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Damn The Torpedoes
Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers

Backstreet 5105
Released: October 1979
Chart Peak: #2
Weeks Charted: 66
Certified Double Platinum: 10/12/84

Stan LynchRon BlairBenmont TenchMike CampbellTom PettyDamn The Torpedoes is the Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers album we've all been waiting for -- that is, if we were all Tom Petty fans, which we would be if there were any justice in the world, live shows for all, free records everywhere and rockin' radio. Mostly justice. Songs like "I Need to Know" and "Listen to Her Heart" from 1978's You're Gonna Get It and "Refugee," "Here Comes My Girl" and others from this year's model are bedrock -- they will endure. Petty & Company have mined solid veins: you can hear traces of Byrds (sweet silver flights of twelve-strings, but without the moonshine) and the Band (though citified and sexier).

I don't mean that Petty turns rock & roll into ancient history, something to re-create and ironically allude to. In "Louisiana Rain," there's a touch of Jesse Winchester in the verses, a slide guitar from the Rolling Stones' "No Expectations," some Bob Dylan in the rhyming ("refugee" with "beanery," say) and a hum-along chorus that would make a Nashville outlaw proud. Also, night scenes from the highway and tales of the hitchhiker as poor wayfaring stranger, last of the unbiased observers. A Reader's Digest condensed version of the Sixties, right? Wrong. The familiar riffs are just there because they belong: old stuff too fine to waste.

Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers - Damn the Torpedoes
Original album advertising art.
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"Louisiana Rain" is a convincing slice of American gothic. Petty takes a middle position between rock's romantic visionaries and urban nihilists -- his observations are as flat and down-to-earth as his heartland twang. Bobby McGee may whistle up a ride from Baton Rouge straight through to the Coast, but Petty's road, like yours and mine, is a series of long waits and short hops, bad weather and weird scenes in four-in-the-morning restaurants.

What makes Damn the Torpedoes the Hearbreakers' best album yet isn't so much its sound (though that's clearer and punchier than before, thank heaven and coproducer Jimmy Iovine) but its assurance. Mechanical rhythms are hip, but something more fluid makes better time with the flowing organ and guitar surges Petty uses so well, and Damn the Torpedoes glides like a supertanker. What starts out tough ("Someone must have kicked you around some"), and might have stayed there, turns tough-minded ("You don't have to live like a refugee") -- certainly a more durable attitude.

Best of all, sparks fly. "Here comes my girl," Tom Petty sings, and it might as well be Christmas and heaven and summer vacation all at once. Maybe it's the way the chorus soars into harmony after the spoken introduction, maybe it's the way the phrase comes simple and straightforward after the self-concious swagger of the verse. Whatever the case, "Here comes my girl" sounds like a line you've heard a thousand times before -- and the only one that will ever say it all.

- Ariel Swartley, Rolling Stone, 12-13-79.

Bonus Reviews!

The title of this one, if I may venture a guess, seems to be a response to the little legal hassles that prompted Petty to launch what he referred to as his Bankruptcy Tour. I like the attitude demonstrated, and I like the attitude this album demonstrates even more: justifiable cockiness. While this doesn't have the peaks of his previous two -- there are no obvious up-tempo knockouts like "American Girl" or "I Need to Know" -- there are no duds either; it's considerably more assured and even, and, with the exception of "Louisiana Rain," which comes off a little too much like a genre piece, there's hardly a cut that is anything less than completely engaging. There are, in fact, a couple of instant classics here in the haunting "Refugee" and "Even the Losers," which sports a particularly intense Springsteenish rave-up. As for the rest, well, Petty's great McGuinn-derived mumble remains proudly intact, the band is even more sensational than usual (check out the way they illustrate Petty's admonition to "watch her walk" on "Here Comes My Girl"), and the synthesis of English flash, Sixties folk-rock, and Southern grit that is the Heartbreakers' trademark seems to be coalescing into an identifiable personal style owing little to anyone but themselves. Damn the Torpedoes may not be the Great Tom Petty Album everyone knows he has in him, but it's gaining on it, and in any case it's clearly the work of one of the handful of truly vital mainstream rock bands currently working. Not to be missed.

- Steve Simels, Stereo Review, 1/80.

Petty debuts on the Backstreet label with nine fresh, urgently sounding rockers, all containing invigorating melodies and layered textures. Petty's sound at times is reminiscent of the Byrds, an obvious influence, yet also manages to forge his own identifiable sound. Petty plays 12 and six-string guitars, harmonica and carries the lead vocals in his own commanding way. Musical support comes from his band consisting of Benmont Tench, keyboards; Mike Campbell, guitar; Stan Lynch, drums and Ron Blair, bass. A thoroughly satisfying effort that should greatly expand the audience that Petty established with his first two albums. Best cuts: "Don't Do Me Like That," "Here Comes My Girl," "Even The Losers," "You Tell Me."

- Billboard, 1979.

This is a breakthrough for Petty because for the first time the Heartbreakers are rocking as powerfully as he's writing. But whether Petty has any need to rock out beyond the sheer doing of it -- whether he has anything to say -- remains shrouded in banality. Thus he establishes himself as the perfect rock and roller for those who want good -- very good, because Petty really knows his stuff -- rock and roll that can be forgetten as soon as the record or the concert is over, rock and roll that won't disturb your sleep, your conscience, or your precious bodily rhythms. B+

- Robert Christgau, Christgau's Record Guide, 1981.

Short on playing time but strong, very strong, on rock'n'roll. Petty's is well rooted in a musical past that must include bands like The Byrds yet his sound and songs are bang up-to-date. "Century City" is remarkably like Electric Dylan singing the Presley hit "Guitar Man" -- unlikely, but Petty pulls it off with aplomb!

A Sound City recording, Damn the Torpedoes is both subtle and strong, ideal for CD reproduction with its heavyweight sound. The recording puts air around the instruments yet loses none of the slashing grandeur of Petty's 12-string Rickenbacker.

- David Prakel, Rock 'n' Roll on Compact Disc, 1987.

Classic late Seventies American rock & roll -- bright, tight, forceful, well-written, and produced music played by a first-rate group of musicians whose joy comes through. Quality rock anthems for the assembled masses. The CD's sound is clean, punchy, and well-defined, with a slightly edgy overall brightness that sometimes teeters on the edge of discomfort. B+

- Bill Shapiro, Rock & Roll Review: A Guide to Good Rock on CD, 1991.

In 1979, Tom Petty switched producers to Jimmy Iovine, and together they created the masterful Damn the Torpedoes. For once, Petty's voice was up front in the mix, giving him much more character. The band never sounded so full or punchy before this. Torpedoes opens with a seamless string of great rockers, "Refugee," "Here Comes My Girl," and "Even the Losers." Other highlights include "Century City" and "Don't Do Me Like That." * * * * *

- Rick Clark, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.

Damn the Torpedoes bursts forth with all the pent-up energy of Tom Petty's corporate fight prior to its release. "Don't Do Me Like That" -- actually a holdover from Petty's old Mudcrutch days -- the ferocious "Refugee," the yearning "Even the Losers" and the unapologetically smug "Here Comes My Girl" all sound great coming out of the radio today. * * * * *

- Gary Graff, Musichound Rock: The Essential Album Guide, 1996.

In 1979, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers had been crafting professional, appealing straight-ahead rock for three years without wowing the masses. But the band reached its peak when the rootsy Petty finally accommodated the Heartbreakers' need to kick the sound up from classic rock to modern. It's no coincidence that Damn the Torpedoes was released in a year crucial to punk and New Wave's explosion into the mainstream. Merging folk-based Sixties rock with free-form Los Angeles pop and pressing more urgently than ever before on the roadhouse tang of Petty's Southern youth, the Heartbreakers' third album coexisted peacefully with its harder-edged, synthy chart mates.

Further reading on
Super Seventies RockSite!:

Album Review:
You're Gonna Get It!

Album Review:
Hard Promises

Album Review:
Long After Dark

Album Review:
Tom Petty - Full Moon Fever

Album Review:
The Live Anthology

Album Review: Mojo

Album Review: Hypnotic Eye

Album Review:
An American Treasure

Album Review: Wildflowers
& All The Rest

Book Review:
Petty: The Autobiography

Tom Petty:
In His Own Words

Article: Tom Petty 1950-2017

Tom Petty Lyrics

Tom Petty Videos

Tom Petty Mugshots

Damn the Torpedoes has got all the shimmer and curve of the Byrds without the dirty sandals. The whispering menace of "Refugee" showcases Petty's mature songwriting; "Don't Do Me Like That" is something like New Wave R&B, its short lines popping like corn kernels before the shouted rock & roll segment takes the whole thing back to FM radio, which is exactly where this song resided for umpteen weeks. "Shadow of a Doubt (A Complex Kid)" features fast-ticking drums that don't slow down even during the quiet bridge; you can hear hours of careful attention to Mick Jagger in how Petty's trademark nasal blurt slops over lines and moans fiercely on the chorus. Petty's Florida roots make a hick's joke out of the driven blues rave-up of "Century City": "Like modern men, and modern girls/We're gonna live in the modern world," he drawls to the shiny corporate towers of L.A.'s glittering necropolis. This is about as deep as the album gets, beyond Petty's earnest examinations of high-school-level sexual discomfort. But the timelessness of the Heartbreakers' best songs has always been a purely musical proposition; Damn the Torpedoes is ineluctable roots rock that's built for the modern world. * * * * *

- Arion Berger, Rolling Stone, 4/11/02.

Full speed ahead for perfect American R&R -- showing true rock integrity, this unbeatably solid, Jimmy Iovine-produced breakthrough put the guys from Gainesville over the top. Featuring such classics as "Refugee," "Here Comes My Girl" and "Don't Do Me Like That," it's a damn good record, and a blast from start to finish. * * * *

- Zagat Survey Music Guide - 1,000 Top Albums of All Time, 2003.

With hair like Jagger, and a voice like Dylan in tune, Petty de-frilled classic rock and cranked up his bar band. In 1979, he filed for bankruptcy; then Damn the Torpedoes took off, mostly because "Here Comes My Girl" seemed to keep the promises those rock gods forgot they'd made.

Damn the Torpedoes was chosen as the 313th greatest album of all time by the editors of Rolling Stone magazine in Dec. 2003.

- Rolling Stone, 12/11/03.

When punk rock arrived as a combative answer to the bloating and fatigue of 1970s rock, an odd thing happened: Bands that were interested only in plugging in and channeling Chuck Berry were cast in with Britain's latest rabble. It meant that the likes of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers found themselves the unsuspecting, amused ambassadors of a "new" music that, from their vantage point, hardly seemed new. They were just doing what they'd done down in Florida when gigging with Skynyrd.

It was the Heartbreakers' third album, Damn the Torpedoes, that got them in the front door and into our homes. If Bruce Springsteen was tracking down the specifics of place and a particular class experience, Petty was making music that, on the surface, seemed far less ambitious. But he created modest scenes that listeners could identify with in deep, lasting ways. If you knew the feeling of requited love, you had your song in the swaggering and then joyous "Here Comes My Girl." If you were ever on the outside of things, it was "Even the Losers" that was yours and, more important, your momentary release. Songs such as these and smart sequencing (the album era's most under-recognized art) make Torpedoes soar: it starts with the Heartbreakers' defining track, "Refugee" -- the closest thing to an anthem they'd yet recorded -- and doesn't lose its stride after that.

Though Petty is alone on the cover, the album is a band project in the truest sense. Keyboard player Benmont Tench and guitarist Mike Campbell, the kind of players who can make a good song great, emerge as genuine rock & roll stylists. Drummer Stan Lynch, if not technically in Tench and Campbell's class, plays with a lazy feel that works as the instrumental analog of Petty's drawl. Produced by Petty and Jimmy Iovine, the album sounds like a live band playing -- no small feat.

Since that time, the Heartbreakers have kept doing just that -- without ever making the same record twice. And Petty himself has avoided the dust that settled on many among that 1970s generation; maybe he was the actual punk rocker, after all. * * * * *

- Warren Zanes, Rolling Stone, 9/16/04.

(2010 2-CD Deluxe Edition) 1979's Damn the Torpedoes is a great third-album story. Like Springsteen in 1975, Petty was under the gun after two poor-selling LPs. Then he delivered a record with a track list ("Refugee," "Here Comes My Girl," "Even the Losers") that reads like a greatest-hits CD. One caveat: Most of the bonus tracks were previously released (the forgettable "Nowhere" is an exception), so the remastered sound is the main reason for fans to buy this FM-radio classic again. * * * * 1/2

- Andy Greene, Rolling Stone, 12/9/10.

Notable bonus tracks on this two-CD reissue include the unreleased "Nowhere" and an alternate take on "Refugee." A-

- Entertainment Weekly, 11/12/10.

With hair like Mick Jagger's and a voice like Bob Dylan's in tune, Tom Petty and his band defrilled classic rock on his defining breakthrough, Torpedoes, keeping the promises some of his Sixties elders forgot they'd made.

Damn the Torpedoes was chosen as the 231st greatest album of all time in a Rolling Stone magazine poll of artists, producers, critics and music industry figures in Oct. 2020.

- Rolling Stone, 10/20.

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