Classic Albums:
Damn The Torpedoes

Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers

Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers were a hot potato in the burgeoning quake of mid to late 70s new wave. The problem was that they had more in common with the Byrds than the Ramones, which probably violated more than a few ties to the punk scene. As it was, they were a tight band with solid songs. Poised for the big-time, difficulties with their record label held the group’s future in limbo after their second album. Then Backstreet Records came to the rescue, and Damn The Torpedoes, the third album, got the go-ahead. It would become the breakthrough album for Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers. The whole story gets a thorough airing on the Classic Albums: Damn The Torpedoes DVD and Blu-ray Disc.

Like all of Eagle Vision’s Classic Albums episodes, the story surrounding the making of Damn The Torpedoes is as authoritative as you can get with all new interviews featuring Petty, guitarist Mike Campbell, keyboardist Benmont Tench, bassist Ron Blair, producer Jimmy Iovine and engineer Shelly Yakus. All of the participants weight in, mostly sitting behind a recording console. Petty talks about constructing songs, Campbell may add something about (and sometimes plays) parts he contributed, and Tench explains some of his complex keyboard embellishments worked into the mix. At one point, Yakus talks about how the guitar and keyboard sound of the band created a distinct blend and sound.

A big reason, we learn, producer Jimmy Iovine was brought in was because he had mastered the science of recording drums, especially on Patti Smith’s “Because The Night.” As it happened, getting a good drum sound on Damn The Torpedoes was problematic, including the near-sacking of drummer Stan Lynch, who later left the band in 1994. Tench says Iovine didn’t really like Lynch’s drumming and other drummers were brought in for a couple of weeks. In the end, the band realized they needed Lynch to make it work and he was invited back. Why they didn’t just use Jim Keltner, who was apparently wandering up and down the studio hallways, to play more than a couple of shakes remains (since it has been revealed) one of rock’s greatest mysteries.

Petty walks through an acoustic, Storytellers-style bit on “Here Comes My Girl,” a song that seems to evolve as the documentary moves forward. Through trial and error, we find out “Don’t Do Me Like That” became the band’s first Top 10 single. The MTV video clips and live footage substantiate the impact Damn The Torpedoes made at the dawn of the 80s. But, of course, when the documentary focuses on Petty’s songwriting or Campbell’s guitar playing, it goes beyond the making of a single album. The 42 minutes of bonus footage takes it even further as various key instruments and recording techniques employed are explored. If you have the four-hour Runnin’ Down A Dream documentary, you may think you’ve gotten your fill of Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers. Better check again because Classic Albums: Damn The Torpedoes has got some new stuff you’ll want to see.

~ Shawn Perry

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