Today (10/19) in 1979, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers released their landmark album, Damn The Torpedos. The MGK airstaff, still reeling from his passing, reflects on what the album meant to them.
Damn The Torpedoes was one of those albums when I specifically remember asking my station’s Program Director for a copy when it first came out. I was already a Petty fan thanks to my friend and Petty maniac Stephen Johnson, and couldn’t wait to hear what was next for The Heartbreakers. I remember the production by Jimmy Iovine first standing out for me – the album just SOUNDED so good! And of course, there were those songs! I also remember listening to the album at my house (I was still living at home at the time) and my mother really loving “Here Comes My Girl,” and the way Petty would alternately sing and chat during the song. That tune always holds a special place for me for that reason.
Damn The Torpedos was released the day before Tom’s 29th birthday. He had to go through a LOT just to get this album released. There were lawsuits and stolen tapes and quite the drama surrounding it. I was working on the radio in Florida at Zeta 7 in Orlando and since Tom was from up the road in Gainesville, we were already very proud of this homestate boy. This 3rd album landed on the station’s turntable the minute we got it into our hands with pretty much every single song on it going into “rotation.” (radio-speak for how often songs get played).
The stand out songs were undeniable: ‘Refugee’, ‘Don’t Do Me Like That’, ‘Here Comes My Girl’. MY fave though? ‘Even The Losers’ with its opening lines: “Well it was nearly summer, we sat on your roof. Yeah we smoked cigarettes and we stared at the moon.” Right there is what Tom Petty could do SO well: take a moment and frame it into words so the picture was immediate with an experience that was so shareable. That was his super power.
When Tom Petty was going through his legal battles after the second record, it reminded me of what Springsteen had gone through.
So many of the artists who broke in the ’70s had signed one-sided production deals. In TP’s case, trouble was brought on by his label, Shelter, being acquired by MCA Records.
What we didn’t know, as we waited, and waited, was that Petty’s crew was using the same song/tape shuffling moves that the Stones had used during their transition from Decca to their own Rolling Stones Records, prior to releasing “Sticky Fingers.” Man, we could’ve used the Internet in those days.
Mainly, I remember getting my copy of “Damn The Torpedoes” as soon as it came out, and thinking, as I listened, that the wait had been worth it.
Petty managed to “get back” his songs, and to set up his own label, Backstreet Records. A nod to Bruce?
The record itself stands as one of The Heartbeakers’ absolute best albums!