Damn The Torpedoes
MCA Records, 1979
REVIEW BY: George Agnos
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 06/04/1999
Damn The Torpedoes was Tom Petty's breakthrough album, thanks to two top-40 hits, the catchy "Don't Do Me Like That" and the rocking "Refugee". And twenty years later, it still stands as one of Petty's best albums. The songwriting is not always as mature as some of his later releases, but he does manage to write some great songs without losing the ability to rock out. Even his later releases cannot do that with consistency.
Many have stated that Petty's sound is a combination of the Rolling Stones and the Byrds. I won't dispute that opinion. And no song in Petty's catalog beautifully captures this combination than "Here Comes My Girl". On this song, the verse is shouted out in Mick Jagger style while the rest of the band plays in an understated manner, and when the chorus comes, so do the twelve-string guitars, and Petty transforms himself into Roger McGuinn. In short, this song is a stunner.
Other standouts on this album include "Even The Losers", a song that actually combines the poppiness of "Don't Do Me Like That" with the rock edge of "Refugee". This song is soulful and perceptive. And with a line like "Even the losers get lucky sometimes", I always thought it would be cool if organists at baseball games play this song when the opposing team scores.
Another standout is the slower, edgy "You Tell Me". This song is great for those that like later Petty songs like "Mary Jane's Last Dance". Rounding out Damn The Torpedoes are three solid, energetic rockers "Shadow Of A Doubt", "Century City" and "What Are You Doin' In My Life", and one ballad, the countryish "Louisiana Rain".
I think it is important to note the work of organist Benmont Tench. While all the Heartbreakers - guitarist Mike Campbell, drummer Stan Lynch and bassist Ron Blair - make this band a pretty tight outfit, it is Tench's work that gives Petty a uniqueness to his sound that sets him apart from other rockers.
Damn The Torpedoes brings back the good old days before CD's became popular in that there are only nine songs. While I am very grateful for the invention of the compact disc, I feel that some bands stuff too many songs on them because they have the room to do so. It is tough enough for someone to write nine songs, let alone 14 or 15. I'm sure that when this album finally gets remastered, they will throw in some bonus tracks. But right now, you can pick up this CD dirt cheap.
Petty is not my favorite artist in the heartland rock genre. I have definite complaints with some of his other work that I might discuss in later reviews. But it is hard to deny the power of Damn The Torpedoes. Here, Petty has come out with a great party album that also has quite a bit of heart. While others may prefer the Jeff Lynne-produced Full Moon Fever, I feel that if Petty has an album that can be called a masterpiece, Damn The Torpedoes is it.