I remember the first time I heard "Walls." It was Christmas Eve 1996 and I was on my way to spend Christmas with family when somebody rear ended me at a stoplight that must have been no more than a block away from my aunt's house. As other drivers were calling their insurance companies and yelling at each other, I crawled back into my car that now looked like somebody had used it to teach parallel parking in a war zone somewhere.
While I was waiting for the police to arrive, "Walls" started playing on the radio. The first line of the first verse rang so true to me at that moment: "Some days are diamonds; some days are rocks." There was no question as to which of these categories my day belonged to. Yet, I started smiling. The song sounded awesome. Save "Mary Jane's Last Dance" I felt this was the best Tom Petty track I had heard in years. Jeff Lynne was no longer around forcing his ELO production on Petty's music. Tom was back with the Heartbreakers doing what he does best, mixing rock'n'roll with incredibly well-crafted pop melodies.
For the first time in a long while for Petty, it was all there: the Byrds-like guitars, powerful vocals, creative harmonies, well-written lyrics that were meaningful, yet catchy and a melody that seemed to hit exactly the right notes at exactly the right time. And all this was fused with what I felt was a rather gutsy production for its time. Mind you, this was the height of grunge fashion. But once again, Tom did what he wanted to do instead of what everybody else was doing. The psychedelic/baroque-like production of "Walls" must have sounded extremely alien to the trend followers of the mid 1990s. Yet, to this hardcore Petty fan “Walls” saved the day. I must say, however, that the greatest wisdom of the lyric lies, perhaps not in the soothing opening lines of the song, but rather in the lyrical hook Petty ends the chorus with, "I can't hold out forever, even walls fall down." How very simple but also very true, as I have over the years come to discover.
And the accident? Well, it turned out I got off rather easy. It was only when the police came and I calmed down a bit that I took a closer look at what had happened behind the car that rammed into my bumper. There must have been at least five or six vehicles that looked more like crushed coke cans than anything that sits on four wheels and operates with an engine. An elderly officer who was the first to arrive on the scene walked over to a sobbing middle-aged woman standing next to what had been a brand new Porsche still five minutes ago, put his hand on her shoulder and said, "Merry Christmas, Darling." Yep, Tom was right, some days really are like rocks. Need I explain why this track belongs to this list?
Check out the official music video of “Walls (Circus)”. The video reflects the psychedelic mood of the song perfectly, it is fun to watch and a must see for Petty fans.
Also, here’s a link to a video of Tom and the band performing a more up-tempo version of the song live:
And finally, a Spotify link to the alternate studio version of the song titled Walls (No.3):
You can learn more about Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers here:
About the curator - Tommi Tikka
Tom Tikka is a linguist, poet, professional songwriter, recording artist and a music aficionado. He started playing guitar when he was four and writing songs when he was six. Consequently, he doesn't remember a time when he wasn't playing or writing. It's fair to say, music and lyrics are not just something he loves to engage himself in; to him, they are a way of life.