Behind the Comforting Meaning of “Wildflowers” by Tom Petty

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

Where do you belong?

If you had asked Tom Petty, it would be among the wildflowers or in a boat out at sea. You belong somewhere you feel free.

Petty’s song “Wildflowers” is a soothing, fan favorite from the late songwriter’s catalog. He first released the song in 1994 as the title and opening track on his second solo album, which was also his first solo album release with Warner Bros. Records. Outside of that, though, what other nuggets of wisdom are left to be plucked from Petty’s “Wildflowers”?

The meaning behind the song lyrics

Right off the bat, it’s interesting to note the beautiful simplicity in the lyricism of “Wildflowers.” This song nearly embodies the old adage, “less is more.” More specifically, the song’s chorus repeats itself thrice, and it is cushioned by just two verses. The chorus, however, does produce slightly different evolutions of itself each time.

The first chorus includes the line, sail away, kill off the hours, while the second chorus includes the line, you belong with your love on your arm. Then, by the time Petty reaches the third and final chorus, he sings,

You belong among the wildflowers
You belong somewhere close to me
Far away from your trouble and worry
You belong somewhere you feel free
You belong somewhere you feel free
.

What does it mean?

Petty is drawing the song closer and closer to himself. Of course, he wanted to give solace to his listeners—any good songwriter does. But at the same time, he’s comforting himself, self-soothing. More specifically, at the time of this song’s release, Petty was in the midst of severe personal and professional change. Petty’s marriage to Jane Benyo, with whom he had two children, was falling apart and would officially end in divorce in 1996. On the other side of things, Petty had just signed to a new record label (as mentioned above), and his longtime drummer for the Heartbreakers, Stan Lynch, had left the band due to personal differences with Petty in 1994.

We can see why Petty was seeking some reassurances. Thankfully, for us, his encouragements were translated into song for the rest of us to enjoy alongside the singer.

Petty’s creative process

The creative process for “Wildflowers” actually spooked the songwriter at first. The song had come out so easily that Petty had surprised even himself.

“I just took a deep breath and it came out,” he said in a 2014 interview. “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.”

In fact, there was a lot that was right with “Wildflowers.”

Photo Credit: Martin Atkins / Sacks & Co.

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