Sound — 9
Much of this DVD is devoted to revealing the secrets of how this strange brew of sounds jangling guitars, thumping drums, soaring organs and plunked pianos was achieved. And even when you find out that the chorus of Here Comes My Girl is built on a simple Mike Campbell 12-string guitar part blended with Benmont Tench's piano, you're still blown away by the unique texture that is created. Under the expert gazes of producer Jimmy Iovine and his trusted engineer Shelly Yakus, Damn the Torpedoes reached a level of aural elegance very few albums had ever achieved. Though Stan Lynch often clashed with Iovine and was even kicked out of the band for a couple weeks during the recording, his drum sound has a punch and a presence that all subsequent Petty records would strive for. Every instrument down to the most sublime harmonica riffs on Louisiana Rain have been recorded with extreme care and just come jumping out of the speakers in a very special way.
Content — 9
If Tom Petty doesn't immediately come to mind when you're thinking about the great American rock music legends, then you're probably not concentrating hard enough. Petty and his Heartbreakers band rank right up there with Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, John Mellencamp, and on the rockier end of the spectrum Bon Jovi when you're listing iconic homegrown artists who have devoted entire careers to writing and singing about the great American dream. TP has recorded 15 studio albums, achieved multiple gold and platinum awards, and has toured on the strength of those records for the past 30 years. But his status as a true son of the U.S. was really not etched in vinyl until the release of Damn the Torpedoes, the Gainesville, Florida native's third album released in 1979 that firmly established him as a songwriter/performer of the first caliber. With songs like Even the Losers, Here Comes My Girl, Refugee, and Don't Do Me Like That, Damn the Torpedoes became his first Top 10 album [reaching number two] and sported two Top 15 songs in the latter two singles listed above. And now with the release of this Classic Albums DVD, the myth and the magic of that album is captured in this 98-minute documentary. It includes interviews with all the central figures including Petty, Mike Campbell, Benmont Tench and Ron Blair as well as co-producer Jimmy Iovine and engineer Shelly Yakus. There is even archival footage of one-time Heartbreaker, drummer Stan Lynch.
Production Quality — 9
Petty has always been a master wordsmith and on Damn the Torpedoes he doesn't disappoint. On Shadow of a Doubt he sings a wonderful line: And when she's dreaming/Sometimes she sings in French. The words themselves mean nothing as Benmont Tench discusses on the DVD but the image is staggering in its originality. You seem to understand what Tom is saying even if you can't figure out. There are tons of Pettyisms on this album and though the Florida native may not possess the dark and poignant lyrical mastery of Paul Simon or John Lennon and frankly who does? - he absolutely ranks as one of the truly inspired word-shapers of this generation.
Overall Impression — 9
This Classic Albums series of DVDs is the most thoroughly researched and most thoughtfully presented music documentaries out there. Here, they've gathered all the principal players and extracted inside information on the making of Damn the Torpedoes. There is behind-the-scenes studio excerpts, candid footage, archival moments, and a lot of extras. In the Bonus Material section there are chapters on: The 12-String Rickenbacker (the guitar Petty is holding on the album's cover); 'Even the Losers' The Guitar Orchestra'; and Don't Do Me Like That' Vox Organ.' These are little chapters where the band talks about the instruments they used and how they achieved the sounds. This DVD is gloriously entertaining and a true peeling back of the layers on one of Tom Petty's most significant albums.