The Petty Archives

Damn the Torpedoes: Classic Albums DVD featuring Tom Petty a treat.
By Peter Simpson
Ottawa Citizen - September 23, 2010

Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers: Damn the Torpedoes | ★★★½
Black Sabbath: Paranoid | ★★★½
Imagine it's 1978 and you're Jimmy Iovine, still a young record producer, fresh off your first big hit with Patti Smith's cover of Bruce Springsteen's song Because the Night. You're considering producing the next album by a young Southern band that has had a couple of minor hits. You walk into their studio and the band leader, Tom Petty, plays two new songs for you, titled Refugee and Here Comes My Girl.

"I would have hit it off with anybody who played me those two songs, short of Charles Manson," recalls Iovine, on the DVD Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers: Damn the Torpedoes. It's the latest release from Classic Albums, a series of 60- minute documentaries, produced for television, that turn the microscope onto the greatest records of the rock age. The other new title in the series looks into Black Sabbath's 1970 slab Paranoid.

Iovine is now a major player in the music business - he produced U2 and many others and cofounded Interscope Records - and his immediate love for the songs he heard from Petty is a wonderfully intimate moment, typical of the DVD series.

Much of the hour-long documentary has Iovine, Petty and Heartbreakers' guitarist Mike Campbell sitting in the control room of a studio and deconstructing the songs on Damn the Torpedoes. What a list of songs it is: Don't Do Me Like That, Louisiana Rain, Even the Losers. All are staples of classic-rock radio, and none bigger than Refugee and Here Comes My Girl.

Petty and the Heartbreakers had minor success with their first two albums, especially with the songs Breakdown and American Girl. Still, they weren't cocky and knew they'd have to work it to get higher with their third disc. Yet Petty reveals that he wrote the lyrics to Here Comes My Girl in 10 minutes or so - too quickly for it to be any good, he thought, and he only later convinced himself that "we might be on to something here."

The DVDs (or, at least, the half-dozen or so I've seen in recent years) follow the same format: Each is an up-close discussion about an album with the people who made it, including all living band members, producers, managers, and a couple of veteran rock journalists thrown in for context.

The DVDs are not critiques, and the series could benefit from more outside voices that could provide a broader sense of how those outside the inner circle perceived the bands and the music at the time. Yet the series doesn't claim to be more than it is, the atmosphere is relaxed, and if you like the band and the album at the centre of the love-in, it's all great fun.

The easy intimacy of the documentaries allows you to get inside the musicians and see them in ways that may be new to you. For example, watching the vintage clips of Petty on stage made me realize how good he is at vocal fills: the little exclamations that can tie two lines or verses together, and even give a song an infectious and defining energy.

Paranoid is a wholly different beast, a dark and devilish churl compared to Petty's more jangly, Southern vibe, and it is considered by many, says the Classic Albums publicity stuff, as "the finest heavy-metal album of all time."

It was Black Sabbath's second album and it hit like an anvil dropped from a rooftop. The title track took less than 30 minutes to write, in the studio at the last minute, and hearing guitarist Tony Iommi talk about this and other riffs from the album - War Pigs, Iron Man, and the Big Beat favourite, Fairies Wear Boots - is perhaps the DVD's high point.

There's also lots of Ozzy Osbourne, who has been rather overexposed in recent years, and yet, still, I can't understand a damned thing he says.