Album Review: Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers - Damn The Torpedoes (1979)
By Sergio Ariza
In 1979 Tom Petty was on the verge of turning 30 and in the middle of a legal battle with his record company. Even though his second album, You're Gonna Get It, released a year earlier, had sold well, Petty was fed up with opening for other bands and had decided to become a definitive rock star fronting his band, the Heartbreakers. The problem is that they were such a particular band that they were in a kind of no man's land at a time when everything was defined by genre, they were too old to pass for New Wave or punk, they were not as hard as AC/DC or Van Halen, not as soft as Fleetwood Mac and they were too old to be the future of rock & roll like Springsteen… plus, he wanted to be the present.
Even so, they were included as a 'heartland rock' group like the author of Born To Run, although they contained elements of all of the above. The fact that Petty decided that Jimmy Iovine, who had worked with Springsteen, was going to be the producer, tells me that Petty also saw the connection, although what attracted him most to Iovine was what he had done with Patti Smith, giving her a huge success with Because The Night. The crush was mutual and when Iovine heard the demos for Refugee and Here Comes My Girl he looked in awe at the band members and said "we're all going to be millionaires!".
Damn The Torpedoes doesn't sound like a regular album but like a compilation. The first thing the band do is grab you by the lapel and don't let go with one of the best songs of their career, Refugee, which is classic rock & roll; with Mike Campbell, co-writer with Petty, bringing the house down with a Telecaster connected to a Marshall. Without a breath is Here Comes My Girl, the song Campbell wrote on the Rickenbacker 625 that Petty appears with on the cover, with its iconic drum intro and recognizable chorus, one that comes after those verses ‘sung, not sung’, by Petty.
But then comes the band's most iconic (and rock & roll) chorus "Even the losers get lucky sometimes", with Mike Campbell's incendiary Chuck Berry-like solo. For losers it's not bad at all, three songs, three winning aces. But the rest of the album is also pretty special, including the single that Petty and the Heartbreakers took to the Top Ten of the US Billboard charts, Don't Do Me Like That. Not to mention the rest of the lesser-known songs, which are on par with the singles: tunes like Shadow Of A Doubt, which sounds like a lost Wilco song from Being There (but released 20 years earlier); Century City, pure rock & roll; or Lousiana Rain, which sounds like the most classic Stones.
In the end, the man who loved to talk about the beauty of the underdog found himself with a pack of aces in his hand and finally won the game. Mind you, he did it on his own terms: he got the contract he wanted with his label, a financially beneficial one that gave him much more creative freedom; he also got the label to stop charging an extra more for his records now that he had finally become a star and, of course; he became the star that everyone who had listened to his songs knew he was. But he remained ‘a loser at heart’, even though he was now loaded… though even losers sometimes get lucky.