Kaleidoscope: Tom Petty, Heartbreakers, steam full speed ahead
By L. Mark Cubstead
The Optimist — February 8, 1980
With a lot of people still reluctant to accept the New Wave, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers are churning out a new style that might be considered a safer alternative for some listening audiences.
Tom Petty isn’t new wave and he certainly isn’t new, however his latest album, “Damn the Torpedoes,” is one of the hottest new albums of the year.
After three years on the brink of stardom, with one semi-hit “Breakdown” and even filing for bankruptcy. Petty has finally released an album so full of exuberent energy that this will probably be the one to do it for him. In fact, “Damn the Torpedoes” is No. 2 on this week’s Rolling Stone Top 100 Album Chart.
The title is taken from the famous quite by David Glasgow Farragut in 1864 at the Battle of Mobile Bay during the Civil War, regarding mines set by Confederate troops. The full quote “Damn the torpedoes — full speed ahead!” is an apt description of what the album has to offer.
Petty takes a lot of chances and wins with an excellent mixture of melodic mainstream rock and high voltage rock and roll. It’s high-spirited sound is reminiscent of Dylan, Jagger, Springsteen and the Byrds soulful harmonies — but all with the polished studio finesse of the 80s.
“Refugee” opens side one with a bang. His paean to success is accented by the lines, “You don’t have to live like a refugee.”
The second cut, “Here Comes My Girl,” initially sounds like an echo of an early Springsteen tune, which transforms into something similar to the Byrds’ classic, “My Back Pages.”
Side one’s final cut, “Century City,” which displays Petty’s razor sharp tenor is a stab aimed at all the legal sharks in the recording industry — of whom Petty has seen too much.
So much in fact that Petty found himself in debt for a half a million dollars because of a supposed breach of contract. Since his break from Shelter Records, he and his band have signed a new contract with Backstreet Records for a paltry three million.
Side two holds nothing back with the hit single, “Don’t Do Me Like That.” The album ends with the country inflected “Lousiana Rain” recalling the style of his first album.
So as the long as this new album is staying on top, I can pretty well estimate that Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers won’t ever have to worry about living like refugees. His new success and inventiveness is forging a sound for the 80s.