Jumping the gun maybe, but I am putting on Closing Time RIGHT NOW - because I’m a free and loose loner who plays by his own rules…
The Tom Waits Listening Club - Glitter and Doom Polls on Post 7457/Top 10 Waits songs poll results from post 751
I have to say I’ve never got on with Nighthawks either. Love the idea on paper - just Tom and his piano playing raconteur in front of a small crowd - but it’s all so very samey and longwinded. Maybe this time around it’ll win us over.
Yeah, don’t know if it’s because it’s so early in his career or because it’s so samey and repetitive but I’m never more aware that Tom Waits is a constructed character than when I listen to that album, and I think you have to be able to at least partially suspend that disbelief to enjoy a lot of his music.
On the subject of his live stuff, could we add the Glitter and Doom live album to the list? The versions of tracks on there are different enough to be worth listening to on their own and it’d also be a nice way to finish off given how much of his career it covers.
Yeah I guess as much as love that character it is a bit too much of it. Nice glimpse of how weird and anachronistic it must have been back then at least.
Glitter and Doom sounds like a good way to round things out. I haven’t really spent much time with it either so it’s a good excuse to get to know it better.
I think I will be pouring myself out a little glass of whisky and settling down one evening each week to give these albums a spin. Some of his albums I know really well and some less so I am looking forward to much more comprehensive listen to his back catalogue.
Good shout. I’m overdue a trip to Jerry’s in Soho (aka the best off licence in the world), will pick up something suitably smoky.
It just now occurs to me we’ll be doing some of my favourite albums while I’m doing dry January.
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…
WELCOME TO THE TOM WAITS LISTENING CLUB!
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.
Closing Time (1973, Asylum Records)
“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.
- Ol’ 55
- I Hope That I Don’t Fall In Love WIth You
- Virginia Avenue
- Old Shoes (& Picture Postcards)
- Midnight Lullaby
- Ice Cream Man
- Little Trip to Heaven (On The Wings Of Your Love)
- Grapefruit Moon
- Closing Time
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.
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
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.
Going to sit down with this LP later on today, looking forward to it.
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…