Liner Notes: Petty’s 3rd album gets a 2nd look
By Curtis Ross
The Tampa Tribune — October 22, 2010
Before “Damn the Torpedoes,” Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers were a secret shared by fans who loved his American take on British Invasion rock.
The secret was out once the album, his third, reached the shelves on Oct. 19, 1979, the day before Petty’s 29th birthday.
A DVD from Eagle Vision’s “Classic Albums” series looks at the making of “Damn the Torpedoes,” while the album itself will be re-released Nov. 9 in a deluxe edition with a bonus disc of outtakes, B-sides and live cuts.
“That was the record where the dam broke,” Petty says at the beginning of the “Classic Albums” DVD.
“That was the record where life was never going to be the same again.”
Chart and sales success tell part of the story. It was the band’s first platinum (sales of more than 1,000,000 copies) and spawned two hit singles, “Don’t Do My Like That” (No. 10) and “Refugee” (No. 15).
Two other songs, “Here Comes My Girl” and “Even the Losers,” got enough play on FM stations to qualify as hits, even if they never reached the Top 40.
But it was the sound of the album that made it impossible to ignore.
The band’s first two albums (1976’s “Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers” and 1978’s “You’re Gonna Get It!”) featured a tough and compact production courtesy of Denny Cordell.
Producer Jimmy Iovine helmed “Torpedoes,” bringing with him engineer Shelly Yakus.
Together, they opened up the Heartbreakers’ sound, adding a booming authority to Stan Lynch’s drums and bringing Mike Campbell’s alternately stinging and ringing guitars into focus.
It sounded great on the radio, even if it sounded like nothing else on the radio, which was dominated on the AM dial by disco, while FM favored soft rock (Eagles, Fleetwood Mac) or slick, arena bands (Journey, Styx).
The success of “Torpedoes” was hard-earned.
“Everything about the album was difficult,” Campbell says in the DVD.
The difficulties included the sale of ABC Records, parent company of Petty’s label, Shelter, to MCA.
MCA considered Petty one of its artists, while Petty disagreed. Lawsuits were exchanged, with Petty finally declaring bankruptcy in an effort to void the contract.
A compromise was reached and the album was released on MCA-distributed Backstreet.
The drama continued in the studio. Lynch was initially excited to work with Iovine. Iovine had produced the Patti Smith Group’s hit, “Because the Night,” which Lynch says in the DVD, “had the greatest drum sound I’d ever heard in my life.”
But Lynch and the producer butted heads, leading to the drummer either being fired or quitting briefly. The DVD unfortunately tiptoes around this, a harbinger of conflicts which would result in Petty firing Lynch in the ’90s.
Iovine and Yakus’ big-time studio techniques – multiple takes, hours and days spent perfecting the drum sound – were new to the Heartbreakers, but the result was the album that solidified Petty and his band’s greatness.
The deluxe edition is a bit of a let-down. The bonus disc contains only nine tracks, the best of which is the B-side, “Casa Dega.” Named for Florida’s psychic capitol, the song is a mid-tempo ballad in the tradition of “Luna” or “Magnolia,” but with a new maturity and a more subtle sense of mystery.
Live takes of “Shadow of a Doubt (Complex Kid),” “Don’t Do Me Like That” and Eddie Cochran’s “Something Else” are rousing, while outtakes “Surrender” and “Nowhere” are OK but nothing special.
In fact, the bonus disc clocks in at just more than a half-hour and could easily have fit on a single disc with the original album – and sold for far less than this edition’s $29.99 list price.
Petty, long since signed to Warner Bros, may have had little say in the packaging. Maybe it’s MCA’s 31-years-in-the-making revenge for the legal battles leading up the album.