November 22, 2021 3 min read

Recorded from late 1978 to Summer of 1979 in the midst of massive legal issues this album is a classic representation of giving it all ya got with one last chance to take it all the way to the top (See Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run” and Rush’s “2112” as other prime examples) proving that when the pressure is on the best work can be delivered. This week’s pick is Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ major breakthrough “Damn The Torpedoes.”

The sound of this record is incredible! Produced by Jimmy Iovine who was fresh off Bruce Springsteen’s career defining “Darkness on the Edge of Town” and Patti Smith’s “Easter”, Iovine demanded excellence from both The Heartbreakers and himself, spending weeks just got to get the tone of the snare drum right. The album was recorded at the legendary “Sound City” Studios which was the topic of a great documentary a couple years back. 

Petty’s contract had been assigned to MCA records when his original label ABC was purchased in 1979, fearing he would be left to disappear into obscurity Petty declared he couldn’t simply be moved to another label without his permission and felt the contract should be in void. MCA responded by suing Petty for breach of contract, Petty then retaliated by declaring bankruptcy, releasing him from the contract. Petty won and a new agreement was reached with “Backstreet Records”. Talk about outsmarting the suits!

“Damn the Torpedoes” kicks off with one of Petty’s most celebrated tracks “Refugee”, a heavy handed, full out rock anthem that would continue to be one of defining songs of Petty’s career. Make note of Mike Campbell’s (Petty’s right hand man and confidant throughout his entire career) incredible and tasty guitar solo! Also the bridge of “Refugee” is one of the greatest in rock history in my opinion. “Refugee” is followed by another classic Petty hit, “Here Comes My Girl”, the layers of this song scream ‘60s power pop, it’s a schooling in how to write an incredible song! Pay especially close to attention to Benmont Tench’s incredible piano work on the chorus. Next up is my all time favorite Tom Petty song “Even the Losers”. What a track! Lyrical this is one the greatest examples of not saying a lot but saying it all. A tale of a love gone by “I should’ve known right then it was too good to last, god it’s such a drag when you’re livin’ in the past”, one of the most relatable lines put to paper. I could hear this song everyday for the rest of my life and never tire of it. Side 1 wraps up with the 1-2 Punch of “Shadow of a Doubt” & “Century City”. Byrd’s-esque guitar parts, punk attitude and Elvis Costello delivery make these deep cut tracks not to miss moments.

Side 2 kicks off with another blockbuster hit “Don’t Do Me Like That”, originally written and recorded with Petty’s first band “Mudcrutch” (Featuring a handful of The Heartbreakers) Tom hadn’t thought about the song in years till Iovine discovered the original 45 single of the song while digging through an office at Petty’s management office, knowing it would be a massive hit Iovine demanded  Petty re-record it. Tom was said to exclaim “I was gonna try and give that to J. Geils Band '' good thing he didn’t! The next track “You Tell Me” is the least celebrated track on the album, it’s outstanding! Showcasing the swagger that only The Heartbreakers can deliver I have always said that this song sounds like 3 o’clock in the morning. “What Are You Doin’ In My Life?” Is another upbeat rocker, reminiscent of the Petty classic “I Need To Know” and a form he would return to many more times, most successfully on 1989’s “Runnin’ Down a Dream”. The album closes with “Louisiana Rain '' another example of a song that only Tom Petty could write. In my opinion this is in the top 5 tracks of Petty’s career. It paints an amazing visual movie in your head while Tom delivers one of his most emotional vocal performances. Seeing Petty play this song live on his last tour just months before his passing is one of my most cherished concert memories.

There is no doubt about it, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers are one of America’s greatest treasures. Tom would continue to deliver great songs till his last days on earth but “Damn the Torpedoes” may be the best representation of his career of what he and the Heartbreakers are all about… Great songs, great lyrics, great guitar playing and undefinable vibe that can only be described as “Tom Petty.”

-Nick



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