Tom Waits Makes a List of His Top 20 Favorite Albums of All Time

Sinatra Hours

What’s that? Exile on Main Street’s in your top 20 favorite albums of all time? Yeah, me too. How about Trout Mask Replica? A little weird, that one, right? The Basement Tapes? Cool… So, uh, how about Bohemian-Moravian Bands? No? Never heard of it? Seriously?

Me neither.




But there it is, the music of “Czech-Bavarian bands that landed in Texas… music both sour and bitter, and picante, and floating above itself like steam over the kettle… like a wheel about to go off the road all the time… the most lilting little waltz… accordion, soprano sax, clarinet, bass, banjo and percussion.”

Sounds like the kind of thing Tom Waits would listen to.

And that’s because it is, number 12 on his list of top 20, to be exact, described with just a tiny taste of his idiosyncratic music writing courtesy of The Guardian, who published his list in 2005 as part of a series “in which the greatest recording artists reveal their favourite records.”

Sure, Exile is on Waits’ list, as is the Captain Beefheart and Bob Dylan. And also Frank Sinatra, naturally, and Thelonious Monk, Lounge Lizards, Little Richard, James Brown…

Waits compares the experience of seeing the Godfather of Soul live to a “mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Christmas… You’d been changed, your life is changed now… everybody wanted to step down, step forward, take communion, take sacrament… get close to the stage and be anointed with his sweat, his cold sweat.”

He names a comedy album by the late, great Bill Hicks, who was “like a reverend waving a gun around.” Leonard Cohen “is a poet, an Extra Large one.” Marc Ribot is “a prosthetic Cuban.” The Pogues “play like soldiers on leave… whimsical and blasphemous, seasick and sacrilegious….” Sound like someone you know? It sounds a bit like Tom Waits.

Put his top 20 in a blender and out comes Real Gone. Sort of.

In giving us his list, he gives a double gift—an inspired collection of music rootsy, avant-garde, jazz/blues/Americana, and Other; and a series of mini-essays on the merits of each album, each one a masterful exercise in concision and elliptical wit. See the full list below, and stop by The Guardian to read Waits’ commentary on each album.

1 In the Wee Small Hours by Frank Sinatra
2 Solo Monk by Thelonious Monk
3 Trout Mask Replica by Captain Beefheart
4 Exile On Main Street by the Rolling Stones
5 The Sinking of the Titanic by Gavin Bryers
6 The Basement Tapes by Bob Dylan
7 Lounge Lizards by Lounge Lizards
8 Rum Sodomy and the Lash by the Pogues
9 I’m Your Man by Leonard Cohen
10 The Specialty Sessions by Little Richard
11 Startime by James Brown
12 Bohemian-Moravian Bands by Texas-Czech
13 The Yellow Shark by Frank Zappa
14 Passion for Opera Aria
15 Rant in E Minor by Bill Hicks
16 Prison Songs: Murderous Home Alan Lomax Collection
17 Cubanos Postizos by Marc Ribot
18 Houndog by Houndog
19 Purple Onion by Les Claypool
20 The Delivery Man by Elvis Costello

And if you dig Waits’ musical taste, check out this list of his favorite art films.

Related Content:

Tom Waits, Playing the Down-and-Out Barfly, Appears in Classic 1978 TV Performance

The Tom Waits Map: A Mapping of Every Place Waits Has Sung About, From L.A. to Africa’s Jungles

Tom Waits Names 14 of His Favorite Art Films: Fellini, David Lynch & More

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness


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  • Pam says:

    Disappointing that not a single female artist is on his all-time favorite list, unless you count the aria collection (I don’t). We are such a male-dominant society. With so many female artists throughout history, it’s a shame someone of Tom Waits’ caliber (I’m a huge fan) did not consider the gender bias he presents with this list.

  • JV says:

    “Consider the gender bias?” Seriously? This is a list of personal favorites, not an HR policy. When thinking of favorites works of art, I don’t consider shit aside from if it moves me or not. I’d have a few albums by female artists on my list (Bjork, Edith Piaf, some others), but so what?

  • MC says:

    Fucking hell can the man not like what he likes? Gender bias me hole

  • alex says:

    Are we for real discussing “gender bias” in a list of *personal* favorites?

  • Ran says:

    That really is a stupid thing to say, Pam. Really stupid. Suggesting that he is purposefully being biased, rather than listing his actual preferences. Really? Is that what you think? In fact, it’s such a stupid thing to say, it doesn’t even warrant acknowledgement…

  • Thomas says:

    5. Gavin Bryars, with an A. Tom Waits loves his music so much that he sand on the re-edition of “Jesus Blood…” It’s a sweet story.

  • Thomas says:

    And of course, I made a typo in my comment—sang, not sand. *sigh*

  • kerouac22 says:

    Not sure why the Pogues album surprised me. Makes sense. One of my faves too. Leads me wonder if there any recorded MacGowan and Waits conversations out there . . . Maybe something for Coffee and Cigarettes Part II?

  • noel horgan says:

    you cant please evertbody

  • Dillon Darnassus says:

    I agree wholeheartedly, M’lady.
    If I’m ever asked for a list of MY top 20 favorite albums, I will be sure to knock a few off of the list and replace them with female artists. Alienating people is wrong, and Tomw8z should be ashamed.

  • Jon says:

    It’s a list of favorites not a political agenda. It’s also I believe all Western artists so why not criticize him for not having a ‘world music’ approach. Now people can’t even love what they love in art: they need to tow a politically approve line: jeez.

  • Marbles says:

    Pam is projecting. HER playlist would be only female artists because she’s a chauvinist feminist.

  • Ted Mills says:

    Does anybody know who painted the cover? The Internet and Wikipedia has failed me.

  • Alastair says:

    You suggesting he should have self censored and told us his fictional top 20 all time favorite albums? #truthisouttastyle

  • Colin says:

    There’s a few records on that list that I haven’t heard, so I’m going to check them out on Tom Waits’ recommendation. I read a list of his favourite books and films once, checked them all out and was introduced to some great stuff that I wouldn’t otherwise have heard. Instead of moaning about what’s not on the list, investigate the stuff that is. Might change your life!

  • Jason says:

    It’s his personal favourite album list, if it’s all male or female singers it wouldn’t make a single goddamn difference.

  • Don Neal says:

    One of my all time favorite albums? Small Change by Tom Waites.

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