Song Musings

What you always wanted to know about that tune

Welcome to another Song Musings, my weekly recurring feature that takes a closer look at a tune I’ve only mentioned in passing or not covered at all to date. My pick this time is Walls (Circus) by Tom Petty, one of my favorite artists of all time. In fact, I was really surprised it took me six and a half years to write about this song.

Walls (Circus), written by Petty and featuring then-Fleetwood Mac’s Lindsey Buckingham on backing vocals, first appeared in late July 1996 as the lead single of Songs and Music from the Motion Picture “She’s the One”, the ninth studio album by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. As the title implies, the album served as a soundtrack to She’s the One, an American romantic comedy picture written and directed by Edward Burns and starring Jennifer Aniston and Cameron Diaz. Here’s the official video clip.

Incredibly, Walls (Circus) only reached no. 69 in the U.S. on the main pop chart Billboard Hot 100, though it did much better on other Billboard charts, including Mainstream Rock (no. 6) and Adult Alternative Airplay, which it topped. In Canada, it peaked at no. 2.

The album fared better overall, climbing to no. 14 on the Billboard 200. Elsewhere, it did best in Sweden (no. 5) and also charted in various other countries, including Germany (no. 20), Norway (no. 22), Austria and Switzerland (each no. 27) and the UK (no. 37).

The soundtrack album also featured a different faster version of the tune titled Walls (No. 3). It has the same lyrics and melody, but the intro is different and the song in general has less emphasis on the instruments. It was later covered by Glen Campbell on his 2008 album Meet Glen Campbell and by The Lumineers on the first anniversary of Petty’s death. Walls (No. 3) also appeared on Angel Dream (Songs and Music from the Motion Picture “She’s the One”), a reconfigured and remastered 25th-anniversary reissue of the soundtrack album, released in July 2021, which I reviewed here.

Following is some additional background on Walls from Songfacts.

Not to be confused with the 2011 track by The View, this 1990s ballad is a favorite of Tom Petty’s fans. It is also the song he “lost,” as he explained to a live audience in a 1999 episode of VH1 Storytellers: “One time this guy come to me and asked me to write some music for his film and that’s another way you can jog your mind into things. I wrote this song for him and I liked it so much I wanted to take it back, but he wouldn’t let me take it back.”

Tom Petty was going through a transitional phase when he wrote this song. In 1994, he released Wildflowers, his second album without The Heartbreakers (following Full Moon Fever in 1989). After touring for the album, his marriage fell apart, and in 1996 he got divorced from his first wife, Jane, whom he married in 1974. He was living on his own in a rented house when he wrote “Walls,” which explores the swingline of life in very poetic terms, starting with the first verse:

Some days are diamonds
Some days are rocks
Some doors are open
Some roads are blocked

In the end, it’s a hopeful song, aimed at a girl with a heart so big she could “crush this town.” She’s bound to reach him eventually, because even walls fall down.

When he played this live, Petty would typically do a downtempo, acoustic version, which is how he played it on Storytellers.

The “Circus” version of this song got a high-end music video directed by Phil Joanou, who also did Petty’s “You Don’t Know How It Feels.” It takes place at a psychedelic circus, where the elephants are purple and the horses are green. It doesn’t contain any footage from She’s The One, but does feature cameos from two of its stars: Jennifer Aniston shows up is leaning against the tiger cage, and Edward Burns is the taxi driver.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube

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10 thoughts on “Song Musings”

  1. “It was later covered by Glen Campbell on his 2008 album Meet Glen Campbell and by The Lumineers on the first anniversary of Petty’s death.” Tom Petty died in 2017?

    “Walls (Circus)” is my favorite song of Tom Petty. I can still remember when I saw the video the first time, although it is more than 25 years ago. Oh, I’m still lovin’ it!

    I believe that I saw the movie “She’s The One” one time. But it must have been years ago. It was a nice film but not sophisticated.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Nice tune. Never heard of it. The Petty/Mac synergy is interesting. I never knew that Buckingham song with Petty. And we already know that Nicks wished sometimes she was a member of the Heartbreakers. Coincidentally, I was just listening to the Petty channel on Sirius. They also played a song I’d never heard. For all I know it’s well-known.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Great tune! That entire “Live Anthology” box set is pretty cool. In addition to well known Petty original tunes, there are cool covers of tunes like “Something in the Air” (Thunderclap Newman), “Mystic Eyes” (Van Morrison) and “Green Onions” (Booker T. & the MGs. Even John Barry’s “Goldfinger”!

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  3. This is a great tune and deserving of its place on recent ‘The Best of Everything’ – I always enjoyed the She’s The One soundtrack and felt like there was the great TP&Heartbreaksers album buried / missed there until last year’s re-imagining which is now one of my favourites. That Wildlflowers thru Echo era was just so rich

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I remember seeing “She’s the One” on TV some years ago (and was completely smitten with Edward Burns), but don’t remember this song. I have to say, I prefer the film version over the original, perhaps because it sounds more ‘polished’, which I like in songs.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I like the song a lot…not as much as his earlier albums but… I still like it a lot! One thing about Tom Petty…he exuded “cool” more than most performers. You get the feeling what you see is what you got.

    Liked by 1 person

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