A Look at a Classic Tom Petty Tune: Walls (Circus)

She's The One Tom Petty

Hidden away on the soundtrack to a relatively obscure indie flick that gave Jennifer Aniston one of her earliest (critically acclaimed) lead roles a couple of years into her reign as “Friends” Queen Rachel, Tom Petty wrote “Walls”.

It’s one of his best tunes, so good he recorded it twice for the same soundtrack album – one version for the end of the film, and the other – featuring gorgeous backing vocals by Fleetwood Mac’s Lindsey Buckingham – for the opening credits.

“She’s The One” turns twenty years old next year, and could be described as “Wildflowers part 2”. It was made up of outtakes from Petty’s wonderful 1994 album of that name, which was originally planned as a double album. Petty added a couple of songs specially written for the soundtrack including “Walls” and also a cover of Beck’s Asshole, which isn’t as unpleasant as it sounds.*

In the mid-nineties, Tom Petty was reaching a creative and commercial peak. Wildflowers, a solo album recorded with Rick Rubin, had been a huge critical and commercial success. Petty had also joined Rubin to back Johnny Cash on his Unchained LP, another seminal album. But underneath the success was considerable heartache.

Petty’s long-time Heartbreakers drummer Stan Lynch had quit the band and Petty’s personal life had taken a turn for the worse – he divorced his wife of 22 years, Jane, in 1996. “It was a very rough time, the darkest period of my life” he said later.

Isle of Wight Festival The Heartbreakers Tom Petty at the Isle of Wight Festival

“I had just gotten divorced. And I was living on my own with nothing to do, and you’re in a strange place where suddenly you’re a bachelor again. I leased a house in the Palisades. I had my little 8-track studio in the back bedroom. I wrote the She’s the One album, the newer stuff for that. I wrote “Walls”, and “Angel Dream”. We had just done this long on-and-off tour for Wildflowers. I was not in a good head space. I won a Grammy and didn’t even go to the Grammys.”

Petty started out thinking he would do a couple of songs for the soundtrack, and then get others to contribute the rest. But it didn’t turn out that way. After it proved difficult to get people to contribute their best songs, Petty had a rethink. “I thought…well, we could do the album…because we have all the stuff left over from Wildflowers that is done or almost done. And we could write a few songs and have an album. And so that’s what I did. I took quite a bit of that album from stuff that was done for Wildflowers. And then the Heartbreakers rushed in and did a few songs to fill it out.

Despite this being a bleak time for Petty, the lyrics to Walls are hopeful and beautiful:

…………. You got a heart so big
It could crush this town
And I can’t hold out forever
Even walls fall down

Although the end result felt a little uneven at the time, listening to the soundtrack now, it holds together pretty well, something that Petty acknowledges. He also had a good time collaborating with other musicians. “I like Hung Up and Overdue which I got to do with Ringo. And Carl Wilson of the Beach Boys sang the harmonies.”

But it was “Walls” that opens both the album and film, and which remains one of Petty’s finest moments.

The official video is above – but here’s a lovely acoustic live clip of Petty performing Walls:


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* Rather than being what would be a singularly revolting album cover, Beck’s Asshole refers to a song, from his “One Foot In The Grave” album.

Tom Petty: Rock n Roll Guardian by Andrea M Morollo
Conversations with Tom Petty by Paul Zollo

Categories: Rock Music

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11 replies

  1. Great post, fella. I’m really fond of that song. I wasn’t aware that Petty & The Heartbreakers done the full soundtrack … you do indeed learn something new every day!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Gotta drop a like on this one. She’s The One and Wildflowers is such classic Petty to me, two perfect records that go hand in hand. There’s so much on that STO soundtrack that’s amazing, I can’t believe everyone hasn’t got a copy and talks it up as one of the greatest ever. I know I sure do.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. One of my favorite Petty songs ever. I can’t believe it’s this old.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. She’s the One is such a great album. It was kind of painful to read last summer that Tom wasn’t all that fond of it – he thought it was rushed and not much more than a bunch of sloppy seconds from Wallflowers. I couldn’t disagree with him more. “Hope You Never” is a kiss-off full of regret, along the lines of “A Woman in Love (It’s Not Me),” and his cover of Lucinda Williams’ “Changed the Locks” is earthshaking. Thanks for shining a spotlight on this great album.

    TP owes us a reissue of Wildflowers; I had heard that it was in the works with a bunch of unreleased tracks.


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