'Classic Albums' is an outstanding television series that airs on VH1 and VH1 Classic in the United States. Each nearly hour-long episode examines the creation of a classic album, usually through interviews with the participants. What makes the series unique is getting to watch and listen as artists and engineers deconstruct the songs at the soundboard.
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers get the 'Classic Albums' treatment with a look at their third album, 1979's "Damn the Torpedoes." After achieving moderate success with their first two albums, this was their breakout release. Working for the first time with producer Jimmy Iovine, Petty and the Heartbreakers had a number of firsts with this album. It was their first platinum-selling album and saw them break into the U.S. Top 20, getting all the way up to #2. It also contained their first Top 10 single: "Don't Do Me Like That", which was almost given to the J. Geils Band to record.
The program opens with a brief introduction to the band and their beginnings in Gainesville, Florida. The members are Tom Petty (guitar and lead vocals), Mike Campbell (guitar), Benmont Tench (keyboards), Ron Blair (bass), and Stan Lynch (drums). All but Lynch, who was fired from the band in 1994, appear in modern-day interviews, though he can be heard in archival footage. Also on board to talk about the album and events surrounding it are producer Iovine and engineer Shelly Yakus.
Aside from "Don't Do Me Like That," "Damn the Torpedoes" features popular songs known by fans of the band and listeners of classic rock stations such as "Refugee," "Here Come My Girl", and "Even the Losers". All four musicians appear individually as they reveal how they played their instruments on the songs while all but Blair are seen at soundboards playing pre-mixed elements of songs and discussing their creation.
Campbell gets the spotlight and well-deserved attention on his talents, which are largely underrated by the general public. Most interesting was the fact that while the influence of the Byrds and the British Invasion is readily apparent in the band's music, he also discusses what Chuck Berry would do to help him move ahead with a piece of music.
It's fascinating to hear the band reflect and reveal how the tracks came together. Especially when a little bit of luck is involved, like the time well-known session drummer Jim Keltner was in a music studio hallway, just hanging out and playing a shaker. He told the guys it was needed on a song they were working on, so they recorded it, and Petty, Campbell, and Iovine agree its an essential element to what makes the song so great.
The viewer also gets some insight into the business of the music business as Petty fought with his record label so intensely that the album almost wasn't released, and with band mate Lynch, who was briefly fired until they couldn't find a drummer to replace him.
'Classic Albums: Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers - Damn the Torpedoes' makes for great viewing/listening for fans curious how the band created the songs contained within. It should also be of interest to anyone curious about how to records are made. Two songs not discussed in the program are "You Tell Me" and "What Are You Doin' in My Life?" but they do get covered in the extras.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Eagle Rock Entertainment brings 'Classic Albums: Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers - Damn the Torpedoes' to high-definition on a BD-50 Blu-ray disc housed inside a standard blue keepcase. There are no liner notes. The disc boots up directly to the menu screen without any promotional advertisements. The Blu-ray does not appear to be region locked.
The AVC MPEG4 1080i/60 encode, presented at as aspect ratio of 1.78:1, does the best it can with the sources it is given.
As expected, the modern-day footage looks great. Colors are well rendered, with clean and saturated colors, and fleshtones are warm and consistent. Blacks look accurate. The images are sharp and reveal very fine detail, from the hairs in Petty's beard to the small flowers on his shirt. Depth is apparent and the image looks artifact-free.
The archive footage is unpredictable. There's video shot at unspecified concerts, an appearance on "Saturday Night Live" from 1979, and the worst, although it has some historical significance is the super 8 mm footage of the guys goofing around in Gainesville and parts unknown in the 1970s. That material has no sharpness or depth and the color is faded. The black and white stills look very good, with the blacks inky and the contrast strong and well defined.
The audio only has one option: LPCM Stereo. Most of the audio plays out the front center channel and no sounds ever switch or move through channels. There is occasional support from the other front speakers while at times some of the songs play through the entire surround system, making the dynamism of the band and the LPCM track apparent.
The voices are clearly understood. When the music is played back through the soundboard, it can be heard very well, and when a discussion takes place about the music playing, all elements can be heard. The modern-day scenes of Blair playing bass are when the subwoofer sounds the absolute best. All the other scenes with band members playing have great tones.
Available subtitles are available: Dutch, English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, and Spanish.
There 42 minutes of bonus material in high definition, nearly equaling the length of the program. Aside from a commercial for the album, it’s all footage that didn't make the final cut. Subjects covered are the album's mix, Campbell's 12-string Rickenbacker and Tench's Hammond, further discussion of elements related to "Even the Losers", "Here Comes My Girl", and "Don't Do Me Like That" as well as segments to the aforementioned "You Tell Me" and "What Are You Doin' In My Life". It's unfortunate there's not a way to see one extended cut of the program, but the material is definitely worth checking out.
'Classic Albums: Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers - Damn the Torpedoes' is definitely a treat for Heartbreakers fans, but anyone curious about what goes into the creating an album should find value even if they don't like the band's music. The extras nearly double the length of the show, which will be a plus for those who enjoy it. Although the high-definition format isn't maximized, and I can't believe a deal wasn't set up to include the album, I recommend a buy for fans and strongly encourage a rental for the curious.