Rolling Stone Album #397
Tom Waits is one of those voices in music that are instantly identifiable. His raspy vocals are almost painful at times, and his albums are not for the faint of heart. If you are in the mood for a soft, sensual pop album, you are in the wrong thread.
Waits' grew up in Southern California, and was discovered and signed by Frank Zappa manager Herb Cohen in the early 70s. Waits' 70s material consisted of lyrics depicting a desperate, lowlife lifestyle, and his real life persona very much mirrored his music. Waits' formal debut came in 1973 with his release of Closing Time
which contained the song "Ol' 55", a song later covered by the Eagles.
Over the next several years, he released new material just about every year with 1974s The Heart of Saturday Night
, 1975s live album (and one of my favorites) Nighthawks at the Diner
, 1976s Small Change
, 1977s Foreign Affairs
, 1978s Blue Valentine
, and 1980s Heartattack and Vine
. By the late 70s and early 80s, Waits' had built up a pretty significant catalogue of music.
In the late 70s, Waits launched a parallel career as an actor and composer of film music. He wrote songs for and appeared in the film Paradise Alley
, and wrote the music for Francis Coppola's One From the Heart
which earned him an Academy Award nomination.
In 1983 Waits released his first full album in 3 years with Swordfishtrombones
, and he had found a new style of music, implementing horns and percussion to go along with an unusual recording technique. The same year he appeared in several films, including Coppola's The Outsiders
. Rain Dogs
was released in 1985, and continued the style that started with Swordfishtrombones
. Since Rain Dogs
Waits has appeared in many movies, and has released 10 more albums including film scores. His most recent release is 2004s Real Gone
On the album Rain Dogs
, Waits incorporates a wide range of sounds including marimba, accordion, and various other percussions that are not usually heard in popular music. This album is very much a followup to Swordfishtrombones
. The style is similar, but there is a major edition, Marc Ribot's electric guitar leads. This album is not near as focused as his previous albums, and it is that artistic freedom that allows this to shine.
Waits is able to effectively mix his experimental songs that bring back his roots with several amazingly catchy pop songs, most notably "Downtown Train", "Hang Down Your Head", and "Time". This album contains the best individual songs by Waits, although as a whole it is not his best work. In any case, it didn't have the shock value for his style change that Swordfishtrombones
Tom Waits - Guitar, Harmonium, Vocals, Producer
Michael Blair - Percussion, Drums, Marimba
Ralph Carney - Bass Sax, Wind
Crispin Cioe - Sax
Greg Cohen - Bass, Double Bass
Michael Curry - Drums
Bob Funk - Trombone
Tony Garnier - Bass, Double Bass
Arno Hecht - Tenor Horn, Sax
Stephen Hodges - Drums
Robbie Kilgore - Organ
Tony Levin - Bass
Rob Levinson - Violin
Paul Litteral - Trumpet
John Lurie - Alto Sax
Robert Musso - Banjo
Bobby Previte - Percussion, Marimba
Robert Quine - Guitar
Marc Ribot - Guitar
Keith Richards - Guitar, Backing Vocals
William Shimmel - Accordian
G.E. Smith - Guitar
Chris Spedding - Guitar
This song is almost like something you would hear in a cartoon about pirates or something. The lyrics are sung to a group of sailors, describing their destination, Singapore. The lyrics are almost comical (he throws in the line "in the land of the blind the one eyed man is king"). The brass, and clanking make for a very interesting song, and the vocals are raspy and pretty chilling. A good song, that really shows off the imagination and artistic ability of Tom Waits.
The song opens with a gong sound and some nice wooden (tom tom) sounding drums. The vocals come in at a whisper "insane, insane, the're all insane". The song is a pretty spooky song. The percussion is really what makes the song. The lyrics are surreal as usual, and the best part of the vocals is when he sings the "clap hands, clap hands, clap hands" part. A reluctant guitar comes in and lays down a solo about midway through the song, but make no mistake, that is not the focus. Another interesting
Hang Down Your Head
This is my favorite Tom Waits song. There is a nice catchy lead guitar riff, which combines with a nice droning organ to form a soft emotional song. Waits vocals are soooooooo depressing in this song, and it almost brings a tear to my eye when he sings "Hang down your head for sorrow. Hang down your head for me. Hang down your head, hang down your head, hang down your head Marie". Oh man, you have to hear this song, this is one to experience.
Back to back amazing songs. This is a wonderful ballad style song. The instruments shimmer as Waits croons. There is a nice accompaniment with the accordion on the chorus. The lyrics are wonderful, and Waits sings them with such emotion. I love this song, and the Tori Amos cover on Strange Little Girls
is pretty good as well. But nothing comes close to this original version.
This is a throwback song, focusing on the romantic city life of New York. This is a love song, about pursuing a woman on "a downtown train". The vocals are pretty raspy, and this has so much more behind it. Yes, this is the same song as Rod Stewarts "Downtown Train", but to be honest, they sound almost nothing alike. Stewart transformed this song into a pop hit, and totally ruined the classic feel of the original. This is another of the amazing songs on an amazing album.
Recommended for fans of:
In my past experience discussing Tom Waits with friends, it seems that if there is one sticking point when it comes to him, it is the grity, raspy vocals. It seems that there is no in between, either you love them or you hate them. I for one love them, and think they add so much emotion and make the music "real". However, I suggest you listen to a song before you purchase an album of his, but I still can't deduct points for that. This is a near flawless album, with only a couple of lows, and for that reasong I will rate this according to my experience with the record, and not what others may like. Obviously if you don't like his vocals, you are going to rate it lower.