I think a lot of people take Tom Petty for granted so it’s nice to be reminded of how talented this guy really is. Petty is a bonafide American Rock icon, no doubt. He has recorded fifteen studio albums, most of which went either gold or platinum. And he has toured, along with the Heartbreakers, extensively over the last three decades. Watching the newly releasedDamn the Torpedoes documentary just reaffirms why Petty and the Heartbreakers have had such a long career in the music business.
First of all, Damn the Torpedoes is Petty’s breakthrough album. It sat at the number two spot for seven weeks on the Billboard album chart and went on to sell over two million copies. With classic songs like “Don’t Do Me Like That”, “There Goes My Girl” and “Refugee”, the album has stood the test of time. And with producer Jimmy Iovine and engineer Shelly Yakus behind the recording console, the record still sounds great even to this day.
If you’ve never seen a “Classic Albums DVD” before, it’s essentially a detailed look back on how a particular album was put together with all the major contributors interviewed on camera. For this Damn The Torpedoes DVD- Petty, Yakus, Iovine, Mike Campbell, Benmont Tench and Ron Blair were brought into a recording studio to go over the multi-tracks of this album. For a “music nut” like me, it’s a huge treat to see and hear what went on “behind the scenes” especially concerning the songwriting and recording of it all.
Petty and Campbell obviously got most of the screentime but it was nice hearing insight from producer Iovine and from keyboardist Tench. It was a bit of a surprise to hear that Iovine demanded full live performances from the band in the studio instead of building songs track by track. But the interplay among the musicians really made the songs come alive which you may not have gotten if they had decided to record the album piece by piece.
Iovine also reveals the “secret” to the song “Refugee”. The key rhythmic ingredient, according to Iovine, is the *shaker* that was added by legendary musician Jim Keltner. Keltner just happened to be hanging out in the studio at the time and they got him to add a shaker to the track and it was like magical fairy dust sprinkled onto the song. heh. funny stuff.
Oh and speaking of “Refugee”, be sure to check the bonus material on the DVD. Studio engineer Yakus explains that the bass drum was intentionally recorded “out of phase” with the rest of the drums. And by doing so, the bass drum stood out in the overall mix, making it almost “pop out” from the speakers.
Another nugget from the bonus material, is Petty’s Rickenbacker guitar that’s featured on the album cover. It turns out that the Rickenbacker is actually Campbell’s. And get this, Campbell bought it used for only $150!! And by the serial number, he found out that it was the next guitar the shop made after they made George Harrison’s famous Rickenbacker. Man, I wonder if the original seller of that guitar ever found out what the guitar was really worth??
Anyway, there’s tons of neat info like that about the band and the album. It’s definitely worth viewing especially nowadays where professional recording studios are going the way of the dinosaur. The classic album series highlights the achievements that were done in a real recording studio using analog multi-track tapes. In this day and age of ProTools and bedroom recordings, a lot of these techniques and methods will unfortunately be lost. Can you imagine 20 years from now when the Classic Albums series features an album from 2010? The documentary will probably feature just some dude in a bedroom looking at waveforms on a computer screen. yikes!