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Classic Albums: Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers – Damn the Torpedoes! (A

Updated: Aug 21, 2023

Classic Albums: Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers - Damn the Torpedoes!

Classic Albums: Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers – Damn the Torpedoes!


Featuring Tom Petty, Mike Campbell, Benmont Tench, Ron Blair, Jimmy Iovine, Shelly Yakus and archival footage of Stan Lynch.

Directed by Matthew Longfellow.

Distributed by Eagle Rock Entertainment.  57 minutes.  Not Rated.

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 iconic career.

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.

However, for an album which was 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.

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 constructed.

This is pure catnip for hardcore music geeks, though it may be a little slow moving for the more casual fan.

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 All rights reserved. Posted: August 3, 2010.

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