Thanks to last year’s multi-disc Live Anthology, I grew a higher degree of respect for Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ musical chops. With the Classic Album series focus on Damn the Torpedoes color me impressed by the veteran act’s equally adept work in the studio. The documentary on the making of the album that broke the group as a commercial entity smoothly displays the fateful timing of strong songwriting, thoughtfulness, determination and sheer luck. As Petty states early in the program, “That was the record when the damn burst…life was never going to be the same again.”
What makes it work so well is that the creative process doesn’t shine solely on Petty. He’s been the voice of the band for years. Hearing current interviews with Heartbreakers guitarist Mike Campbell, keyboardist Benmont Tench, bassist Rob Blair and former drummer Stan Lynch provides much more insight to what transpired. That type of revelation comes early with Campbell discussing how the influence of Albert King’s “Oh, Pretty Woman” was deconstructed to make the core riff for “Refugee.” Later, he displays how the guitar solo in “Even the Losers” was influenced by Chuck Berry. Besides the interviews with musicians as well as producer Jimmy Iovine and record execs, there are clips from home movies that give an added dimension of past uniting with present.
The only confusing portion on the doc concerns Petty’s defiant fight for control of which record company would release “Torpedoes.” The situation wasn’t made clear enough whether the album was completed or the band needed to tour to survive and continue the recording sessions.
It’s interesting that, while unspoken, the Hearbreakers’ situation played out similar to Bruce Springsteen making Born to Run. Both artists meticulously recorded a third album in the hope that it would finally bring them to the next level. Even a segment that highlights Benmont Tench’s piano playing during “Here Comes My Girl” echoes the similar dramatics evoked by Roy Bittan of Springsteen’s E Street Band.
Overall, the illuminating nature regarding this classic album makes it a must for Petty fans, and strong enough that those who simply care about good music should find it satisfying.