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

We’ve added a Spo­ti­fy playlist with many of his favorite albums below. 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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Comments (50)
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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.

  • Noah says:

    I feel you, Pam. 100%

  • Jason Schusterbauer says:

    Pam’s right and you gen­tle­man are a bunch of frag­ile dicks.

  • Callum says:

    oh shh­hoosh

  • rebecca gozion says:

    yeah, what a thing to say! whine about some so-called gen­der bias, when he’s list­ing his 20 all time favorite albums>? you peo­ple have turned into naz­i’s, real­ly. i have female artists in my list of favorites, but that’s me. what are you now, the music police>? the PC police>? what>? you prob­ly wan­na go into muse­ums, like those who are try­ing to con­demn the met, & tear down great art that for one rea­son or anoth­er you find offen­sive. get a grip…you’re becom­ing a nazi.

    & small change is one of my favorite tom waits albums too.

  • Sollipsist says:

    “Pam” is no doubt work­ing on an inde­pen­dent film that expos­es Tom as the tal­ent­less huck­ster that con­niv­ing­ly prof­it­ed from Kath­leen Bren­nan’s true genius. Iron­i­cal­ly, Tom would prob­a­bly enjoy that immense­ly :D

  • Rudi Bringer says:

    this is not about gen­der. It is just his favorite music. Is there any fruit or veg­etable you don’t like? It would not appear on your favorite food list, would it? So what’s the point? Will we be forced to have a gen­der-main­streamed taste? Do you real­ly wish that? What is the ben­e­fit?

  • Mark Havanero says:

    Why would­n’t you include arias?

  • Woody says:

    Women don’t sing the blues, they give the blues…

  • Isaac Davidson says:

    As peo­ple have com­ment­ed, this is a sad­ly male-cen­tric list of albums. It’s incon­ceiv­able, if not trag­ic, that not one album by the likes of the great Ella Fitzger­ald, Sarah Vaugh­an, Bar­bra Streisand, Judy Gar­land, Joni Mitchell, Car­ol King, Dinah Wash­ing­ton or Bil­lie Hol­i­day made the list. Mr. Wait­’s should take some time to lis­ten past his very nar­row col­lec­tion.

  • Carsten Rasch says:

    @Pam, nor­mal peo­ple can­not con­sid­er iden­ti­ty pol­i­tics in every facet of their lives, sor­ry. Hope you can still lis­ten to Tom Waits though, despite his um short­com­ings.

    Must say though, that almost every playlist I come across these days is via Spo­ti­fy. If you sup­port music, you should­n’t sup­port Spo­ti­fy, because they don’t sup­port musi­cians. I don’t sub­scribe to Spo­ti­fy, espe­cial­ly not their freemi­um ser­vice , for that rea­son.

  • Carsten Rasch says:

    @Pam, nor­mal peo­ple can­not con­sid­er iden­ti­ty pol­i­tics in every facet of their lives, sor­ry. Hope you can still lis­ten to Tom Waits though, despite his um short­com­ings. Hav­ing said that, you’re prob­a­bly male, and got a kick out of the respons­es here…hahaha

    Must say though, that almost every playlist I come across these days is via Spo­ti­fy. If you sup­port music, you should­n’t sup­port Spo­ti­fy, because they don’t sup­port musi­cians. I don’t sub­scribe to Spo­ti­fy, espe­cial­ly not their freemi­um ser­vice, for that rea­son.

  • David Wallbank says:

    I like most of Toms choic­es but I’m strug­gling with more than two female con­tenders for my list. What would your 50:50 equal­i­ty list be?

  • r d hawk says:

    is “Houndog” Hound Dog Tay­lor?

  • r d hawk says:

    is “Hound Dog” Hound Dog Tay­lor?

  • Ralph says:

    Nighthawks at the Din­er should be on this list.

  • Rob Krueger says:

    Real­ly? …peo­ple can have preferences…why is it such a crime for an artist like Tom Waits to have sound pref­er­ences?

  • Declana Patricia says:

    I bet he’s kick­ing him­self!

  • Declana Patricia says:

    That was meant for Pam’s com­ment, of course. I hit reply, said my ten cents, and it posts my com­ment at the end of the com­ments, not in reply to her? It’s the small annoy­ances that real­ly try.

  • Paul says:

    Seri­ous­ly? Gen­der bias? He can’t just like the albums he likes with­out some dick bring­ing gen­der into it. Grow up and get a life.

  • ronald scoggins says:

    I would bet after care­ful con­sid­er­a­tion Tom would regret not hav­ing Blondies “Eat to the Beat” at the top of his list! One of the great­est albums by one of the great­est bands of all time!🤙

  • ronald scoggins says:

    Help me out Tom!😸

  • ronald scoggins says:

    Hi folks! This is Tom! I’m up here at Rondo’s cab­in in beau­ti­ful sun­ny Pine Nook Col­orado play­ing gui­tar and eat­ing red beans and rice! Tomor­row we’re going mtn bik­ing and fish­ing! I checked in via Rondo’s account only with his per­mis­sion but you can rest assured it’s me! We’ve been lis­ten­ing to records and Ron­do has jogged my mem­o­ry of some over­looked gems I love so much! Most notably Blondies “Eat to the beat”! I do here­by declare “Eat to the beat” to not only make my list but dethrone my dear friend Frank for the top spot! Sin­cere­ly T.

  • ronald scoggins says:

    My man!😸

  • ronald scoggins says:

    Thanks Ron­do! I don’t know how I missed that one! Hi Deb­bie! 👋

  • ronald scoggins says:

    Thanks Ron­do! Glob­al warm­ing and world peace aside I think it’s extreme­ly impor­tant Tom get his top 20 list in order! Hi Deb­bie!

  • ronald scoggins says:

    My man!

  • ronald scoggins says:

    Hi Frank! How about the peo­ple upstairs? They’re always argu­ing gen­der bias but when I see them in the hall they appear trans to me! I too think it very impor­tant for us all Tom get his top 20 house in order! Are you good relin­quish­ing your top spot to Blondie?

  • ronald scoggins says:

    Absolute­ly! I con­cur! Tom con­curs! Done! Ahhh! I feel much bet­ter! Thanks Ron­do! Have a great day!

  • ronald scoggins says:

    Hi Deb­bie!😸

  • ronald scoggins says:

    Hi Ron­do! It’s Deb­o­rah! I think it’s great you rec­og­nize Eat to the Beat as a top 20! Tom was more of a New York Dolls guy very sur­prised they didn’t make his list! Thanks for advo­cat­ing for us though!

  • ronald scoggins says:

    Hi Deb­o­rah! Eat to the Beat so F’n crazy good! I have a black cat named Shay­la! She would love to meet you! Per­haps you could come by with Tom some­time! I would love it if he would pro­duce an album for me!!! Per­haps you could advo­cate for that?! I have some good songs but no mon­ey. I have a web­site with some great stuff I would direct you to but down right now because I owe Go Dad­dy mon­ey. Hope you know I’m not jok­ing all this real! You and Tom any­time! I’ll make some red beans and rice! Just come to Pine Nook Col­orado out­side Sedalia, pop­u­la­tion 22 and just fol­low the Black cat named Shay­la!

  • ronald scoggins says:

    Tom! We should go out and meet this guy! We’ll lis­ten to his stuff and if it’s good maybe you could help him out with pro­duc­tion. I love red beans and rice and I want to meet Shay­la! Thanks! Deb­o­rah

  • ronald scoggins says:

    Hi Tom! I got “Clos­ing Time” at #5 on my list! Right behind Blondie, Frank, Hank Williams and Mag­ic Sam’s “West­side Soul”! Would love to have you guys but if you can’t make it out I under­stand. Hap­py to link you to some of my stuff if you con­tact me. Here’s an instru­men­tal I did for my neigh­bor­hood. I have lyri­cal ver­sion as well. Tom Waits! Are you kid­ding me? That’s who I want to pro­duce my album. Only on that could!

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