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DVD Review: Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers: Damn The Torpedoes (Classic Albums Series)

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Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers’ classic third album, 1979’s Damn the Torpedoes, is the latest to receive the in-depth, behind-the-scenes treatment of Eagle Rock’s excellent Classic Albums DVD series. Previous entries in the series include everything from the Doors’ landmark debut to (most recently) Black Sabbath’s heavy metal masterpiece, Paranoid.

What makes this series so great is the way that it gives you a ringside seat into the way that such groundbreaking rock and roll albums were created in the studio, as well as filling in the blanks of exactly how the artists involved got there in the first place. This entry for Petty’s Damn The Torpedoes is no exception.

With this roughly one-hour presentation (not counting the extras), brand new interviews with producers Jimmy Iovine and Shelly Yakus, as well as with Petty and members of the Heartbreakers themselves, transport you back to the heady late seventies period when the band was making what was then their “make or break” third record — which would ultimately come to be regarded, and rightfully so — as a rock and roll classic.

Producer Jimmy Iovine, who was an obvious believer in the Heartbreakers’ potential from the get-go, provides particularly revealing insight.

“I’m a great believer in third albums,” the producer explains, pointing to Bruce Springsteen’s Born to Run and Patti Smith’s Easter (the latter of which he was directly involved in) as just two of the more obvious examples.

Petty himself describes the album’s subsequent success as the point where “the dam burst, and nothing was ever going to be the same again.” At another point, keyboardist Benmont Tench describes calling the local radio station and disguising his voice in the process to request his song, only to be told “we don’t play that shit.”

Although the details of what got Petty and his band of “goober rednecks in velvet clothes” (Tench’s description) there in the first place are a little less telling here, the basic story of Petty’s journey from Gainesville, Florida to L.A. in search of a record deal is retold in brief, but vivid detail.

Interspersed with all of the in-studio details of the recording process (which, as is the norm with this series, take place behind a recording console) are some all-too-brief snippets of Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers live from this same period performing such chestnuts as “Even The Losers,” “American Girl,” “Listen To Her Heart” and “Refugee” in concert.

The DVD extras here (which most likely wont be seen when this airs as the inevitable one-hour special on VH1 Classic) include the original TV commercial for Damn The Torpedoes and Heartbreakers’ guitarist Mike Campbell discussing the 12-string Rickenbacker guitar that Petty is pictured holding on the now iconic album jacket (“probably the best $150 I ever spent”).

To be sure, a lot of this is mostly nerdy stuff that will appeal mainly to tech-heads and rock historians who uniquely appreciate what goes into the making of a rock and roll classic. But there is just enough of the backstory here to appeal to the rest of us as well.

In short, this is another fine entry in Eagle Rock’s Classic Albums DVD series, and Tom Petty’s Damn The Torpedoes is the sort of rock and roll classic that more than warrants the inclusion.

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About Glen Boyd

Glen Boyd is the author of Neil Young FAQ, released in May 2012 by Backbeat Books/Hal Leonard Publishing. He is a former BC Music Editor and current contributor, whose work has also appeared in SPIN, The Rocket, The Source and other publications. You can read more of Glen's work at The Rockologist, and at the official Neil Young FAQ site. Follow Glen on Twitter and on Facebook.