As an expression, “Damn the torpedoes [full speed ahead]” dates back to the American Civil War. It was apparently uttered by David Farragut, a senior U.S. Navy officer serving aboard the Hartford during an August 1964 battle in Mobile Bay, Alabama. After witnessing the destruction of the armoured monitor ship Tecumseh by a submerged mine, he ordered his own ship to run the minefield in order to attack an enemy Confederate fort.

Farragut and his crew made it through safely. You’d think for Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, hailing as they do from Florida in the Deep South, the idea of naming an album after an expression made famous by a Union officer in the Civil War would’ve been intolerable. 

But as a DVD that came into the office recently offering a behind-the-scenes look at the creation of Petty’s breakout 1979 album Damn the Torpedoes makes clear, it accurately captured the group’s mindset at the time. Having met with lukewarm success with their first two albums, and with disco at its peak in the U.S., they set out to create a classic American roots rock album. And boy, did they succeed.

As far as “making of” documentaries go, Stones in Exile is far superior. Still, as a musician Petty’s had a solid career, and as a guy he seems decent enough. So for me, this DVD was worth watching. 

There’s a little bit of concert footage, but not a ton. To compensate, here’s video of him doing “Refugee” at Live Aid.