Classic Albums: Tom Petty and
the Heartbreakers - Damn the Torpedoes!
Tom Petty and the
Heartbreakers' 1979 breakthrough album Damn the Torpedoes! has long
been on my personal "Desert Island Disk" list of my ten favorite albums of
all time, so it was huge news to me that it was finally being recognized by
the long-running Classic Albums series.
This album took Petty from
being a small town Florida rocker with a lot of potential and a few minor
hits (such as "American Girl" and "I Need To Know") and made him a deserved
household word. To this day, Petty is a dazzling musical craftsman who
combines a savvy set of influences together to form a musical style that is
familiar and yet stubbornly idiosyncratic. Musically adventurous and
surprisingly supple lyrically, the album is still the high-water mark of an
Of course, though it is a
brilliant piece of rock and roll musicianship, Damn the Torpedoes!
was not created in a petrie dish of emotional turmoil, like for example
albums which were somewhat contemporaries of the record - the personal
romantic turmoil of Fleetwood Mac's Rumours or the drug-induced power
struggles of the Eagles' Hotel California.
The big problem in the
Heartbreakers' universe leading up to the recording was a contract dispute -
undoubtedly horrible to go through but not a life-or-death drama to watch
after the fact. Still, it is fascinating how close the songs from
Damn the Torpedoes! came to never being released before a compromise was
made and Petty was moved to a new sister label of his former musical home.
not overly couched in controversy, it is kind of disappointing
that the special does pussyfoot around the one long-shrouded-in-mystery
portion of the film, the friction between producer Iovine and drummer Stan
Lynch. Whatever happened is acknowledged but not really explained and
led to Lynch temporarily getting fired from the band in the middle of
recording of Torpedoes - and quite probably to his permanent
musical divorce from the band several years later. While the other members
do go out of their way to praise Lynch's performances, it is doubly
disappointing that the drummer was not interviewed for this program to tell
his side of the story. We just see him in archival footage.However, for an album which
Therefore, if we delete the
sizzle from the program we are left with the steak - and this meal is pretty
tasty. Essentially we have Petty, band members, producer (and future
Interscope Records head) Jimmy Iovine and engineer Shelly Yakus sitting
around recording studios and literally dissecting the creation of the music.
Discussing several of the tracks they sit by the player and track out each
individual instrument in the song - giving an amazing insight into the
recording process, as well as showing the bare bones of how each song was
This is pure catnip for
hardcore music geeks, though it may be a little slow moving for the more
Of course, it only helps
that the music is near perfect, from the rock and roll exuberance of the
hits "Refugee" and "Don't Do Me Like That" to more introspective stuff like
"Even the Loser" and "Here Comes My Girl" to the occasional oddball fluke
like the gorgeous countrified lament "Louisiana Rain."
Some of the album tracks -
such as "Century City," "Shadow of a Doubt" and "What Are You Doing in My
Life?" get a bit of a rush job - but that may be due to the fact that
Damn the Torpedoes! was such an unusually deep album. Everyone is
going to have their own favorite and some people will lose out a bit.
Still, as a look at the
tail end of a generation when rock and roll could really be nurtured and
come to matter deeply, Classic Albums: Damn the Torpedoes! is a
little slice of musical heaven.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2010 PopEntertainment.com.
All rights reserved. Posted: August 3, 2010.