If you ever find yourself in an argument about the best Tom Waits songs, say, or best Tom Waits albums, or best Tom Waits period, you now have the luxury of calling Mr. Waits himself to the stand. Or, at least, you can point to the 76-song playlist below, curated by Waits to mark the re-release of his first seven albums, all “originally released through Elektra Asylum Records in the 1970s,” notes Folk Radio UK, “many of which have been long out of print.” (If you don't have Spotify, you can also stream the playlist on iTunes if you have Apple Music.)
All seven records have been re-mastered and made available digitally, on CD, and vinyl pre-order at the official Tom Waits online store. Closing Time, Heart of Saturday Night, Nighthawks at the Diner, Small Change, Foreign Affairs, Blue Valentine, Heart Attack and Vine…. If you don’t know this first phase of Waits’ career, the titles alone should clue you in to the fact that he spent most of the 70s as a Sinatra-loving lounge singer, composing the sad drunken sound of 2 A.M. heartbreak at a seedy Hollywood dive.
This side of Waits survives, of course, in better-known albums like Swordfishtrombones, Rain Dogs, and Real Gone, but it’s often buried deep within the crashing, smashing, banging, clanging sound of his later work (or—in the case of his cover of Daniel Johnston’s “King Kong”—beatboxing, Tom Waits-style). In the 1987 live version of Rain Dogs' “Clap Hands” (top), the first song on Waits’ playlist, he mixes his registers, trading his earlier raspy croon for his later commanding bark, over cool, lounge-y Latin-tinged jazz.
“Spanning decades of material,” writes Reid McCarter at The Onion’s A.V. Club, the playlist has Waits, “like a growling Virgil taking your soft little hand safely into his gnarled grip,” leading you through his catalog as only he could. Have a quarrel with his choices? “Upset that the first half hour is dominated by piano ballads?” Well, take it up with the man himself. “Surely,” McCarter taunts, “you must know Tom Waits’ music better than Tom Waits himself.”
Of course, we’re always free to disagree with the artist’s assessment of his work. But if you’re a Waits newbie, I couldn’t recommend a better guide. Alternately, you can work your way through his entire catalog from start to finish—stream it all, from Closing Time to his last studio album Bad as Me, here.
via A.V. Club