Desert Island Discs: “Damn The Torpedoes” by Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers (1979)

Image from Wikipedia

“Those who thought that Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers were punk or new wave when they started releasing albums in the late 1970s were missing the point. At a time when heavy metal and guitar rock was dominating the airwaves, this was a group that harkened back to the sounds of the British Invasion and embodied the spirit of the great American garage band. The common denominator on these songs is their basic simplicity. Lyrically the dominating theme is one of the pain of relationships and the tone is almost relentlessly melancholy, like on ‘Even the Losers.’ Even a ballad like ‘Louisiana Rain’ wallows in the sadness of pain. The result is one of the best rock albums of the 1970s and although Tom Petty came close to this level again, this remains the album you find on the top of the mountain.” – Lawrance M. Bernabo (Duluth, MN)

I’ve said here before that 1979 was the second-best year ever for rock’n’roll. And it’s hard to remember a time when Tom Petty wasn’t all over “classic rock” radio. But yes, there was such a time, and TP and The Heartbreakers took the music world by surprise in the fall of 1979 with this, their third album.

They weren’t quite new wave, whatever the flexible meaning of that term was at the time. Nobody knew into quite which cubbyhole they should be placed. With their need for easy categorization, reviewers at the time used to lump TP in an odd sort of clump with Bruce Springsteen, John Mellencamp (still John Cougar at that point), and Bob Seger. “Heartland rock,” I guess it could be called.

I loved this album. My roommate Hoky and I played it incessantly that fall and winter. My bohemian hypster friendz openly mocked me when I pronounced this the best album of 1979. (Yeah, 1979 was a hard year to be the best in, and I guess it was tough to surpass “Dirk Wears White Sox” by Adam and The Ants.) But thirty-seven years on, this album still gives me a rush. This release caused Springsteen to hold off on his two-disc album “The River” till the following year, as “Torpedoes” sounded too much like what he imagined creating. Not surprising: legendary producer Jimmy Iovine helmed “Born To Run,” “Darkness On The Edge Of Town,” and the reconfigured “The River.”

Iovine’s production is brilliant on this one, as much as part of the band as the musicians themselves. Mike Campbell’s Rickenbacker guitar and Ben Tench’s keyboard riffs get exactly the right placement in the mix. (Campbell lent TP the Ricky to pose with for the cover pic. It’s now on display at the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame.)

I believe this is the album The Rolling Stones wish they could have made instead of 1978’s “Some Girls.” The Heartbreakers were every bit as a tight a band as the Stones at their peak. “Torpedoes” rose to #2 on the Billboard album charts, and stayed there for seven weeks (kept from #1 by Pink Floyd’s “The Wall”).

There is not a bad song on this album. For me the best are “Even The Losers,” “Shadow Of A Doubt (A Complex Kid),” and “Louisiana Rain,” a great lost-her-on-the-road song like “Me And Bobby McGee,” but it’s a difficult choice.

Baby, time meant nothing, anything seemed real
Yea, you could kiss like fire and you made me feel
Like every word you said was meant to be
No, it couldn’t have been that easy to forget about me
Baby, even the losers get lucky sometime
Even the losers keep a little bit of pride
They get lucky sometime

There goes my baby, there goes my only one
I think she loves me but she don’t wanna let on
Yeah, she likes to keep me guessing
She’s got me on the fence
With that little bit of mystery
She’s a complex kid
And she’s always been so hard to figure out
Yeah, she always likes to leave me with a shadow of a doubt

Louisiana rain is falling at my feet
Honey, I’m noticing a change as I move down the street
Louisiana rain is soaking through my shoes
I may never be the same when I reach Baton Rouge

Louisiana rain, yeah, it’s falling just like tears
It’s 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

In five decades now TP, as a solo act as well as with The Heartbreakers and The Traveling Wilburys, has created an incredible legacy of music. But none of his work since “Torpedoes” has ever affected me the same way. It’s his best work.

2 Comments on “Desert Island Discs: “Damn The Torpedoes” by Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers (1979)”

  1. […] “Damn The Torpedoes” by Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers (1979) 6/1/14: “Silk Degrees” by Boz Scaggs (1976) 4/7/14: “New Miserable […]

  2. AnnMcK says:

    Preach it, Scott!

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