I want to discover the music of Tom Waits. Where to start?

Discussion in 'Music Corner' started by UCrazyKid, Oct 10, 2019.

  1. UCrazyKid

    UCrazyKid Grand Puba of Funk Thread Starter

    Hello SHMF, I'm looking to discover the music of Tom Waits! I realize from what I have read before that this is no easy task ask Waits is such a prolific musician and has had many "periods" in his career exploring different styles.

    I am curious to hear from the members what are the "can't miss" albums as well as periods/dates of his music to explore/pay attention to as I start down this journey. I'd rather undertake this task with the guidance of fellow music lovers than just hit play on an iTunes "Essentials" playlist.

    Thanks for the help!
    Rockford & Roll likes this.
  2. beatlesfan9091

    beatlesfan9091 Forum Resident

    I’d start at the beginning, with Closing Time. That way you get to see Waits’ progression as an artist.

    Or if you prefer to start with an artist’s best work, I’d say:

    Small Change for his earlier work. If you like this go back to Closing Time and listen to everything from Closing Time to Hearattack and Vine.

    Rain Dogs for his mid-period work. If you like his go back to Swordfishtrombones and listen to everything from Swordfishtrombones to The Black Rider.

    Mule Variations for his late period work. If you like this listen to everything from Mule Variations to Bad As Me.
  3. Dominic jefferson

    Dominic jefferson Forum Resident

    Bury St Edmunds
    Totally agree with this approach - would just swap Small Change for The Heart of Saturday Night
  4. Big Jack Brass

    Big Jack Brass Two Separate Gorillas

    The only problem with starting from the beginning is that you might be more than a little surprised at how different he sounds.

    I started with Big Time and I'm still fond of it, although I concede that the main reason for getting onboard with that album is that it was the latest one at the time.
  5. UCrazyKid

    UCrazyKid Grand Puba of Funk Thread Starter

    Fantastic guidance! Thank you so much. I'm off to listening!
    beatlesfan9091 likes this.

    SNDVSN Forum Resident

    Whatever you do don't start with Franks Wild Years!
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  7. Beatnik_Daddyo'73

    Beatnik_Daddyo'73 Music Addiction Personified

    Bone Machine :D. Just kidding.

    @beatlesfan9091 nailed it. Don’t skip this one though. It’s killer!

  8. Rne

    Rne Sufferin' succotash!

    I would go chronologically to follow how Tom changes progressively with each album.
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  9. vinylontubes

    vinylontubes Forum Resident

    Katy, TX
    I would suggest you sample his albums. Buy from different eras. I would look for used CDs. Vinyl probably isn't the way to go as his records are pricey as he was never a huge seller and there isn't a lot of back catalog. I would look for the early '80s stuff. But I personally don't think he has a bad period. So buying whatever you can find cheap isn't a bad strategy.
  10. citizensmurf

    citizensmurf Ain't but the one way.

    Rain Dogs

    It still has a bit of the flavour of 70's Tom, and points the way to the direction he's followed since. If you don't like it, you probably won't like anything else he's done.

    Others will have different opinions.

    If you need a recommendation for strictly early Tom, I'd say "Heart of Saturday Night".
  11. citizensmurf

    citizensmurf Ain't but the one way.

    This was my first Tom album, I bought it after learning he sang on "Tommy the Cat", and worked backwards from there.
  12. Beatnik_Daddyo'73

    Beatnik_Daddyo'73 Music Addiction Personified

    ...right there with ya’ :cool::thumbsup: but to some it would scare them away. :laugh:
    citizensmurf likes this.
  13. Phil Tate

    Phil Tate Miss you Indy x

    South Shields
    I'd start with Orphans. It's a 3-disc collection of odds and ends, but it feels like a greatest hits compilation, with several songs which could easily be counted among his finest. Also each disc is devoted to a different facet of his music - the heartbreaking, beautifully broken Bawlers, the harder, butt-kicking Brawlers, and the bizarre, bonkers Bastards.

    If I could only keep one Waits album, it would be Orphans.
  14. Sear

    Sear Forum Resident

    Tarragona (Spain)
  15. Daniel Plainview

    Daniel Plainview God's Lonely Man

    I'm not kidding. I say start here. Though I prefer his 1992 through present materials more than what came before.
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  16. Jim Duckworth

    Jim Duckworth I can't lose with the stuff I use.

    Memphis TN
    For me the trilogy of Swordfishtrombones, Rain Dogs, and Frank's Wild Years stands as his best work-it helps if you like Captain Beefheart and Harry Partch.
  17. kevywevy

    kevywevy Forum Resident

    I thought so, too but once I started dating a woman and immediately started to get her into Waits. A few weeks later Frank's came out. She loved it and insisted we see him in concert, which she also loved. Go figure!
  18. drad dog

    drad dog Forum Resident

    New England
    I'm with him up through the 80s.

    Great songs early on. The double live album is very emotional for me.

    Small Change is a bit of a masterpiece. Foreign affairs has 2 or 3 of his greatest ever songs. There was a stylistic shift at some point around Heart attack and vine which also had 2 or 3 of the best ballads ever, but looked forward to louder more amplified beefheart influenced material. Swordfishtrombones is a masterpiece. Rain Dogs is a superb collection but for me is missing some of that out of control emotional quality, when he is not so on top of it stylistically(!?) . Maybe it's just me. After Fanks Wild Years I lost him. He transitioned to a beefheart influenced modern recording artist emphasis on experimental sounds. It's OK but doesn't draw me back.
  19. Echoes Myron

    Echoes Myron Forum Resident

    Rain Dogs.

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  20. CorporalClegg

    CorporalClegg Forum Resident

    Closing time First. The Heart of saturday night second. Then maybe Blue Valentine third.
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  21. englishbob

    englishbob Its a s*** business

    Kent, England
    Swordfishtrombones, Bone Machine, Mule Variations, Glitter and Doom live

    If that isn't your thing, then Closing time and Small Change

    Just don't start with The Black Rider, its a hard album
  22. jeddy

    jeddy Forum Resident



    this is where his "real" songwriting begins...:cool:

    then go to BONE MACHINE


    this is where he "peaks!"

  23. tiger roach

    tiger roach Forum Resident

    That's how I got started. And look at me now, I'm just an album or two away from being a Tom Waits completist. :D

    I think Rain Dogs, Swordfish Trombones or Mule Variations would also be great starting points.
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  24. john lennonist

    john lennonist There ONCE was a NOTE, PURE and EASY...

    I'd start with the “Used Songs -- 1973 - 1980” compilation CD (not sure if it was ever pressed as an LP).

    My favorite of his albums is "Small Change"

    His later stuff
    ("Rain Dogs," "Swordfish Trombones," "Mule Variations" etc.) is a bit too "out-there" for me (though I love the song "I Don't Wanna Grow Up" from this era) but many love it.

    Last edited: Oct 10, 2019
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  25. Man at C&A

    Man at C&A Forum Resident

    I did!

    Having said that I'm not a big fan.

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