Living just a couple of hours from Gainesville, Florida, it really is easy to sit down and get yourself in the mood for some Tom Petty. Look, the boy is never going to win any beauty contests, and his voice sounds like he went to the Bob Dylan school of vocals. But there’s no denying that for a few decades Tom Petty, often along with those Heartbreakers, wrote some of the most recognizable American anthem music south of Ashbury Park, New Jersey. But it wasn’t always hit songs and world tours for the college town natives. Today they might have never made it in a music business that demands immediate success and gold records. It was the third album that gave this band its break-out hits and fame: Damn The Torpedoes.
While Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers were already generating some momentum in England where they broke sooner than their native United States, Damn The Torpedoes was an unmistakable milestone for the group. The musicians included: Mike Campbell on guitars, Ron Blair on bass, Stan Lynch on drums, and, of course Tom Petty on guitars and vocals. It was produced by Jimmy Iovine, who is generally credited with helping the band develop their signature sound. Released in 1979, the album contained three hit singles, with Refuge and Don’t Do Me Like That scoring huge hits in the United States.
This release gives you a very detailed look behind the scenes with the band. You’ll hear from the musicians themselves as the talk about each cut in detail. Many of the cuts feature band members performing the riffs and pieces of the songs that made them distinctive. The guys are in a recording studio with the original masters where they’ll revisit the songs by playing with those mixes. They might bring up a snare drum or a guitar riff, isolating these elements so that you can visit this album again like you’ve never heard it before. There are concert pieces and some rare studio video of the actual recording sessions. Everyone from the producer Iovine to engineer Shelly Yakus talk about what they saw in the music and how they approached the material to do their own jobs. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a fan of the band or just this particular album. This is one of those intimate looks you always wanted to have at a classic American rock and roll record.
The documentary is presented in its original broadcast aspect ratio of 1.78:1. The 1080p image is arrived at with an AVC/MPEG-4 codec at an average of almost 30 mbps. This is a documentary, and some of the classic footage is understandably in rather poor condition. That’s all to be expected. The interview pieces look quite good, however. The image presentation isn’t necessarily what you might purchase this release to get, but you get it here anyway. These interview bits are solid with natural color and fleshtones. The detail level is high, particularly during close-ups while a musician is going over a riff or track. You get a fingers look with detail enough to make it an instructional video.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 doesn’t do as much as you might hope for here. This is often mostly dialog, which sounds rich and full. The musical performances from the interview clips are quite clear, but I wouldn’t call them dynamic. Of course, many of these “performances” are merely pieces of the actual song, intended for demonstration purposes only. The archive footage sounds about how you would expect for vintage stage clips.
Bonus Footage: (41:52) Here you’ll find a collection of demos, alternate mixes, radio spots, and deleted interview footage.
Damn The Torpedoes has left its mark on the American music scene, of that there can be no doubt. Tom Petty has gone from small-town musician to playing at Super Bowl halftime shows. That’s one sure sign you’ve become somewhat of an American icon. Petty is remarkably candid here. He’s actually quite shy by nature and speaks rather softly. There’s actually more to be learned from some of the other major players. Part of the television Classic Album series, this feature does not include full tracks from the album itself, something I would have liked to have had included. I’ll admit I’m nowhere near a Tom Petty completist. I lean toward his Jeff Lynne-produced solo works. But there was indeed something special about Damn The Torpedoes. “That was the record where the dam burst.”