Petty ‘Damns the Torpedoes’
By Bill Osterbrock
The Daily Sundial — Friday, December 7, 1979
With the release of Damn the Torpedoes, Tom Petty appears ready to take his place as one of the top rock’n’roll acts in the United States.
The new album, which was mired in the legal hassles which developed between Petty and his record companies, is much more accessible than either of his first two efforts.
Damn the Torpedoes also shows some of the feelings which went through Petty’s head when he was in the midst of the court hearings, with lines like, “When I got that little girl by my side I can tell the whole wide world to shove it,” from “Here Comes My Girl” on the first side.
The whole legal business began while Petty was working on Damn the Torpedoes when ABC (his old label) was bought out by MCA. Instead of accepting the change in labels, Petty told MCA that his contract with ABC was non-transferable and a long court battle ensued in which Petty was away from the studio and in meetings with lawyers.
The confusion and turmoil Petty experienced in the months spent in contract negotiations is shown in many of the other songs on the new album.
Petty mocks lawyers in “Century City,” explains his new realizations of life in “Louisiana Rain,” a much more emotional versuon than Bonnie Tyler’s rendition, which was recorded before Torpedoes came out.
The most telling example of the turbulence surrounding Petty is “Refugee”: “Somewhere, somehow, somebody must have kicked you around/Who knows? Maybe you were kidnapped, tied up/Taken away and held for ransom,” and the battle cry of the song, “Everybody’s got to fight to be free.”
Torpedoes outdistances Devo, Talking Heads, and The Cars, who tried to fill the void of American rock after Bruce Springsteen’s Darkness on the Edge of Town album, but none of them have the bite and inspirational qualities present on Damn the Torpedoes.
Petty also shows that there are people who believe in the “Great American Dream” even while new wave acts from Britain are forecasting the end of the world (Elvis Costello).
With a little stronger material on the second side, this album would be rocketing to the top of the charts; nonetheless, the strong points of the album — the guitar and drums along with the biting lyrics — make Damn the Torpedoes one of the most “gripping” (to use a favorite word of another idealist who still believes in the American Dream) albums of 1979.