I first became fully aware of Tom Waits in the early 90's. I knew of him before then - I'd seen him acting in a few movies - but it was a video of his I saw on MTV which really caught my attention. The song was "I Don't Wanna Grow Up" from his 1992 album "Bone Machine". There was Tom, playing a miniature guitar on a tiny stage under a table, then he was dressed as the devil, riding around on a little bicycle. I loved the video, I loved the song, and I knew I just had to find out more about this guy and his music. Some weeks later, I picked up his album "Raindogs" (1985) in a local record store. It blew me away when I played it. It was like nothing I'd heard before. My music taste up until that point had been fairly mainstream - hard rock, 70's prog rock. Yes, this was rock music (kind of), but it also incorporated blues, jazz, country, latin and a lot of other styles. The music I heard was exciting, primal, sinister, often funny and sometimes even tender. I didn't know it at that time, but I had chosen the perfect introductory album to the music of Tom Waits. I quickly purchased his entire back catalogue and have remained an avid fan ever since. It was as a result of listening to Waits that I expanded my musical and cultural tastes. I read about his influences - the Beat writers, Captain Beefheart, the early blues artists, Bob Dylan, Jazz, Noir - and grew to love them myself. Waits has the ability to make you dance, freak you out, make you laugh and reduce you to tears, all in the space of one album (sometimes in the space of one song!). He's a true innovator, an eccentric, and remains one of musics most interesting, charismatic and enigmatic performers.
If you are considering sampling his music, I would recommend three albums as possible starting points. "Small Change"(1976), the aforementioned "Raindogs" (1985), and "Mule Variations" (1999). Alternatively, if you're the kind of person who prefers 'best of...' albums, there are two excellent collections of his work available - "The Asylum Years" collects the best of his less experimental, 1970's material, and "Beautiful Maladies" which features the best tracks from his years on Island Records (1980 - 1998).
Now, I'm fully aware that Waits' music isn't going to be appreciated by everyone. He's the very definition of a cult artist. Some can't warm to his growling, rasping voice. For some he may be too experimental. That's fair enough. But, if you have an open ear, an open mind, and are willing to listen, Waits' music is a richly rewarding experience.
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Simon Lee Tranter (Creamtrumpet)
May 8, 2009
May 15, 2014 07:58 PM UTC
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Tom Waits is an American singer/songwriter, composer and actor. He posesses one of the most distinctive voices in music; described by critic Daniel Durchholz as sounding "like it was soaked in a vat of bourbon, left hanging in the smokehouse for a few months, and then taken outside and run over with a car." With this trademark growl, his fusing of music styles such as blues, jazz, rock, folk and vaudeville, his experimental tendencies, wit and charisma, Waits has built up a distinctive musical persona.
Waits began recording and performing in the late 60's/early 70's. In 1972, Waits attracted the attention of manager Herb Cohen, who also handled Frank Zappa, and got him into the studio to record some demo tracks. The resulting material was later released as "The Early Years Vols. 1 & 2" on the Bizarre/Straight label (owned by Zappa and Cohen). Waits' formal recording debut came with "Closing Time" (1973) on Asylum Records. This album contained the track "Ol' 55," which was covered by labelmates The Eagles on their "On the Border" album. The bulk of his early material was in the classic singer songwriter vein - reminiscent of other artists of the period like Randy Newman and Jackson Browne. What made Waits stand out, even in this early period, was his lyrical content and delivery. The focus was on desperate, lowlife characters and he delivered his music with a persona that seemed to embody the ...