If someone were to ask me what my favorite album of all time was, I wouldn't know the answer. But if someone were to ask which album had the most effect on my existence, I wouldn't have to think twice about it. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers' 1979 album Damn the Torpedoes saved my life.
Last year, there was a death in my family that left me emotionally wrecked. I couldn't eat, sleep, or think without experiencing an overwhelming sense of sadness. Enter Tom Petty. I was reading Warren Zanes' biography of Petty for a class the day I got the call that my grandfather had died. I ran to my apartment and packed up the essentials, and headed home. I sat in my car for 20 minutes, hoping the tears would stop coming so I could see. I plugged the aux cord into my phone, and Damn the Torpedoes - what I had been listening to before the chaos - began to play. It hasn't stopped since.
The third album by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Damn the Torpedoes is literature for the ears. Petty is a storyteller, something all great rock stars should be. This was the album that sent the band to the top of the charts, right below Pink Floyd's The Wall which was number one at the time. But Petty's album almost wasn't released. After Petty was involved in an intense legal battle with his record company, the band was faced with some obstacles. Despite this, the band secretly worked on the album during their fight with MCA and hid the tapes from Petty so he wouldn't have to lie in court about where they were.
The nine-track album starts with a punch with the classic song "Refugee." The guitar lick played by Mike Campell (who is currently touring with Fleetwood Mac as Lindsey Buckingham's replacement) grabs you by the collar of your shirt and doesn't let go. Next up is "Here Comes my Girl," a softer side of rock that Petty excels in. He talks through his verses as a man trying to keep it cool in front of his boys before heading up higher to sing about his girl. "Even the Losers"was recorded in Campell's home studio and starts with Campbell's wife yelling at house guests that "It's just the normal noises in here." The band liked it so much, they kept it in the final cut of the song. This is Petty's song of victory after having come out on top of the law suit against him from MCA. It's an anthem for all the little guys. "Shadow of a Doubt (A Complex Kid)" is one of those songs I have to move my whole body to and listen to at least twice. "Century City" finishes up the A-side with Petty playfully screaming overtop a wailing guitar.
The B-side kicks off with my personal favorite "Don't Do Me Like That." Pianist and organist Benmont Tench is given the spotlight as soon as the song starts and never lets up, pounding the keys as if his life depended on it. No matter where I am or who I'm with, I will sing along with as much fervor as Petty himself. "You Tell Me" slows it all down as Petty asks his woman where she wants this relationship to go. Things pick up again with"What Are You Doin' In My Life?". This bluesy rock song reminds me of Petty's Florida upbringing. The album finishes with the poetic "Louisiana Rain," a song written pre-Heartbreakers when Petty, Campbell, and Tench were a part of their first band Mudcrutch. Producer Jimmy Iovine, who took over producing the band during the making of Damn the Torpedoes, had found an original recording of the Mudcrutch song and recommended they rerecord it as a Heartbreakers song.
It's impossible for me to listen to this album without having an obnoxious teeth baring, rosy-cheeked smile on my face. When I hear these songs, I am immediately filled with joy. Even when driving to say goodbye to my dead grandfather. I found myself on the road and couldn't help but sing along to Tom Petty. May they both rest in peace.
- Aly on The Rewind
Interested in learning more about Tom Petty? Check out the book Petty: The Biography or the documentary Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers: Runnin' Down A Dream (on Netflix and Amazon Prime).