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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Comments (4)
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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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