Today is Tom Waits’ 61st birthday, and I’ve been listening to his genius music a lot lately, so thought I’d honor his day by sharing a few of his songs and albums. Waits is an unusual performer, hard to categorize both because his oeuvre is so distinctive but also because his appeal is scattered… he’s appreciated by punk rock bands and country legends and miscellaneous in betweens… and this despite his voice that’s been steeped in whiskey, thrown out in the street, and run over a few times. But some of his songs are rough on the outside and tender and sweet on the inside like fresh peaches. He’s one of those rare songwriters — like Leonard Cohen and Lucinda Williams — who make me think more of poets and authors than other singers (in this case, Bukowski, Carver, a splash of Hunter Thomas, and a few others… see album #7). As you might have guessed by now, Waits is among my favorite singer/songwriters. OK, here are a few songs and a few albums. Happy Birthday, Mr. Waits!
Most of these are just songs with photos put up by fans. I was looking for variety here more than a hit list.
1. Downtown Train
Might as well get this one over with. You know a guy has a rough voice when Rod Stewart prettied up the song too much!
2. Step Right Up
A unique and funny send up of advertising. I love the Maynard G. Krebs vibe of this performance.
3. Ninth and Hennepin
I have to include this one because it takes place in my adopted home town. I even used to work on Ninth and waited for the bus on Ninth and Hennepin. There was a pornographic bookstore on the corner and a fleabag hotel above it. One time, after work (it was a night job), a guy walks up and asks me if I mind if he smokes. I said no, and he lit up a crack pipe. So yeah, Minneapolis has cleaned up Hennepin Avenue since this song was recorded, but it’s still Ninth and Hennepin.
4. Old Shoes
This is such a gorgeous song. I can play it, and I can sing it, but it’s one of those simple “I can play it/I can sing it” songs that just doesn’t sound the way it’s supposed to when I play it and sing it. And yet it’s one of those songs that makes me wish the most I could play and sing.
5. For No One
Awesome animation, but a bit on the PG13 side, or a light R. Click with caution.
6. I Don’t Want to Grow Up
Another cool video.
7. The Long Way Home
Another gorgeous song.
The Early Years Volume 1 and Volume 2 are a great place to start if you’re unsure about the whole Tom Waits phenomenon. His voice is better here, the songs prettier. Nighthawks at the Diner is a great place to start if you love the character of Tom Waits. So is Big Time. On these albums he shares his live persona, the raconteur and humorist that have made him a legendary performer. If you like the avante garde Tom Waits, Frank’s Wild Years has Waits at his weirdest, while the soundtrack to One from the Heart is his prettiest, supported by Crystal Gayle on vocals. Mule Variations won some grammies and has a great dusty road feeling and is one of his most successful albums despite being one of the sparest and grittiest, a Cormac McCarthy novel of an album.