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Blu-ray Review: Classic Albums – Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers, Damn the Torpedoes

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Everything about the album was difficult; writing, recording, mixing, mastering. We fought for it.” — Mike Campbell, Heartbreakers guitarist

It’s passionate. We capture it. And what he’s singing about relates to today… It’s just timeless.” — Jimmy Iovine, producer

In 1979 Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers found themselves at the threshhold of the most turbulent time in their musical history. They had decided that they would no longer work as a supporting act for other bands, they weren’t going to accept second billing anymore. They also had a fight on their hands — their record company had sold its assets to MCA and Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers just happened to be one of those assets.

Tom Petty vowed himself to war knowing that the next album he released, the band’s third, Damn the Torpedoes, might sit in vaults gathering dust as the band fought the record company through long-term litigation. To this band of pioneering musicians, under the guidance of their fearless, fierce, and quite stubborn leader, that risk was not one of choice. That historical legal battle would change music history forever; for the first time a band would fight the iron-fisted rule of record company contracts and win. Damn the Torpedoes would eventually find a home on Backstreet Records.

Jimmy Iovine, who co-produced the album, believed, and still does to this day, in the power of the historically important third album. In his words, “You know, Born to Run was the third album for Bruce, and Patti Smith, Easter (which Iovine produced) was her third album.” He believed that Damn the Torpedoes, with the assistance of production partner and engineering genius Shelly Yakus (well known for his drum-heavy productions like “Because the Night” on Easter), would be the album to take Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers out of the confines of Top 40 and into the music halls of fame.

Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers: Damn the Torpedoes, released on Blu-ray by Eagle Rock Entertainment on August 3 as part of the Classic Albums series, encapsulates that battle, and all of the turbulance and triumph that ensued in making this album. With commentary from the band members, Tom Petty, and the men who produced the album as well, it delves deeply into the mindset of everyone involved in the production at the time. Along with in-depth discussions on the instruments they used and what inspired them during the creation of this historic rock and roll album.

Damn the Torpedoes was born of a time of passion and anger, an emotional time — a time when the only way for Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers to survive and hold on to their integrity meant pulling out every bit of commitment and determination they possessed individually, and as a single entity.

The Blu-ray edition features the men who made the album breaking it down song by song. Using the incredible audio that only Blu-ray can offer, they pull out the original masters and, for the first time, the viewer can listen with them and hear exactly what they heard in the studio when creating the album. They also discuss the trials and personal conflicts that went on during that heated period in their history and truly acknowledge the genius that each member brought to the studio production and song writing process.

They share their humorous stories and the rifts that occured, but most refreshing of all, they share their own joy and amazement in this masterpiece which they created. Their personal pain and doubts, their joys and moments of euphoria. The feeling of desperate anguish that went into every note.

The resulting album is still a thing of musical beauty, an intricate sweeping vessel as hard-hitting and gut-wrenching as it was the day it was released. An album that will rock unto eternity, leaving its mark on every new listener who has the pleasure of knowing it, it is an album whose story deserves to be told, for its historical relevance as well as its musical ingenuity and power.

The Blu-ray Disc:

The benefits of the 1080i high definition widescreen 16×9 picture quality are not as evident on the archival video footage, although the re-mastering makes the quality far superior to the original. However it does make a significant difference in capturing the in-studio segments in sharp, brilliant widescreen detail.

The LPCM stereo audio brings out the detail in the audio segments; the only thing that could have improved it is if it had been mixed to better showcase the studio recreations in surround sound. Still, every note is clear and precise, as if you were actually sitting in the studio listening as the band layed down the original riffs and rhythms of this classic rock album.

Special Features:

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers: Damn the Torpedoes (Blu-ray) includes 42 minutes of additional commentary, performances, and studio recreation as bonus features. It includes discussions of the actual instruments used in the album production, from Mike Campbell’s historically significant Rickenbacker that graced the album’s cover, and how they produced the sound of “100 guitars,” to Benmont Tench’s organs, and Shelly Yakus’s studio wizardry in creating a recording sound that had never been produced before.

The bonus features focus mainly on the instruments themselves, their personal relationships with the musicians who played them, and how they were used to achieve the “living” rock and roll sound that turned this album into an instant classic.

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