TOM PETTY - DAMN THE TORPEDOS-CLASS/BR [Blu-ray]
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The latest addition to Eagle's critically acclaimed and highly successful Classic Albums series is Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers 1979 breakthrough album "Damn The Torpedoes". The band's third album defined their musical style and took them into the mainstream hitting No.2 on the US charts and spawning the top 10 single "Don't Do Me Like That". The disc features newly filmed contributions from the band members Tom Petty, Mike Campbell, Benmont Tench, Ron Blair and Stan Lynch along with co-producer Jimmy Iovine and engineer Shelly Yakus as they analyze the tracks from the original multi-track tapes and through new and archive performances. "Damn The Torpedoes" has stood the test of time as one of the great American rock albums of its era and is a worthy addition to the Classic Albums series.
Over 40 minutes of additional interviews, archive footage and new demonstrations not included in the broadcast version.
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Eagle Rock has been issuing this series of Classic Albums videos for ages - back to the old VHS days. This newest volume - for Tom Petty's 1979 album is one of the best, in my opinion, because it digs so deep into the recording process.
The album itself lasts only 40 minutes but in the 95 minute presentation here (which includes 45 minutes of deleted scenes not show on the original TV broadcast) we get to hear music that never made it to the album. And in some cases the musicians themselves haven't hear it in over 20 years. Sure there is some archival footage of Petty and the band performing in the 1970s but the bulk of this DVD shows Petty and the other members of the band - Mike Campbell, Ron Blair and Benmont Tench sitting at the huge mixing board with producer Jimmy Iovine and engineer Shelly Yakus. As they play back the original tapes, each points out hidden gems of sound. (Did you know that its Jim Keltner's "shaker" that made one of the tracks the hit it was? And in a few cases the musicians continued to play even as Yakus was fading out the record. Here we get to hear - for the first time - what happened after the fadeout. The real gem for me was the last bonus chapter. Watch it and you'll find out why - if you are a fan of this album - you've literally heard Yakus' name before!
Though no complete songs are performed here, you will find yourself digging out the album - or buying it again on CD - just to hear notes you never realized were there the first time you listened to it. I know many were new to me!
"Damn the Torpedoes" has always been one of my favorite albums (I've owned it in every medium possible since it was released in 1979) and everyone here, even Jimmy Iovine, is present to to break down one of the best sounding, finest written rock albums of all time.
Only Stan Lynch, who left the band in the 90's, has archival interview footage, instead of being specifically shot for this show. No problem though, because I can watch Mike Campbell play his Rickenbacker part for "Here Comes My Girl" about a thousand times (check out the DVD extra about that guitar--which is also on the cover--and its connection to George Harrison), or Benmont Tench play his part from "Don't Do Me Like That" another thousand times.
Eagle Vision is really on a roll with what they're deeming to be considered a "Classic Album" for the series. They're all records that come from an era when creativity trumped the ease of technology in the studio.
In fact, many of the sounds you can duplicate on Pro Tools and other recording software programs come from the fertile minds of this era in rock--these people are legends, and they need to have their stories told before they pass away, much like Ken Burns's approach to his documentaries.
I have only one complaint about "...Torpedoes" though--I really wanted to know why Tom Petty yells, "Shelly! Hey! Here Comes My Girl..." during that song. I know Shelly is Shelly Yackus, the engineer on the record... but what's the story behind that?
Update 10/13/10: Thanks for all the solutions to the lyrical dilemma described above. I'll go with "above it/shove it" unless Tom logs on here and says differently!
Back in the 70's, when there was a record business and bands would actually woodshed - working the clubs, writing songs, and developing as artists and songwriters - high potential artists often arrived with their third album(s). These third albums in many cases represented a giant leap forward and became the springboard for even greater success.
Bruce Springsteen's Born to Run may be the best example of this concept. While Greetings from Asbury Park and The Wild and the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle have their moments of brilliance, as a whole they miss. Until Born to Run arrived did the Boss establish himself as the superstar he remains today.
The cliche explanation that goes with this "third albums theory" is the first album exhausts the artist's catalogue established up until the first album (and the artists' lifetime). Usually there are one or two great singles in that first record (the ones that that got them noticed in the first place!). The second album is almost always rushed and spotty - constructed from leftovers of the first session with some hasty additions that "try to sound" like whatever direction the record company is telling them to aim for. These second albums later are deemed "transitional" - if the artist goes on to success. Think U2's October REM's Reckoning, the Police's Regatta de Blanc, or Dire Straits Communique - interesting records all - but far from the great records these artists would go on to produce and establish them as the Rock and Roll Hall of Famers they would become.
After these two albums usually marginally successful releases the artist (and record company) realize it is time to put it all on the line and really make something great and definitive that will find an audience. It becomes do or die for the artist - and the results can be interesting. This personal and professional pressure is why we have so many great third albums. Nothing motivates like necessity and many artists rise to the occasion with great songs and even better production now having learned their ways around the studio.
There is also the touring aspect that contributes to this third record. Touring behind the first two albums getting live feedback on their material develops a tightness within the band and a better focus of who the artist is. New material to be debuted on the third album can be tested out live (and improved) before permanently etching it on vinyl.
All of these subtle details are covered in this great edition of Classic Albums. The story of how Tom Petty got to make Damn the Torpedoes touches on all these points with great color provided by the Heartbreakers and industry icons like Jimmy Iovine.
With Damn the Torpedoes Petty with his new producer (and engineer Shelly Yakus), new label, big drum sound and quite simply the best songs he had written to date - "completely changed the game" for the Heartbreakers forever.
I have said many times that the song is the thing, and "Refugee" "Even the Losers" and the "Here Comes my Girl" represent a giant leap from the songs of Your Gonna Get It and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. In fact, side one is one of the most satisfying collection of tracks put to vinyl. Wonderful performances, crystal clear production, memorable lyrics, and Jim Keltner's shaker! Who knew this shaker was the secret ingredient to this irresistible toe-tapping sound. Just one of the revelations from this DVD.
As always, the best part of the DVD is going back to the studio reviewing the master tapes with all the creators commenting. These nostalgia sessions often evoke honest reactions and emotions. It is the hallmark of the Classic Albums series and the recollections here are sincere and respectful.
Petty, who has been the subject of another lengthy documentary, Runnin Down a Dream, never offers the depth of Pete Townshend (who does?) and for me is always a bit frustrating as an interview. Why was Stan Lynch let go when he was such a big part of this records sound and success? Not adequately covered here or in Dream. This is a minor squabble here.