Writers: Tom Petty and Mike Campbell
Producers: Tom Petty and Jimmy Iovine
Recorded: 1979 at Sound City, Van Nuys, California, and Cherokee Studios, Hollywood, California
Released: Fall 1979
|Players:||Tom Petty — vocals, guitar
Mike Campbell — guitar, bass, squeeze box
Benmont Tench — organ, vocals
Stan Lynch — drums, vocals
|Album:||Damn The Torpedoes (Backstreet Records)|
The second single from Damn The Torpedoes, “Refugee” peaked at Number 15 on the Billboard Hot 100.
Damn The Torpedoes was the breakthrough album for Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, hitting Number Two on the Billboard 200 for seven weeks. Pink Floyd‘s The Wall kept it out of the top spot.
Just before Damn The Torpedoes was released, Petty & the Heartbreakers performed at the No Nukes benefit concert at Madison Square Garden in New York City.
“Refugee” began with a demo by lead guitarist Mike Campbell. Petty then wrote the words and a melody. “The verse and chorus are actually the same chords,” Campbell said.
Recording “Refugee” was a difficult process, as the sound the group wanted for the song proved elusive. Campbell recalled, “It was a nightmare… It was very tedious. We spent days on the drum sound alone. It got so bad that I actually left the studio, walked out the door and left town for two days. It was so emotionally draining. We just couldn’t find the groove on it. We just couldn’t make it sound as good as the demo. We knew the song was strong, so we’d leave it and come back. This went on throughout the whole album… It took a lot of emotional fortitude. We must have cut it 110 times.”
Turbulence also surrounded the release of Damn The Torpedoes. It was delayed first by Petty’s split with his manager Denny Cordell. Then the Shelter label was sold to MCA Records, and when Petty sued to get out of his contract, the new label threatened to impound the Torpedoes tapes. Petty even declared bankruptcy to prevent MCA from grabbing his assets.
As part of the battle, the tapes were kept in a roadie’s car so Petty could honestly claim they weren’t in his possession.
The matter was eventually settled out of court and Petty landed on the MCA-distributed Backstreet label. But Petty said it affected the way he approached the album: “It was a topic I couldn’t get very far from — consciously, subconsciously, and otherwise. I didn’t set up to write an album about it, but it just crept into everything. It was a very dramatic period of my life.”