Tom Waits

Discussion in 'General Music and Vinyl' started by captainfog, Jul 27, 2015.

  1. captainfog

    captainfog A Prince Among Men And Moderators

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    I've got a 1970s compilation on CD but that's it. What are the essential albums? If I were to buy one album on vinyl what should it be?

    Just streamed his debut and was shocked to find his voice was normal!? What caused the drastic and sudden change? Booze, coke and fags? Or was it a deliberate stylistic choice?
     
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  2. Taylor

    Taylor Well-Known Member

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    I can't speak for the change in his voice, but Blue Valentine and Small Change are the only two albums I've heard of his all the way through, and they are FANTASTIC!

    @Aron knows a crapload about Waits, as I have had an earlier discussion with him about the artist.
     
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  3. Austin

    Austin New Member

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    I have to admit I'm a HUGE fan of Mule Variations.
     
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  4. Halo 2

    Halo 2 Well-Known Member

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    Tom waits is my man
     
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  5. Aron

    Aron Well-Known Member

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    It's hard to pick just one essential Waits album. His career has had several "periods", and each period has its essential record(s), but if you aren't a fan of a particular period, you likely won't consider any of the albums from that era as essential. Voice changes are part of it, but he also has tweaked his musical approach at certain times as well.

    His first two albums are pretty straightforward, 70's Los Angeles singer songwriter fare. The songwriting is strong, but, overall, they sound pretty generic. My guess is Waits sensed that he wasn't standing out from the pack in any way, so he started to play up the drunken bohemian aspects of his persona. By the time of "Nighthawks At The Diner", there is more of a jazz base and Beat poetry element coming to the fore. @Taylor mentioned "Small Change", which was the next album. Great album, but if you don't like that whole Beat poetry vibe, it might not be the best starting point.

    He kind of stayed in that mode for a few albums, although he began to incorporate more blues tones to the music on albums like "Foreign Affairs". "Heartattack and Vine" is pretty much a straightforward blues-rock album with some really nice piano ballads rounding things out. That was his last album for Elektra/Asylum, and marked the end of another phase. He switched to Island Records after that, and got married to Kathleen Brennan in the early 80's. I only mention that because she really had an impact on the direction of his career. He started recording some of her material with "Swordfishtrombones", which was the first album of a loose trilogy of albums that includes "Rain Dogs" and "Frank's Wild Years". I'm partial to "Rain Dogs", and consider that an essential album from his newer direction. The Island years are where he started sounding more like a carnival barker at times, and the percussion got really interesting. Clanging on pots, pipes or whatever was around. The piano ballads are still there, but the voice is even more gruff than before, and he can also sound like a wounded dog on certain tracks. And I say that as a fan.

    I'd say most of the albums after that trilogy have been variations on the same theme. "Bone Machine" is a very good album, and as @Austin indicated, "Mule Variations" has some great songs on it too. I also rather liked his most recent album, "Bad As Me". He actually had some really nice vocal turns on that record. Well, nice vocal turns for later era Tom Waits.

    Like I said, the key is finding the era of Waits that you prefer, and then diving in there first. Then you can sample around the other eras to see which ones suit you. For me, I particularly like "Rain Dogs", "Bone Machine", Mule Variations" and "Bad As Me" from the later era. I like "Closing Time", "The Heart Of Saturday Night", "Nighthawks At The Diner", "Foreign Affairs" and "Heartattack and Vine" from the earlier era. I have to be in the right mood for "Small Change", but if I'm in the right mood, that sounds great too.
     
  6. NoCo_Dave

    NoCo_Dave Well-Known Member

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    His voice is I think a combination of years of abusing it and a stylistic decision to go with it.

    http://www.wbur.org/npr/141657227/tom-waits-the-fresh-air-interview

     
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  7. Aron

    Aron Well-Known Member

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    I've always thought it was more of a stylistic choice. It changed noticeably on "Nighthawks", and the material on those first two albums was pretty ballad heavy. He's heavily influenced by Captain Beefheart, and I think he made a concerted effort to differentiate himself in some way from the Jackson Browne's of the world. He was never going to sound like those other L.A. singer songwriters anyway, so I've always felt he took a sharp turn in another direction. I'm sure the booze and hard living played its part too though. I've just always questioned how much of that drunken boho poet period was real, and what was for show. It's always felt more like a character he's playing, particularly from "Nighthawks" on. Maybe a better way to put it is that he put a super heightened version of the life he was actually living out there. In that respect, I've always treated Waits a bit like Dylan, and his early mythology building. I take much of what is said around both of their early careers with a grain of salt. There's probably some truth mixed in there, but how much isn't really clear.
     
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  8. captainfog

    captainfog A Prince Among Men And Moderators

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    Thanks for all the advice. I listened to Nighthawks this morning and thought it was absolutely killer.
     
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  9. Jake!

    Jake! Well-Known Member

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    Tom Waits is my favorite musician in the world and if I wasn't in a rush right now I would type sixteen thousand paragraphs but alas, I cannot

    But hell yeah this thread rocks
     
  10. digital love

    digital love Active Member

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    Finally a Tom Waits thread! This took way too long to appear!

    There is a clear line between the two (most obvious) differing styles of Waits and that is his Asylum records and then when he moved to Island records. From Swordfishtrombones onwards you have the experimental full band stuff and the Asylum years are his piano ballads and more jazz/beat records. I personally prefer his Asylum records - Small Change is staggeringly good and then both Blue Valentine and Heartattack and Vine are just masterpieces.

    However his Island stuff is pretty fantastic - the trilogy of Swordfishtrombones, Rain Dogs and Frank's Wild Years is a brilliant run of must own albums.

    Aside from those six crucial albums (in my opinion), I would advise Closing Time (as Martha is worth the entry alone), Mule Variations, Bone Machine and Alice as deeper cuts. The problem (if you want to even call it that) with Waits is that he is very reliable! The new album Bad As Me is probably his most accessible album and proves the guy still has it.

    I think aside from The Black Rider, you really can't go wrong with any Waits albums. The key is to get into the more accessible stuff first and get used to the voice before delving into the weirder stuff.

    Basically he is one of the finest songwriters ever and you can't go wrong by buying any of his albums.
    I'll stop fangirling now...
     
  11. tw2113

    tw2113 Well-Known Member

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    Just out of curiosity...why didn't you start it yourself?
     
  12. digital love

    digital love Active Member

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    Mainly because me and my Dad are the only two people I've ever met who like Tom Waits. I usually wait for someone else to make the move before I find it acceptable to fangirl haha!
     
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  13. Peyton

    Peyton Well-Known Member

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    Ain't no sin to take off your skin and dance around in your bones.
     
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  14. teee

    teee Well-Known Member

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    This discussion has inspired me to give Tom Waits another try. I'm not a fan of the incredibly gravelly voice songs and that has unfortunately been my only experience with his music. Until today - I started with Closing Time. His voice is normal! Good stuff! I may go chronologically through his albums to see how his voice changes and to ease myself into the gravellyness.
     
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  15. Jake!

    Jake! Well-Known Member

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    When it gets too hot for comfort and you can't get an ice cream cooone
     
  16. Jake!

    Jake! Well-Known Member

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    Yup, that's the way to do it! You'll hopefully start to notice that it actually adds quite a bit to his music. Especially towarda the middle of his discography
     
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  17. captainfog

    captainfog A Prince Among Men And Moderators

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    [​IMG]
     
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  18. Aron

    Aron Well-Known Member

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    Now I want to see yet another Odd Couple remake starring Tom Waits and Jeremy Irons. The twist being Tom Waits is Felix, and Jeremy Irons is Oscar.
     
  19. captainfog

    captainfog A Prince Among Men And Moderators

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    Someone needs to make one of those with

    Tom waits, while Jeremy Irons and Ben Folds.
     
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  20. teee

    teee Well-Known Member

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    I bought my first Tom Waits album on vinyl today.

    Nighthawks at the Diner.

    How did I do? I'm psyched to give it a spin.
     
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