been more than enough. (Yes, I said the same thing about Echo and Mojo, but unlike those Wildflowers holds up fairly tight, in terms of mood and sequence, making it great album nevertheless). Just saying. Wildflowers was pioneering this idea of leaving the traditional 30-45 minute condensed and focused experience for a more dragged out ditto. A world in which, at least at times, the art of "kill your darlings" seems to have gone dead and buried. Just saying. Still great album!

When was "All the Rest" gonna be released again!?

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Needless to say, my opinion on Wildflowers differs greatly from yours, MJs2ndLD. I'll try to elaborate a bit on this a bit, if you bear with me. Because the album means a whole lot to me.

It was only the second album I knew from Petty. When it came out, I didn't care about Stan not being involved, simply because I didn't know what that entailed. I didn't know about a shift in songwriting style, because I was not familiar with pre-FMF stuff. I didn't know that on earlier albums of his there were almost no acoustic guitars. So the only shift I noticed was in production. And that was more than okay, because, as was pointed out earlier, the record just sounds perfect.

And I would go even further. To me, it's not just Tom's perfect album, it's maybe THE perfect album. Of course that has a lot to do with what you expect from an album. If you want an album to rock out to, that's not your go-to disc. But here's a collection of songs that seem to come from dark places and at the same time try to make peace with that darkness. They've accepted that some sad and terrible things can not be changed and you simply have to live with them. And the hope they express in fragile melodies and melancholy harmonies comes from the notion that time can heal your wounds. They are not written from a point in time when the wounds have already healed, though. No one knows if they ever will. The songs are rather written, sung and played in a state of pain, imagining that point in time when the healing begins. They imagine healing while still suffering.

So their mood is bittersweet, like remembering a person you loved and you lost... you're sad because of the loss but happy for the time you spent together. Thus the album manages to blend seemingly contradictory elements: Grief and happiness, joy and anger, despair and hope. You never know for sure whether the person Tom sings about on the title track is somebody he welcomes into his life or has to say goodbye to. Honey Bee is funny, lyric-wise, but it's riff and its beat sound so angry. But at what or whom? Crawling Back to You is a peaceful meditation not only on a relationship, but life in general ("Most things I worry 'bout never happen anyway"), but here, too, something or someone seems to be lost. And so on.

Maybe these things eminate from the fact that Tom's marriage was dissolving. But that doesn't really matter. What always matters to me most is that Wildflowers is an album whose characters seem to understand you, no matter at how low a point in life you are at the moment. The songs say "I understand", and life goes on. Sounds trite if you put it like that and write it down. But it sounds wonderful when you listen to the album. That's what songs are for, right?

Wildflowers is a very autumnal album in that sense (hence the color of the album cover, maybe). And a very mature one, too: It accepts the many contradictions in life. And it shows that even as a Rock'n'Roller, you have to grow up somehow. It's necessary to rock out from time to time, sure, but that's not all. It can't be the answer to everything. Petty belongs to one of the first two generations of artists in his art form who had to / were given the chance to figure out how to do that.

So... whether I want to hear a bright, hopeful tune ("A Higher Place") a nonsense rocker in some kind of a Chuck Berry tradition ("Cabin Down Below" or "Honey Bee"), a fun groove ("You Don't Know How It Feels") or some of the most bittersweet songs this side of Springsteen ("Wildflowers", "To Find a Friend", "Wake Up Time", "Crawling Back To You") - Wildflowers is always a good address. Tom not just pays tribute to his idols here. He became equally as good as them.

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Wildflowers is a very autumnal album in that sense (hence the color of the album cover, maybe). And a very mature one, too: It accepts the many contradictions in life. And it shows that even as a Rock'n'Roller, you have to grow up somehow. It's necessary to rock out from time to time, sure, but that's not all. It can't be the answer to everything. Petty belongs to one of the first two generations of artists in his art form who had to / were given the chance to figure out how to do that.

 TwoGunslingers,

 Everything you said is well written and beautifully expressed. I understand why this album means so much to you. That's a really good explanation of your feelings and the album itself.

I've no particular issue with an album that is primarily downbeat, moody or dealing with suffering, per se. Maybe not something I'd seek out all the time but I can see why others would. For me, as with most of the TPATH I don't enjoy, it comes down to song composition. I can appreciate the feelings being expressed here but not how the music is conveying them. 

With the passage of time I can appreciate this album more, since it's just 10 of 16 but only with much distance between listens and as I said before, when I'm just in the right mood for, as you so eloquently put it:

"a collection of songs that seem to come from dark places and at the same time try to make peace with that darkness."

Which ain't often! And usually by the end I'm tired of listening to this, while for others the tempos match the feelings, for me, they just leave me feelin' a bit bored, and restless (no pun intended) for something different.

I'm curious what other people on here think of this record, were they disappointed as I was or do they truly love it? Moved by Tom's melancholy while enjoying the lighter lyrical moments?

cheers

 

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(You Wreck Me, It's Good To Be King - both are to me quite preferable in their studio versions, imagine that! -

  I'm going to take a guess, that with It's Good To Be King, the long extended versions aren't to your liking, or, just wore on you with time (you expressed this part on here, I think in the King thread) and can't capture the unique, lush and dreamy melody of the album track. Am I close?

  With You Wreck Me...hmm. There is something different about the album track, almost refreshing. It could just be since I've heard the live version so frequently, the record version now sounds fresh and new. Is that similar to how you feel? In addition to the quality of the recording, the sounds of the guitars and drums and such?

 cheers

Edited by MaryJanes2ndLastDance

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  I'm going to take a guess, that with It's Good To Be King, the long extended versions aren't to your liking, or, just wore on you with time (you expressed this part on here, I think in the King thread) and can't capture the unique, lush and dreamy melody of the album track. Am I close?

  With You Wreck Me...hmm. There is something different about the album track, almost refreshing. It could just be since I've heard the live version so frequently, the record version now sounds fresh and new. Is that similar to how you feel? In addition to the quality of the recording, the sounds of the guitars and drums and such?

Well.. for the sake of brevity, let's just say.. Yes and Yes.

 

As for the material, over the years I have come to find that some of my early days doubts about certain songs, in terms of compostition and one or two minor details in arrangements (Don't Fade On Me, House in The Wood and You Don't Know How It Feels) it's over all a fantastic sounding album.

Oops. Something went missing there. Let me try it again.

As for the material, over the years I have come to find that some of my early days doubts about certain songs, in terms of composition, and one or two minor details in arrangements (Don't Fade On Me, House in The Wood and You Don't Know How It Feels), still are the weak points in my book, but over all, most of the songs hold strong and most of all this is a fantastic sounding album.

Other than that - yes, TG really puts it beautifully in the above post. Kudos! I might not agree on the strength on every single compositions (accordingly) but nevertheless I feel pretty close to the over all sentiments voiced. The emotional weight carried by this album is substantial.

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 (Don't Fade On Me, House in The Wood and You Don't Know How It Feels), still are the weak points in my book,

Could you elaborate on this? I think You Don't Know How It Feels is one of my least favorite songs of theirs, and definitely the nadir of the album for me. However, as I said, I think Don't Fade On Me is just one of his best, if not his single best sad song he's ever written.

What is it about these three that make them weak points for you?

cheers

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Could you elaborate on this? I think You Don't Know How It Feels is one of my least favorite songs of theirs, and definitely the nadir of the album for me. However, as I said, I think Don't Fade On Me is just one of his best, if not his single best sad song he's ever written.

What is it about these three that make them weak points for you?

cheers

I could. But I'm not sure it would mean much. These things are so hard to make sense of, inside other people's brains.

Anyway.. Here goes nothing: Don't Fade On Me is an ok song. It has good, effective lyrics. But there is something about the composition that sits a bit.. shall we say.. undone with me. The verse is great, but the "chorus" or "punch" or whatever.. doesn't work as well and it feels like the flow is punctuated in a mildly disturbing way. (That far, that could also be said, to a minor extent, for Hard on Me too, come to think of it.) This disturbed flow may also have a little to do with TP's vocal delivery. I'm not sure. (Although that is deliberate and part of the script here, so to speak, it's more about phrasing, much as part of Honey Bee that is also a little off-putting to me, whereas there are other moments of problematic vocals on this album, of a more "strained" or "off-key" quality which still seem to fly just fine in the context of phenomenal songwriting. And none of this is nothing that breaks the album, just saying. It's in the fine prints, but since you asked...) 

House in The Woods would end up in the same ball park in terms of composition analysis. Only worse, since not even the verse is that great in this case and the chorus is almost annoying in shape and form. Got a bit of that dummy feel that worked a little better for You Don't Know How It Feels. Trying to think.. eh.. the backbone of this song is just not as good, I guess. Makes me think of the saying about polishing up a turd. A lot of work has been put into making this sound like a lot better song than it really is. One of the least efforts here, not to say in all of the cataloge. Just not necessary on album that would have been even better without it. (And that would also narrow your closer problem down to a double - one of the best doubles ever to close a record, as it happens.)

You Don't Know How It Feels. Not a total waste. But there is something about the boom-smack and the new era it entails.. A bit like you say, I suppose. There just seems to be something missing here I guess.. and it's not the cymbals. An ok song, let's not be disobliging. 

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I could. But I'm not sure it would mean much. These things are so hard to make sense of, inside other people's brains.

Anyway.. Here goes nothing: Don't Fade On Me is an ok song. It has good, effective lyrics. But there is something about the composition that sits a bit.. shall we say.. undone with me. The verse is great, but the "chorus" or "punch" or whatever.. doesn't work as well and it feels like the flow is punctuated in a mildly disturbing way. (That far, that could also be said, to a minor extent,

 Thanks for sharing. Hey, that's what this place is for. I see what you mean regarding the "mildly disturbing" chorus; for me it works and actually heightens the tension of the song, like everything just stops, that's how broken and sad the song is, before carrying on.

cheers 

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It's my favorite album of Tom's.  I never thought anything could outrank Damn The Torpedoes and, even more so, Long After Dark; but to me this is Tom's White Album:  a diverse and distinctive set of songs done extraordinarily well.  Each song is different from every other song on the album.  I don't think that holds true for any other Tom Petty album. 

And yet--and here is the magic trick--they hold together quite well as a cohesive album.

Not only are the songs different from one another, they are different from Tom's entire preceding work and much of his subsequent work.  There is nothing quite like "House In The Woods" anywhere else in his catalog, and that goes for many of these songs.  (I sort of lump She's The One and Wildflowers together, because I absolutely love "Supernatural Radio" and "Grew Up Fast" in the same way that I do the Wildflowers material.)

And yes, it is probably his best recorded and maybe even his best-produced album.

Tom is almost fully an adult here (maybe not in certain connotations of the "Cabin Down Below" lyrics).  Maybe that's what you miss from his earlier records:  youthfulness.

What happened after this album, I believe, is that Tom's voice started to lose something.  Wildflowers or maybe She's The One seems to mark the end of the line for Tom's voice at peak form (or maybe even a little past its peak).  And I think that can't help but have affected his songwriting.  In other words, I don't think Tom fell in love with the Wildflowers mid-tempo approach.  Rather, I think the limitations of his voice constrained his choices and effectively necessitated that approach.  By 1995 he could never sing "Here Comes My Girl" as he did in 1980 (actually by 1991, if we can go by the performance from Take The Highway Live).

When I first heard "You Don't Know How It Feels," I hated that drum figure.  I couldn't believe how much Tom praised it in the Runnin' Down A Dream documentary.  If you watch the performance with Stan Lynch from The Bridge School Benefit, I think the song works much better without the drum figure leading the way.

And this is an aside, but can anyone please tell me:  Did Stan perform that song anywhere else?  And was it ever performed on television in 1994, other than on SNL?

In time I have come to appreciate the song more and more, though I'm still ambivalent about it (unlike the public; it was Tom's last big hit).

Anyway I just love Benmont's acoustic piano.  How much more at home and in the groove does he seem here than on Into The Great Wide Open?

I think "You Wreck Me" is brilliant.  I never tire of it.  

I think "It's Good To Be King" is a masterpiece.

And so is the album as a whole.

Edited by Ben

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 (I sort of lump She's The One and Wildflowers together, because I absolutely love "Supernatural Radio" and "Grew Up Fast" in the same way that I do the Wildflowers material.)

I understand why since didn't most of She's The One come from the same recording sessions as Wildflowers? But I view them as totally distinct albums. I quite like She's The One. 

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What happened after this album, I believe, is that Tom's voice started to lose something.  Wildflowers or maybe She's The One seems to mark the end of the line for Tom's voice at peak form (or maybe even a little past its peak).  And I think that can't help but have affected his songwriting.  In other words, I don't think Tom fell in love with the Wildflowers mid-tempo approach.  Rather, I think the limitations of his voice constrained his choices and effectively necessitated that approach.  By 1995 he could never sing "Here Comes My Girl" as he did in 1980 (actually by 1991, if we can go by the performance from Take The Highway Live).

 

That's an interesting theory, Ben. You could be correct. The thing is, while Tom's voice has changed, I actually enjoy his voice more as time has gone on. Sure, I still like it on those 70s albums, but my preference is for his latter day voice. I think his singing voice he used in Wildfowers and post Wildflowers could fit faster paced songs, it worked for You Wreck Me. I'm sure he would have adapted his voice to the song. I just think he preferred to go in this direction, since it probably felt more openly emotional, mature and different to what he'd done before.

Didn't he say Mojo was the closest to how the band sounds when they're just playing for themselves at rehearsals and soundchecks?  I think Tom enjoys a good fast tempo rock-n-roll song as the spice to the dish and not the main course.

cheers

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In time I have come to appreciate the song more and more, though I'm still ambivalent about it (unlike the public; it was Tom's last big hit).

I think Walls was his last big hit. I don't know if they ever tried to do a Greatest Hits 2, what they'd put on there? Girl on Lsd, You Don't Know How It Feels and Walls?

cheers

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And this is an aside, but can anyone please tell me:  Did Stan perform that song anywhere else?  And was it ever performed on television in 1994, other than on SNL?

In time I have come to appreciate the song more and more, though I'm still ambivalent about it (unlike the public; it was Tom's last big hit).

I don't know about Stan and that song. I kinda doubt it but if they did play the Viper Room around that time, maybe there's another Stan performance.

 I can enjoy the  instrumental outro of the song on live recordings, simply because it's something different to a lot of the standard songs I hear them play. But that's about it, never cared for the song.

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I think Walls was his last big hit. I don't know if they ever tried to do a Greatest Hits 2, what they'd put on there? Girl on Lsd, You Don't Know How It Feels and Walls?

cheers

Yer So Bad, You Wreck Me, Jammin' Me, Southern Accents, Face In The Crowd, Woman In Love, Handle With Care (live version), Waiting For Tonight.

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Hey TwoGunslingers,

Did you see the link in the other thread for a TPATH show from 91 with an acoustic American Girl?

cheers

Where is the this link?  The first time I saw Tom, in 1991, he played acoustic versions of "American Girl" "Breakdown" and "Listen To Her Heart."  I've been dying to hear them again ever since.

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