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Petty LP a rockin’ shout of victory
By Kitty O’Steen
Los Angeles Collegian — Friday, May 16, 1980
It was a no-win situation.
In 1978, entangled in lawsuits over contract hassles, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers appeared to be washed-up even before they could set sail. Petty, himself, was on the verge of bankruptcy.
But, somehow, whether through luck or, more likely, sheer fortitude, the group stayed together and Petty came out in the black.
The victorious result — a settlement with MCA’s Backstreet label for a reported $3 million — can be heard on Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers third album, “Damn the Torpedos!”
This LP, containing songs written by Petty and guitarist Mike Campbell during the band’s darker days, is a chronicle of the disappointment, discouragement and disillusionment the five-member group suffered.
Yet, although the hurt is there, so is the triumph, as evidenced by the album’s optimistically take-charge title, which leaves unspoken a command of “Full speed ahead.”
Group seems down
On “Here Comes My Girl,” a tender rock ballad, Petty and henchmen — Campbell, Benmont Tench, Stan Lynch nd Ron Blair — appear to be down and out (“It just seems so useless to have to work so hard and nothing ever really seems to come from it”).
But, moments later the group quickly changes gears with “Even The Losers,” a song featuring Petty and The Heartbreakers basic hang-in-there attitude (“Even the losers/Keep a little bit of pride/They get lucky sometime”).
This sense of eventually overcoming the odds, no matter how adverse they might be, is the most vital part of “Torpedos!” and probably the reason why this LP has fared better than the group’s previous two, “Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers” and “You’re Gonna Get It.”
Almost anybody can relate to the words of “Refugee” — even if they’ve never gone through contract litigations.
“Who knows, maybe you were kidnapped, tied-up, taken away and held for ransom,
Honey, it don’t really matter to me,
Baby, everybody’s had to fight to be free,
Said, ‘You don’t have to live like a refugee.'”
Although this “Torpedos!” you-and-me-against-the-world theme gets a little too repetitive at times, when it gets right down to it, this album is one of the finest showcases of good rock music.
The lyrics, although basically unprofound, are intelligent and the music, characterized by dueling guitar riffs, is as musically sound as a Beatles medley.
Petty’s powerful vocals, which are sometimes unfortunately too garbled for comprehension (Tom, take the rocks out of your mouth), are supported well from a musicianship standpoint.
Lending their aid are: Petty on 12 and six-string guitars and the harmonica. Tench on the piano and harmonium, Lynch on drums and Campbell on six and 12-string guitars and the slide.
Side 1 of “Torpedos!” is easily the best. With one rocker following on te heels of the one before it, Petty and company take you through a maze of love (“Here Comes My Girl”), love gone astray (“Even the Losers”) and utopia (“Century City”).
Side 2 less exciting
Side 2 doesn’t offer quite the excitement of its predecessor, but “What Are You Doin’ In My Life?” is a worthy descendent of Side 1’s best cut, “Shadow Of a Doubt (A Complex Kid).”
Both are highly-invigorating tunes, although the former has a rather bitter observation to make (“What are ya doin’ in my life/I didn’t ask for you”).
But that’s the way it is with Petty and The Heartbreakers. The band isn’t afraid to say what needs to be said.
And, as far as Petty fans are concerned, “Damn The Torpedos!” is only a sell-out at the music store.