Tom Waits Curates a 76-Song Playlist of His Own Music: An Introduction to Tom Waits by Tom Waits

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

Related Content:

Stream All of Tom Waits’ Music in a 24 Hour Playlist: The Complete Discography

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

Tom Waits For No One: Watch the Pioneering Animated Tom Waits Music Video from 1979

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


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  • LimoDave000 says:

    It was in Portland, Oregon…late ’70s, when Tom came to the local venue on Broadway. The line outside went up Broadway half a block, then took another right turn another half a block. It was my first introduction to Tom in person.
    Of course one of my local current associates was already a longtime fan, who came along with his girlfriend.

    Unbelievably, the price of admission was actually a token $2 as Tom must’ve needed an audience packing the auditorium. Or, possibly…just wanted everyone to afford the chance to see him without having to spring for the ordinary prices prevailing at the time. Much higher, assuredly. Either way, it was hard to pass up.

    The next door buddy of mine was also the one who had Tom’s first records, which I’d already heard a bit of. So together…we all finally got inside, where the atmosphere was already pretty fragrant with intoxicating smoke.
    Leon Redbone was the opening act. Never having heard of him, I watched with some reserve, as it seemed mostly about his image portrayed onstage, rather than any actual talent. Low key, strummed the chords as the lyrics came along the same. I’d wondered where he came from, but then again, two dollars each got us in.
    Then, finally…Tom came onstage to a big ovation from those already following the one-of-a-kind style he possessed.
    From that point on, entertainment was what Tom was about as the style and lyrics were unlike anything anyone I’d seen or heard before. Now I have my own collection of vinyl from those days, augmented by his earliest albums as well.
    Keeping guys like him around keeps getting harder and harder as our times have less and less appreciation except for the dedicated and ‘initiated’ long time fans we are.
    Glad you’re still with us, Tom! Keep that thing goin’ and stay strong!
    We need laughter now more than ever before, and you’ve given us exactly that in your priceless and original style.
    Dave Loder
    Reno, Nevada

  • Rick V. says:

    That version of “Clap Hands” that kicks off the list is the studio version that appears on “Rain Dogs.”

    Minor point. Thanks for pointing me to this.

  • Dianne Secora says:

    saw him on one of the public tv channels and was fascinated with his style and very strange voice……lamp post, chain smoking, growling sad sound and he was very young…maybe in the 1970s. i forgot his name and right now i am so happy to hear him again and know his name. i will look up his biography and hope he has had a much happier life than his songs.

  • Steven D says:

    Ruby’s Arms
    On The Nickel
    Kentucky Avenue
    and his version of Somewhere from West side story. I cry everytime

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