The Tom Waits Listening Club - Glitter and Doom Polls on Post 7457/Top 10 Waits songs poll results from post 751

It just now occurs to me we’ll be doing some of my favourite albums while I’m doing dry January.

Arrested Development Gob Bluth GIF


Really looking forward to this, only really know swordfishtrombones onwards, even then I have some LPs I don’t know well at all.

Sorry I’m running a bit late on this - dealing with a dental emergency at the moment. Stupid swollen face. Anyhow, lets get this rolling…



I thought I’d do a bit of an intro to set the scene. I don’t want to dive too deep into the biographical details of Thomas Alan Waits though. Lord knows he wouldn’t want that either – the introduction to Lowside of the Road, Barney Hoskin’s biography of Waits, explains the great lengths Tom and his wife Kathleen go to in order to keep their private life private. Many old friends and acquaintances have been ostracized for talking out of school about his real life. You end up feeling guilty for reading a book about him in the first place. He’s a fiercely private person who wants to let his various personas do all the talking for him. I’m happy to honour that – YMMV of course, feel free to speculate wildly if you wish.

A few facts though to set the scene: Tom Waits was born, “at a very young age” in 1949 in Pomona California to Jesse Frank Waits and Anna Fern. As Tom puts it his mum’s side were all evangelists, his father’s family, “psychopaths and alcoholics.” His dad’s side seems to have influenced the world Tom Waits created with his music – characters like his Uncle Robert, the blind organist at a Pentecostal church who, when the church was pulled down, had the organ rebuilt in his small cluttered house with the pipes running up through the ceiling could have come straight from one of his songs.

The shadow of his father Frank, an alcoholic Spanish teacher and, as Waits put it, “always an outsider”, looms large over the Waits catalogue, though he wouldn’t delve into Frank’s Wild Years until 1989. They were a musical family – his mother sang harmonies in a family vocal group and his dad would sing Mexican romantica songs and Irish lullabies. He learned bugle and guitar and his old man taught him ukulele before he separated from Alma when Tom was 10 and they moved to San Diego. The separation hit Tom hard, and definitely had some influence on the path Tom would take in life. “Most artists have some kind of wounding early on, a death in the family or a breakup of the family unit," he says, "and it sends them off on some journey where they find themselves kneeling by the jukebox, praying to Ray Charles.”

In High School (his school was used as a set in Back to the Future if you want a feel for how his days there would have been) he formed a band, The Systems, which he described as white kids trying to get that Motown sound (shame there’s no recordings of that, I’d quite like to hear it). At 18 he dropped out of school and started work at a pizza joint where he’d scratch down snippets of conversation for later use in songs. He later got a job as a doorman at legendary San Diego coffeehouse and folk venue The Heritage which exposed him to a variety of styles of music and the characters behind them. He eventually started doing short sets there himself, playing mainly Bob Dylan songs, who he near worshipped, country covers and a few originals that would eventually end up on Closing Time and The Heart of Saturday Night. Seeing the San Diego scene as a dead end he started ‘hooting’ (a term used for playing open mic nights which should probably make a comeback) in LA, a 300mile round trip that would start at 6am and get him home about the same time the next day that he’d take just for the chance to play a few songs. His sets brought him to the attention of Herb Cohen of Asylum Records. Herb was reluctant to invest in a Tom Waits album until David Geffen happened to catch Waits playing the Troubador and soon after worked out a deal for the album that became Closing Time.

Right, that’s enough facts, let’s have some music.


Wonderful intro!


Closing Time (1973, Asylum Records)

Closing Time COver

“It’s a ventriloquist act, everybody does one.”

Wait’s first album Closing Time was recorded over 10 days in 1973 by Jerry Yester of the Loving Spoonful. Waits takes centre stage as you’d expect and is joined by Shep Cook and Peter Klimes on guitar, John Selter on Drums, Tony Terran on Trumpet and Bill Plumber on stand up bass. Plummer and Selter had played together before and their subtle jazzy backing sets up Waits’ down on his luck crooner poet act perfectly. Ol’ 55 was released as a single - or as Waits put it, “Ol '55 tried to be a single, but didn’t” - and was covered by The Eagles (“a little antiseptic” according to Waits). Martha became one of his most beloved songs and was covered by Tim Buckley.

The album didn’t do well commercially but just about washed it’s face and got Wait’s name out of the small scene he was in. Asylum didn’t quite know what to do with him, seemingly marketing him as a folk artist and getting him interviews in folk magazines and shows supporting folk artists. Even stranger a pairing was Tom’s first big tour supporting Frank Zappa and the Mother’s of invention, another of Herb Cohen’s artists. It seems to have stood the test of time though if Spotify/YouTube plays are anything to go by. It probably helps that young Waits’ croon is a lot easier to stomach than the gutteral yowl’s he’s more famous for. But there’s some great songwriting here too, even if his more sentimental side gets the better off him more often than not.



How Good Is Closing Time Really?
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5

0 voters

  • Ol’ 55
  • I Hope That I Don’t Fall In Love WIth You
  • Virginia Avenue
  • Old Shoes (& Picture Postcards)
  • Midnight Lullaby
  • Martha
  • Rosie
  • Lonely
  • Ice Cream Man
  • Little Trip to Heaven (On The Wings Of Your Love)
  • Grapefruit Moon
  • Closing Time

0 voters

Edit: Second poll wasn’t working. Should actually let you answer now. I’m gonna let everyone pick 3 tracks and put the top 3 into what will become a monster playlist.

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Like a lot of these earliest albums (other than nighthawks) I’m not familiar with this one so looking forward to a few spins before making any votes or judgements. Also think this might get expensive for me as I’ll want to fill in the gaps of the Waits LPs I have.


Such a great record, Martha is just heartbreaking.


fuck sakes man, pure stuck in work and all i wanna do is put this on and have a right good listen :slight_smile:

Is there a better closing line than, “I remember quiet evenings trembling close to you?” Got a tear in my eye just thinking about it.


:cry: :cry: :cry: :cry:

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Going to sit down with this LP later on today, looking forward to it.

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Ol’ 55 is a hell of way to kick off a recording career.


Yes! Only just stumbled on this thread. Luckily in time for the kick-off. Am firmly of the opinion that there is no finer musical experience than Tom Waits in the right mood. The mood only descends a few times a year - otherwise it is only wonderful. When it hits right though…


Will confess to being one of those who finds swordfishtrombones onwards more engaging, but time spent with jazz-loungue & whisky Waits is still time very well spent.


I listened to this a lot in my 30s, so know it well but I’m pretty sure I haven’t played it in well over a decade. I’m looking forward to playing it again (although I’m also behind on jazz club as I have no focus RN)

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I jumped the gun on this thread and listened to Closing Time twice on Friday. For a debut album, it is remarkably assured in particular the narratives in the songs. Tom was only 23 when he recorded this, which makes it much clearer than his later works that he is playing a character in the songs - no one has that breadth of real life to draw on for stories at that age! Although you can clearly tell it’s him, his voice is a lot cleaner on this than his later work - barely a growl in sight.

Songwise, Ol’ 55 as an opener really reminds me of Suzanne opening Leonard Cohen’s debut album. Martha is the big hitter here - thinking of the aforementioned Suzanne, do singer songwriters still do a lot of naming songs after women’s names? The double closing whammy of Grapefruit Moon and Closing Time is just sublime. Musically, the backing is pretty minimalist but compliments his piano playing nicely. Enjoy it when the steel guitar and strings drop in periodically.

Probably not listened to this album in its entirety for about 20 years previously. It’s not his best, but it is a great set of songs and an impressive statement of intent. Even second tier Tom Waits operates at an extremely high bar :+1:


Total opposite for me. Knew nothing of Tom and picked up Real Gone when it came out but did not get on with at all. Kinda binned him off as not for me for at least a decade. Eventually heard some of his earlier stuff and loved it. I now know everything up to Swordfish pretty well, but absolutely nothing after that (apart from the abandoned Real Gone foray), so am very much looking forward to stepping in to the wild years when we get there.

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Real Gone is a challenging place to start with Tom Waits tbh tbf…


Yeah, bought it with zero context other than I’d probably heard him spoken about with critical acclaim and it was a new release so I gave it a go. Definitely didn’t make it all the way through on first play and not sure I got as far as a second spin.

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