Staff Picks: Tom Petty's Breakthrough
The Matador Online - December 2006
After 27 years, Damn the Torpedoes continues to be an enduring classic.
It was 1979. Jimmy Carter was struggling with his foreign policy, gas prices were soaring, and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers released their second rock 'n' roll album to combat the disco revolution. In 2006, Damn the Torpedoes is still revered as one of modern music's classic albums while the likes of Aretha Franklin and the Beegees have been reduced to karaoke bar fame.
"Refugee" starts the album off with a bang and it is clear that Tom Petty has created a classic song. When the turntable needle graces the edge of the vinyl record, one may get the feeling that a Tom Petty fan had in 1979 after hearing the jangling guitars begin the record that would become Petty's trademark. "Here Comes My Girl" and "Even the Losers" follow with more layered guitars and heart-felt Petty vocals. The beautiful imagery created by a line like "time meant nothing, anything seemed real" became vintage Tom Petty.
The second side of the album contains another famous Petty tune, "Don't Do Me Like That." It is amazing how overlooked some of the other songs on the album are. "Century City" and "You Tell Me" are hidden classics. The album closes with the powerful "Louisiana Rain," another classic that doesn't get nearly enough radio play.
Tom Petty's songwriting talent is incredible. However, the contributions of the Heartbreakers should not be understated. Mike Campbell provides great lead guitar work, and it is safe to say that Damn the Torpedoes was the beginning of a string of Petty albums that would garner Campbell immense respect among peers, while being grossly underrated by everyone else.
The rest of the band is solid and combines the Dylan-influenced folk rock roots of the music with new wave textures seamlessly. This is a big reason why the album became Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers' greatest success. This was a fresh sound. Petty catapulted himself into popularity by creating an accessible sound that appeal to the rock and roll posers of the late 70s while building a loyal fan base of people who were in search of something new in the wake of the disco revolution.
While it could be argued that Petty made better albums after Damn the Torpedoes, this album could not have come at a better time. Its monumental impact on the pop charts combined with its back-to-the-basics approach to rock 'n' roll make Tom Petty one of popular music's most important and most talented songwriters. Damn the Torpedoes reeks of the 1970s, while ushering in the 1980s and leaving a strong imprint on the history of popular rock 'n' roll.