Last year saw the arrival of the mother of all Tom Petty boxed sets, “Wildflowers and All the Rest,” available in editions that extended to as much as five CDs and nine LPs of mostly unreleased music. If that collection was a six- or nine- or 10-course meal, depending on how far you want to stretch the analogy, then the newly released album “Angel Dream” might be considered a quick-and-easy nice surprise of a dessert.
“That’s a good analogy — the end of the meal,” says Ryan Ulyate, the Petty audio confidante who co-produced and mixed the new project. “Or,” he suggests, ratcheting up the comparison, “maybe the after-dinner single malt Scotch whisky.”
This fresh revamp of a 25-year-old Petty & the Heartbreakers album remains in single-CD or one-LP form, still compact by virtue of playing musical chairs with some of the songs. The 2021 version of the album adds four never-before-released tracks — and also tacks on an extra minute of jamming to one of the existing numbers — while excising a handful of film instrumentals, as well as losing three tunes that got officially shuffled over to last year’s “All the Rest.”
The full title of the new release is “Angel Dream (Songs and Music from the Motion Picture ‘She’s The One’),” with a subtitle that served as the full original name of a collection released in substantially different form in 1996. Back then, the album served as the soundtrack to an Edward Burns romantic dramedy that tends to be, shall we say, less fondly recalled than the music Petty provided for it.
It seems safe to say that the original “She’s the One” album was ripe for a revamp because it was too much of a mongrel project to seem sacrosanct or untouchable among most Petty fans — although you won’t find Heartbreakers guitarist and album co-producer Mike Campbell dissing the OG version.
“No, I never felt like it was diminished or perceived as a weaker album, per se, compared to our other albums,” says Campbell. “It was just the album we did that year. And we didn’t have as many original songs on it, but that was kind of fun for us, to do some covers, and having a film (to work with) for Tom, I think, was fun. But, you know, I liked the record…”
Ulyate says that Petty himself was a little more down on the “She’s the One” album. Although they never spent any amount of time discussing how it could be reimagined, with all the oxygen in their discussions about that era going toward how to update and expand the beloved “Wildflowers” album of ’94, he says the star made comments indicating he felt the soundtrack involved some compromises that placed it below the top tier of the Heartbreakers catalog.
“One of the things about this album we knew was that Tom was never that happy with the way it came out,” Ulyate says. “He felt it was kind of rushed. He didn’t really get the chance to put the time and effort into the finishing of it that he wished to, because there was a deadline they had to hit to make the movie. So my feeling about it, from what he told me, was that album kind of left a bad taste in his mouth, and he wished he could have gone back and really done it properly.
The ultimate test of how Petty felt about its place in his oeuvre: “In around 2014 or 2015, we remastered the whole catalog, and he said, ‘Eh, don’t do that one.'” Ulyate laughs at the memory of that simple instruction. “So he had other plans for it, you know.”
While what those plans could have been will apparently never be known — as opposed to the very specific game plan Petty had laid out for an “All the Rest” album and running order before he died in 2017 — “I personally just feel that he’d be happy with the way this came out.”
The idea that something else could be done with “She’s the One” was an outgrowth of all the years of work devoted to “Wildflowers and All the Rest.” Three songs that were withheld from the original “Wildflowers” album — “Hope You Never,” “Hung Up and Overdue” and “California” — ended up being thrown by Petty onto the soundtrack instead. But he included those three on his final track list for “All the Rest,” the planned companion album to “Wildflowers” that finally came out posthumously. It was the feeling of some in the Petty camp that the late rocker considered those three to have been officially shifted back into the “Wildflowers” universe now… meaning, they should come off “She’s the One.” But what to replace them with, if some version of the soundtrack album was to remain in circulation?
“In a way, that same creative spark and energy that went through ‘Wildflowers’ kept on going into the ‘She’s the One’ soundtrack,” Ulyate says — yet there was a very different spirit to the follow-up. Unlike “Wildflowers,” officially billed as a solo album, “She’s the One” was a return to the Heartbreakers having their name above the title, and there was a more rambunctious spirit at play. So to fill out the 2.0 version of the album, “we thought, how could we make this an album in the way that Tom would have done it, and sequence it in a way that tells a story that has an arc to it, alongside the existing stuff?” More than anything, they looked for outtakes that reinforced that sense of spontaneity.
The newly unveiled “105 Degrees” is an example of the Heartbreakers in pure rave-up mode, a quality valued among fans for how few examples there are of that in the studio catalog, maybe because Petty felt like it was a little too easy.
Says Campbell, “That’s an example of the kind of things that a lot of times we would do between songs, through all our albums. When we were warming up or taking a little break, Tom might just throw something together. A lot of times he would just make the words up on the spot, and we would, like you said, just have a rave-up with it. ‘105 Degrees’ is certainly a song that was just like, ‘Hey, let’s do this’ — you know, it wasn’t like written out or anything. I think it was mostly off the top of his head, and we just followed him and went along with it, and it’s got a great energy to it. And the lyrics are funny.” He cites Petty singing the key line, “What do you want? Perfection?” “I think there are a lot of things like that in our vaults that will probably sneak out over the decades to come,” the guitarist adds.
The most winsomely peculiar new track is the existential shuffle “One of Life’s Little Mysteries,” a “Wildflowers” outtake that Petty never earmarked for “All the Rest” or anything else. Ulyate calls it “just the kind of quirky track that really wouldn’t have fit on ‘Wildflowers’ as Tom imagined it, but we think it fits on this album.”
A cover of JJ Cale’s “Thirteen Days,” which would show up later in the band’s live sets, is a valuable addition here. Petty did not ultimately earmark it for the “All the Rest” album in the 21st century, but he’d had it under consideration in 1994 when he’d toyed with making “Wildflowers” a two-LP set. “Since it was one of the things that was originally in contention for the mythical double ‘Wildflowers’ album, we all felt it was really worth putting in,” Ulyate says. “Besides it fitting in really well here, that means that everything was on that whiteboard is now out. So if anybody wants to resequence their own custom version of (‘Wildflowers’), now they’ve got all the raw materials.”
Continuing on with that Cale thought, “the interesting thing about (‘She’s the One’/’Angel Dream’) is the cover versions,” Ulyate says. “They just never covered that many songs on studio albums in the Heartbreakers. ‘Feel a Whole Lot Better’ (from ‘Full Moon Fever’) or ‘Something in the Air’ (a bonus on ‘Greatest Hits’) are the only two other (cover) songs in the studio albums, apart from this one; obviously live is a whole different story. But on this one, if you listen to the Beck track, ‘Asshole,’ that’s just a great song. And the Lucinda Williams track, ‘Changed the Locks,’ is a really strong performance by Tom and the band. They highlight some artists that might not have been that well known — I mean, in 1996, Beck was kind of under the radar.”
A brief, newly unearthed instrumental version of “Angel Dream,” titled “The French Disconnection,” serves as a coda to the new release. But its real finale is a newly mixed and expanded version of “Supernatural Radio” that now runs a little more than six minutes.
“It might be a long song if it’s in a movie, where maybe you need to cut it down a little bit,” Ulyate says. “But boy, if it’s on a record and it’s a long song, and it’s interesting, then we should restore the whole bit. Tom’s thing was always, the song can be as long as it wants to be, as long as you’re not bored. And the fact that this outro was something that we found and kind of restored the edit and made it go full-length is just fun. It kind of gives it that epic feeling — it feels like the closer.”
Continues Ulyate, “I did a Dolby Atmos mix of this album, so on Apple Music, on Tidal and on Amazon, the top tier of those streaming services, you can get this thing in Atmos. And I was playing it at my studio for Robin Hurley, who works at Warners as the senior VP of A&R guy, who’s been a great help in all of this stuff, and he’s like, ‘Why didn’t they play that live? That’s just an epic song.’ And I’m like, absolutely. But Tom was so prolific at that time in his life that even a great song like that, they just forgot about. Any other band would close their show with it.”
Says Campbell, “I like ‘Supernatural Radio’ because it is a jam, and it’s the Heartbreakers just going out on a limb, in a mood, and extending it. I think Ben (keyboardist Benmont Tench) and I are real good at that sort of thing. We don’t do it too often on the records. That was cool.
“Of course,” says Campbell, referring to the overall project, then and now, “my favorite song is ‘Climb That Hill’ — the one I wrote.” He laughs. (“Climb That Hill” is the one song that remains on “Angel Dream” from “She’s the One” that was also added to “All the Rest,” but they’re different recordings.)
Fans have been uniformly raving about the improved audio quality of the familiar songs in this new version, which are not just remastered but remixed, with or without going the extra Dolby Atmos mile. They’ve certainly found it gratifying that Petty’s original “Eh, don’t do that one” instruction to Ulyate on doing anything to improve the sound of the original album was not a directive that had to stand for all time.
“I’m really happy about being able to go back and really spend the time with remixing these tracks and getting more dynamics out of them, and finding those little phrases that Tom sings that were kind of buried in the original mix and pulling them out more,” Ulyate says. “I kind of think of it as this being more of the HD version, in a sense. There’s so much power and fidelity in these tracks, and you can hear that on the remix. it just brings it out to a level where it’s just a little bit more dramatic and powerful.” And he notes the impetus for a lot of this “came from the family — from Adria and Dana and Annakim. They just wanted to have this (album) stand out, too, and not be overlooked.”
What’s next? There are plenty of studio albums in the Petty/Heartbreakers album that have been brought up for possible boxed sets of their own, with alternate versions of nearly an entire record, in some cases. But the next project is likely to move back into the live sphere.
Says Campbell, “The next release, as I understand it, is going to be one of my favorite things, which is live at the Fillmore. We did like a month at the Fillmore West back in ’97, and we played different sets every night and we had guest artists like John Lee Hooker, Roger McGuinn and Bo Diddley. I’ve heard some of it, and it’s really the band just being spontaneous and having a lot of fun and not doing a set of hits per se, but a set of things that changed from night to night that we would think of on the spot.” It was memorable enough that the idea became an intermittent go-to in their later career; “we did the Beacon in New York four or five days, and then we did the Fonda here (in L.A.) and the Vic in Chicago, which were the same kind of approach — different sets every night in a smaller venue, ad a lot of playing from the hip. I guess eventually if those hold up, those will come out too. But the first one, and I think probably the best one, that captured us at our peak, would be the Fillmore stuff.” He expects that to come out next year.
Campbell is not picky when it comes to rating the Heartbreakers’ studio projects. Of this “Angel Dream” revamp, he says, “I like all the things we do. I’m fine with everything that says Tom Petty and Heartbreakers on it,” he laughs. “I think the fans probably like having stuff with the Heartbreakers that’s not all polished up and trying to be hit singles. It’s just us having fun in the studio, and working outside of our normal mode, it being a soundtrack and all. But I don’t have a feeling about it other than just: Here’s another record. I hope you like it. This is us being us. Maybe it’s not at the top of the list of our albums because it was a kind of a one-off project for a movie, but now, by revisiting it, maybe people will find it that never heard it before, or they can re-appreciate it for what it was. And I think he would have liked bringing this out again in a new format and sharing it with everybody.”
Campbell is busy with his new band, the Dirty Knobs. “We did one (debut) record last year and we were all ready to tour, and then all hell broke loose so we pushed it back. We’re going to go out in March and do all those dates that were already booked. And then we’re just finishing up our second album, which is phenomenal. We’ll have two albums out by the time we tour, so we’ll have lots of material to pick from. It’s smaller venues obviously, but we are doing some opening dates in a few bigger places with Chris Stapleton. You know, we’re starting at the bottom and gonna work our way back. But I really believe in this band. It’s not the Heartbreakers — it’s a little more rock and boogie, and a little wilder maybe than the Heartbreakers on some level. But the songs are good, and it’s where my heart is right now. I don’t want to look back. I want to look forward.”
As for the archival releases, Campbell cuts to the chase: “Truthfully, if Tom was still here, we wouldn’t be doing this. We’d be doing new songs, new records. And since he’s not, this is what we have to work with. And we’re going to try to honor his integrity going forward with all the stuff that hasn’t come out yet and honor the fans that want to hear that stuff, and not put out anything that I don’t think Tom would have liked.
“I leave it a lot to Ryan. To be honest, it’s kind of hard to sit there and hear Tom on the speakers. Emotionally, still, I’m not comfortable that much with going back and remembering him and he’s not here anymore. And I really trust Ryan sonically. He’ll put the stuff together and usually by the time he plays it for me, I’ll go, ‘Yeah, that’s great.’ I keep an eye on this stuff, but a lot of it’s looking back…”
Campbell’s still deeply pleased these projects are coming out — he just can’t quite indulge in them with the same happy detachment that fans can. “But the fans are feeling it too,” he says. “We all miss him, and this is a way to keep his memory alive, so that’s always a good thing.”