Monday, 9 April 2012

Living Legends: 10 Great Tom Waits Songs

Tom Waits has been one of my favourites for a long time. It's been difficult to share my enjoyment of his music with many others however, one does not simply bump into a fan of the King of the Fringe on the road. Waits has been making music since the 70's and has had many of his songs covered and recorded by other reknown artists. He's been an actor, an artist, an activist and a humanitarian. Here now in the 2nd installment of the Living Legends. 10 great Tom Waits songs.

1. "I Hope That I Don't Fall In Love With You"

From Tom's first album Closing Time this simple yet beautiful piece is a shining example of Waits' style. While he had yet to develop his trademark bourbon growl, the isolated, timid and heartstrong hero of "I Hope That I Don't Fall In Love With You" is the kind of audience his music would attract and i'm sure most of his songs' origins are rooted in similar situations that he describes here.

2. "Hold On"

Tom Waits sometimes seems like he is a mere chamber, a holding place for beautiful music to be kept. Songs written by angels and a placed inside of him until the proper time to be released. "Hold On" was kept inside Tom until 1999's Mule Variations, a song everyone enjoys...unless they're lying.

3. "Clap Hands"

Rain Dogs is perhaps Tom Waits' best known album. It's part 2 of 3 of an ongoing story with his other albums Swordfishtrombones and Frank's Wild Years. It features songs of all types and styles and the lyrics flow like a murder of crows. "Clap Hands" itself is almost like a nursery rhyme for lost souls. Lovely.

4. "Hell Broke Luce"

Waits was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2011. The same year he released Bad As Me. He was inducted by Neil Young, and obviously has the respect of artists of all walks of life. "Hell Broke Luce" features Flea from Red Hot Chili Peppers on bass and Keith Richards from The Rolling Stones on guitar.

5. "Big In Japan"

Just a straight up great track by the man. Kick off song on Mule Variations. Speaks to his courage to not be married to one type of music. Tom Waits has acted in several movies as well "Mystery Men", "The Book Of Eli", "Bram Stoker's Dracula" and "The Imaginarium Of Dr. Parnassus" where he played the devil. He could very well be big in Japan.

6. "I Don't Wanna Grow Up"

This could be his most well known song...if only for the strange music video accompanying it. It was covered by The Ramones on their farewell album Adios Amigos.

7.  "Step Right Up"

Waits is notorious for not allowing his music to be used in commercials or programs without his permission. He has won many lawsuits against companies that have used his songs or sound-a-likes to promote their products. Frito Lay used a song that borrowed from Waits' song "Step Right Up". Waits sued and won. Like usual he donated his winnings to charity.

8. "The Piano Has Been Drinking"

This song has been called the archetypal Waits song and praised for it's depiction of life on the road and the toll it takes. The staggering piano playing is intentional and weaves the tale of a drunkard slinging insults at all the other patrons and blaming his intoxicated state on everyone and everything else. Even the inanimate objects aren't safe in this one, like the piano in it's title.

9. "Jockey Full Of Bourbon"

Another great track off of Rain Dogs. The jockey refers to a cabdriver, in this case a drunken one.

10. "Downtown Train"

"Downtown Train" has been covered many times over by multiple artists including Patty Smyth, Rod Stewart and Bob Seger. These versions have overshadowed the original in many cases, but I feel they lack the desperation and lunacy that made Waits' song so endearing. It's about more than just a train, it's about one in a million. It's about being betrayed by your surroundings and your own mind. Someone once asked me when I became a Tom Waits fan, I told her "When I first heard "Downtown Train" and was reduced to tears"

Thank you Tom


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