"That was the record where life was never going to be the same again," Tom Petty recently said of Damn The Torpedoes, his 1979 breakthrough.
Underscoring the weight of Petty's summation is the fact that it's an album he almost didn't get to make at all: a messy legal dispute with his label, MCA, had forced Petty into bankruptcy. And despite the fact that the he and the Heartbreakers had broken big in the UK and had finally scored a couple of Stateside singles, I Need To Know and Listen To Her Heart, from their second record, 1978's You're Gonna Get It, as the decade drew to a close, the future for the band didn't look bright.
In Springsteen-like fashion, however, Petty prevailed in court and hit the studio intent on making good on years of hard promises. Working with a young production maverick named Jimmy Iovine, he and the Heartbreakers hunkered down on a collection of radio-ready songs that tied all of their influences (most notably The Byrds and Bob Dylan) together seamlessly. Refugee, Don‘t Do Me Like That, Here Comes My Girl, Even The Losers - purpose and passion never sounded so tuneful and triumphant. With anthems such as these, Damn The Torpedoes was all over the airwaves, eventually going double platinum and darn near hitting the No. 1 spot (a little offering by Pink Floyd, something about a wall, held it off).
And now, 31 years after its release, Damn The Torpedoes is getting the deluxe treatment as a two-CD set which includes a spiffed-up, remastered edition of the classic album, along with a bonus disc of never-before-heard tracks from the ‘79 sessions, B-sides, alternate takes and live versions of some of the hits.
With the holidays nearing and deluxe reissues coming at us from all corners, is the steroid-enhanced version of Damn The Torpedoes a stocking stuffer for the TP fan in your life? Let’s check it out track-by-track and see…
Disc One: Refugee
Three decades later, that walloping drum intro still does the trick, shoving us face-first into a scorching rocker that hasn't aged one bit. And despite its scornful tone, with lines like "Baby, we ain't the first/ I'm sure a lot of other lovers been burned/ right now this seems real to you/ but it's one of those things you gotta feel to be true," there's a tender heart at Refugee's core.
The remastered version manages something rather remarkable, accentuating each instrument in the mix without shortchanging one over the other. This includes Petty's effective vocal, which rises from an almost conversational tone to a banshee-like wail.
Here Comes My Girl
Tom Petty's second great love song (his first was Listen To Her Heart) felt both nostalgic and in-the-moment when it was first released, and the passage of time has intensified these qualities. As a three-minute primer in everything great about the Heartbreakers, it's got it all: pounding drums, swirling organ fills, fluid bass and sparkling guitars.
It still sounds every bit as urgent, with Petty's voice rising above his bandmates' supportive accompaniment to tell the "whole wide world to shove it!" - 'cause, hey, here comes his girl. Some sentiments (and songs) are timeless.
Even The Losers
Three songs in and Petty's still racking up winners. Buoyed by Stan Lynch's muscular, swinging drum patterns and Mike Campell's ringing guitar, he sings a song only for the lonely that stands alongside the gems of his eventual Traveling Wilburys bandmate Roy Orbison.
What's amazing about the interplay of TP and the Heartbreakers is the amount of space they give one another, with each instrument serving a specific dramatic purpose. All are rendered beautifully here. Want to know how a five-piece band should play together? This track is required listening.
Shadow Of A Doubt (A Complex Kid)
Driven by Stan Lynch's breakneck drumming (his tasteful use of the ride cymbal makes the pre-chorus come alive) and the uncredited bongos of Phil Jones, Petty belts out a tale that marries melancholy lyricism with spirited determination.
The guitars glide along gracefully - there's chiming chords and jagged little lines here and there - until Campbell takes a full-spotlight top-string solo, the kind of which is guaranteed to get even the faintest of pulses racing.
The Rolling Stones were also a major influence on TP, and a year after their punk-flavored Some Girls, Petty and the boys paid hommage to their British heroes with this ragged slice of take-no-prisoners rock.
Petty's sneering vocal (which includes the occasional scream and whoop) is an emotional highlight, as is Stan Lynch's punchy drumming. But the song truly belongs to Mike Campbell, who turns in a galvanizing Keef-like guitar solo.
Don't Do Me Like That
And to think that the first single from Damn The Torpedoes, one which would eventually reach No. 10 on Billboard's Hot 100, almost went to the J Geils Band - the song failed to make the cut on Petty's first two albums, and he was ready to let the Boston-based R&B rockers have it before giving the tune one last shot.
Good thing, too, for it's still a standout - catchy as the flu, full of playful drumming (those stop-starts at the beginning - you know what song it is within seconds) and tricky guitar answer lines. As middle-eights go, it doesn't get more memorable than this. Throughout, Petty proves to be a master vocalist, alternating between a spurned lover's plea and youthful stoicism.
You Tell Me
Amidst the barrage of hits that Damn The Torpedoes yielded, one or two tracks were inevitably overlooked, and this tough-yet-soulful, keyboard heavy number was one of them.
Benmont Tench, the Heartbreakers' secret weapon, gets his moment in the sun here, sprinkling sweeping piano lines that meld with Hammond B3 swells to a stunningly effective degree. Petty, like most great singers, has a couple of different voices in his quill, and on You Tell Me he alternates between light and shade - one moment he's caressing your ear with a whisper, the next he's spitting his words with unmasked venom. And check out Mike Campbell, whose guitar lines scream into the night.
While not a smasheroony, the song isn't a piker by any stretch.
What Are You Doin' In My Life?
An all-hands-on-deck rocker that wastes little time getting down to serious business. Underpinned by Benmont Tench's boogie-woogie piano, Petty rages in a chorus that you don't have to hear more than once to remember your entire life.
Mike Campbell is all things Keith and Ron Wood, tossing out greasy slide runs and a gleeful solo that recalls mid-period Stones. At 2:19, it's the shortest and most un-fussed-over song on Damn The Torpedoes, but it's one which makes an indelible impact.
Don't let that goofy bit of sped-up tape rewind and sound effects at the beginning fool you - Louisiana Rain is a poignant, folk-flavored ballad about lost love, yearning and regret.
Gently strummed acoustics, glowing keyboard lines and Stan Lynch's thoughtful drumming serve Petty well throughout as he sings "Louisiana rain is falling just like tears/running down my face, washing out the years/ Louisiana rain is soaking through my shoes/ I may never be the same when I reach Baton Rouge."
Mike Campbell, always the ace, turns in a weeping slide solo that feels like a musical climax...that is, until Petty joins him on harmonica (ahhh, the Dylan influence!). There's many reasons why these two have become one of rock's most acclaimed duos, and their interplay on Louisiana Rain is a shining example.
Disc Two: Nowhere
While Petty battled his label in court, tape boxes of certain songs were moved daily to avoid the possibility that bailiffs would claim them as assets. Because of this, Nowhere, recorded in 1979, was lost until recently (recording engineer Ryan Ulyate unearthed the track while preparing other tapes for the deluxe set).
Good thing, too, as it's a chugging, gutsy piece of gold. The guitars of Petty and Mike Campbell collide off each other, while Benmont Tench's howling organ rises to meet them. Campbell fires off a twisty, smart-alecky solo, full of sinuous bends. "I've been trying to break through to nowhere!" Petty shouts in the chorus, like a man who knows he's marooned but desperate to get somewhere, anywhere.
Did we say it was a good thing that engineer Ryan Ulyate found those tape boxes? That goes double for the previously unreleased Surrender, an A-level Petty track that surely would have found its way onto Damn The Torpedoes under normal circumstances.
With a chord pattern and loping tempo that would be revisited on The Waiting two years later, Surrender is classic Petty through and through: rousing vocals, jangling guitars, tambourine, nimble bass and the always arresting drumming of Stan Lynch. Mike Campbell's never fails to lift any song he plays on, and his solo here is one of his simplest yet sweetest ever.
Originally issued as the B-side to Don't Do Me Like That, Casa Dega is a slow but evocative, bass-and-organ heavy number that works its way under your skin. It's the closest thing to a spiritual that Petty and co have ever produced.
Echoey guitar arpeggios punctuate both verses and choruses. The band, working with equal parts craft and intuition, plays with dynamics masterfully. The bridge is big-time stuff, after which everybody drops out...Is the song over? No, the group is merely waiting for the right moment to fall back in again. Spooky and soulful. Listen to this one late at night with the lights turned down low.
It's Rainin' Again
The B-side to Refugee gets another airing. Pummeling drums (crashing cymbals especially - meant to indicate thunder, perhaps?) and slide guitar are the main musical accompaniment, with Petty, way off mic, singing "Well, it's rainin' again/ rainin' again/ roll up your window, honey/ it's rainin' again."
A bit of a throwaway, this 1:31 soundscape. For aficionados and archivists only.
Shadow Of A Doubt (A Complex Kid) - live
The next three cuts on this set were captured in concert at London's Hammersmith Odeon on 6 March 1980, starting with this reading of Shadow Of A Doubt (A Complex Kid). Musically, it offers no real surprises, other than the fact that it's immaculately recorded, with Petty's voice in tip-top shape and the background vocals blaring out bright and full.
England was kind to TP and the Heartbreakers long before their homeland knew they were alive, and the band sounds primed to give the UK crowd their all. Mike Campbell solos with considerable fervor.
Don't Do Me Like That - live
A spot-on rendition of Don't Do Me Like That for the London audience. Again, it's beautifully recorded, with Benmont Tench's keyboards poking through the mix before being overpowered by Stan Lynch's blazing drums.
At the song's ride-out the band comes alive, with Petty throwing in a couple of ad-libs and Lynch dishing out well-executed accents. It's over much too soon, however - it would have been nice to hear the group go for broke on an extended version.
Somethin' Else - live
It's entirely fitting that Petty and the Heartbreakers covered this Eddie Cochran slammer in England, for the American rock 'n' roll pioneer had a major influence on British musicians in the late '50s and early '60s with such songs as Twenty Flight Rock and Summertime Blues.
This is full-bore rock the way it was meant to be played. Mike Campbell is positively unhinged during his solo. And check out the finish - these guys aren't foolin' around. The crowd goes appropriately apeshit.
Casa Dega (demo version)
As an intimate look at the band at work, this demo of the B-side to Don't Do Me Like That will appeal to Petty fetishists. It's fairly straightforward, devoid of the haunting atmospherics that resulted from the group fleshing out the tune. But there are more pronounced synth lines from Benmont Tench - and the fact that they didn't make the finished version are telling, as they detract somewhat from the overall vibe.
Petty sings a bit more forcefully than he does on the final take. A curio that has its moments.
Refugee (alternate take)
After some studio chatter, laughter and a count-off by Petty, the group tackles one of their biggest hits in what is essentially more of a demo than an 'alternate take.'
Gone are background vocals, drum accents, guitar overdubs - and that includes Campbell's signature solo. While one can hear the rhythm guitars hitting against each other, it's all a bit lackluster. This is one Refugee that deserves to be tied up, taken away and held for ransom.
With file-sharing run amuck, 'deluxe' reissues of classic albums have been coming at a furious pace of late. Most of the time, what qualifies as 'deluxe' is what we have in this package - demos, alternate versions and live recordings of the hits. And while the concert readings vary from the fine to the incendiary, we still have a bit of filler to contend with.
Still, a classic album is a classic album, and with Damn The Torpedoes, Tom Petty had more than enough cake that he could eat, too. In many ways, the disc was his coming-out party - Born To Run and Darkness On The Edge Of Town rolled into one big package. Find a record this front-loaded with hits and all-time keepers and you'll probably wind up with...Damn The Torpedoes.
So if you're one of the few rock fans who don't already own it, the deluxe edition is well worth the price of admission. And should you already have the original CD in your collection, the inclusion of Nowhere and Surrender (to say nothing of the sterling sonic upgrade) will more than make up for the dollars spent. In fact, you can burn your very own mix CD or iTunes set and simply omit the last two cuts - that way, you won't feel cheated in the slightest. Bottom line: this is Petty at one of his peaks (he's had others, such as the Full Moon Fever/Traveling Wilburys period) - not a bad thing for the holidays, or any other days for that matter.