Another in a long line of classic album discussions originally shown on British television, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers get the confessional treatment for their fantastic 1979 Damn the Torpedoes record. For nearly an hour the members of the band, as well as some of those who assisted in making the record, talk about how they created one of the catchiest, breeziest rock albums in an era of disco and folk rock. As the facts, anecdotes, and song clips roll on one will find that Damn the Torpedoes still holds a timeless quality.
Virtually nothing like Behind the Music and more like a 33 1/3 book, the Classic Albums series is more concerned about the background and intricacies of how an album was created. Tom Petty and the members of the Heartbreakers (Mike Campbell, Benmont Tench, Ron Blair, and Stan Lynch) sit around and discuss the various musical choices made for most of the songs off of Damn the Torpedoes. They talk a little bit about their history, their rise to modest fame, and how great each other is at their craft.
They spend time discussing each element of a song, including the lyrics and the individual instruments. Much of the time is spent sitting in front of a production board and potting up a guitar or drum track to show its effectiveness in making a song like “Refugee” or “Even the Losers” successful. Old band film and video clips are shown as songs are discussed, showing a sharp contrast between the youthful swagger of the Heartbreakers in their 20s versus the somewhat colorfully dressed and less traditional hairstyles of the group today.
What is possibly even more interesting is the casual, serious discussion that the band members and engineers have with each other. None of the back and forth seems forced, and the group’s commentary and dry humor come across as very honest. The glowing love by everyone involved with “Here Comes My Girl,” including Tom Petty’s remark that it is one of his favorite songs, still resonates in their eyes and words.
The nearly 40 minutes of extras are enjoyable to watch after the full episode is finished, especially if one views them all at once. One can watch a promotional television advertisement of the album, Campbell’s appreciation of the Rickenbacker guitar shown on the cover of the record, and an amusing inclusion of engineer Shelly Yakus in one of the songs. I particularly enjoyed the times when the band would play a song beyond its usual fadeout, which revealed some excellent jamming and sometimes humorous moments.
This Classic Albums episode is, of course, a must-see for Tom Petty fans. It would also be something to watch for those who have a general interest in the recording industry and how much work it takes to put an album together. If you are interested in both aspects, this DVD makes for an especially intriguing viewing.