uReview: Tom Waits Discography

Tom Waits is one of the many legendary artists we have neglected to feature on these pages. His works seem to transcend time, seamlessly linking sound and style from decade to decade. But, for whatever reason, I only have a couple of his records.

So, calling all TW fiends: what’s overrated, underrated, and essential in the Tom Waits Discography?

Check Your Top 5 Tom Waits Albums

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  • maybe it’s just cause it was the year I was born, or maybe it’s because he’s singing about a street I see every day, or maybe it’s because of all those interesting percussion textures he’s playing with. But Rain Dogs remains my favorite album.

  • My hands down favorite is “Mule Variations”, it’s some kind of fake Americana album with one of the scariest songs to pop up on “shuffle”, the terrorific “What’s He Building In There”. Also “Chocolate Jesus” is a back porch classic. You can hear the wood creaking. Brilliant, Recommended!

  • Anonymous

    where is orphans?

  • too difficult. nothing compares to seeing the man live

  • beastre

    check out the Nighthawks on the Radio show your buddy at Aquarium Drunkard put up a couple of months ago. Tasty stuff!

  • SAG1015

    I have to echo Anonymous’ comment: I’m unable to provide an accurate Top 5 without Orphans on this list. What gives?

  • Brendan

    My bad! i’ve added orphans. Sorry, got the discog from allmusic.

  • Len Liechti

    Gosh, this is a tough call. When an artist is so resolutely leftfield, how do you decide what’s best? I relish the challenge of Swordfishtrombones but probably enjoy the warmth of the early stuff most. Good excuse for re-examining the whole oeuvre again, though.

  • Anonymous

    As a life-long disciple, it’s always a hard call. You can never go wrong with Rain Dogs but a fun place to start may be Orphans… especially the Bastards disc! I’m probably in the minority here, but, as much as I love Waits’ work post 1980 (Heartattack & Vine forward), I can barely tolerate the earlier stuff. There are some great songs here & there but, all in all, I think his earlier work is pretty weak. (And I can’t stand the faux-beat, hipster jive schtick.) The man didn’t really hit his stride until his early 30’s so there may be hope for some of us yet.

  • Adam

    Closing Time is, and will always be, the best Tom Waits album. It’s simple and beautiful, and the man could still sing like a human back then. Not that I don’t love later stuff, but nothing compares to that album. It’s the one you play first when you want to convert someone to the world of Tom Waits.

  • Tom

    Some real comments on here. I would agree with many. You can’t put down Closing Time because it is one of the best singer-songwriter albums of all time. Every song is so good that you almost don’t realize the brilliance at first. Second or third time you it hits home that it’s hard to pick out the good parts because the bad parts aren’t there for comparison. Rain Dogs is a desert island album and Glitter and Doom shows you his on-stage prowess at this late stage in his life and brings you full circle. However, if you had never heard of him I would lead you to the Aquarium Drunkard post mentioned above and more importantly to the Atlanta show from the Glitter and Doom tour which is a free podcast download from NPR All Songs Considered Live Concerts.

  • Don S.

    I’m a little disappointed to see Alice as far down in the rankings as it is – a really underappreciated gem full of wonderfully eerie, spooky songs with Tom using his lower registers to masterful effect. And while I also love Closing Time and it certainly has lots of great tunes on it, to my ears they are much more typical in lyrics, chordal structure and instrumentation than his later works. I think a lot of that album’s songs sound like they could have been written by any number of other good singer/songwriters, but the stuff from Swordfishtrombones and later is so distinctly TW that the term “Waitsian” has become a common description, and it rarely refers to anything that sounds like Closing Time. He doesn’t really have any bad songs, just ones you don’t get yet.

  • dre

    ALice is indeed classic, fabulous, gorgeous. Combine it with the top four songs off Blood Money, and The Last Rose of Summer on, I believe The Black Rider, and man….it’s insulting to ask for more from the man. (And his wife)
    Mules Variations is way to low on the list. It’s one of the great albums by anybody of all time. Closing TIme’s song, Midnight Lullaby is so completely and fully realized on a later live album bootleg done I believe in Bremen, that it turns into a masterpiece. Very important song live sounds like it’s from Hoagy Carmichael’s hand…or Harold Arlen. FInd the live version…it’s amazing. (Live In Bremen)
    There are many songs on Orphans Bawler’s disc, (or records if you bought the box set) that I consider classic also. “Tell It To Me” done finally in what sounds like Tom’s most natural present voice, is one for the ages.

  • Megan

    Ranking Waits’ albums – what a complex, yet exhilarating task! Listening to his early work is essential to fully grasping the later genius. I am in agreement with Don S.; Alice is too low on the list, but as Don said, Tom doesn’t have any bad songs, just ones that take longer than others to truly “get”. Mule Variations has to be my personal soul-mate from the Waits discography, if I had to choose one. I love how the track “Picture in a Frame” pops in all soft and gentle after the impenetrable dark of “Black Market Baby”/ “What’s he Building” and before the spooky, blues-on -the- back- porch “Chocolate Jesus” (my all time favorite Waits track). He’s bizarre, one-of-a-kind, an impossibly prolific creator- but the absolute best thing about Waits, for me, is that I believe every word, see every image and feel every emotion that he puts out there.
    [P.S. my best friend once stopped liking this girl he was dating after she told divulged a deep dislike of Tom Waits. I’m not sure if that speaks well of TW or poorly of my friend…]

  • Dan

    Sure yeah, I voted for Nighthawks too … and the top 2 are my favorite 2 … but ‘Big Time’ is also a great stage document AND collection of great performances. More people should own it… My other choice out of 5? Heartattack and Vine – meaning no Small Change, no Frank’s WY, oh well… D

  • Dean

    What about – The Early Years (and TEY Vol. 2)?

    Those should be on this list too —

  • dre

    I miss the funky waling bass lines from Small Change and Foreign Affairs. Man, they were classic. Barber Shop’s bass lines, or Step Right Up, or The One That Got Away’s bass lines. It was something I always looked forward too on Tom’s albums…now we never get that anymore. That’s Jim Hughart on bass…and I think his work was fabulous.

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