Round 17 - vote for your LEAST favorites

  • Underground

    Votes: 0 0.0%
  • Singapore

    Votes: 0 0.0%
  • Clap Hands

    Votes: 0 0.0%
  • Cemetery Polka

    Votes: 0 0.0%
  • Jockey Full of Bourbon

    Votes: 0 0.0%
  • Time

    Votes: 0 0.0%
  • Hang on St. Christopher

    Votes: 0 0.0%
  • Temptation

    Votes: 0 0.0%
  • Innocent When You Dream

    Votes: 0 0.0%
  • I'll Be Gone

    Votes: 0 0.0%
  • Yesterday Is Here

    Votes: 0 0.0%
  • Franks Theme

    Votes: 0 0.0%
  • More Than Rain

    Votes: 0 0.0%
  • Way Down in the Hole

    Votes: 0 0.0%
  • Telephone Call from Istanbul

    Votes: 0 0.0%
  • Cold Cold Ground

    Votes: 0 0.0%

  • Total voters
    2
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MrKnickerbocker

clap hands
Welcome to the Tom Waits Survivor: the first of it's kind, the least metal of it's kind, the tiny toy in a box full of toys that gets played with less often but has a better story to tell! This broken down jalopy will carry us as far as we can go, which is quite far ladies and gentlemen, because we're in this for the long haul.

We're not off to see a man about a dog, we're off to see the man about many dogs. Dogs in the rain, dogs in the bar, hell, dogs playing poker. They're all here - so step right up and get your dogs while they're hot! Two bucks for a pair!

Disclaimers, Rules, Regulations, and Random Thoughts:
- The Tom Waits Survivor will consist of roughly 17 studio albums. We will not cover the movie soundtracks or live albums, though I will include the song "Falling Down" from Big Time as part of the Franks Wild Years round. Unless there is a giant uproar against it, I will not include Nighthawks at the Diner but I will include all 3 Orphans albums.
- I will be running this pretty closely to standard Night Prowler rules, but with the added deep dive of background information, clips, audio, etc. present in Mosh's n00bvivor game. Expect some lengthly posts and info that you can read at your own discretion depending on how involved you would like to be with the Tom Waits story.
- This is my first time running a Survivor, so please be kind. If I'm doing something incorrectly, please file a complaint with HR and I will try to correct my appearance and servitude.
- Vote for your LEAST favorite songs in each round, as always.
- I will wait until everyone has voted, no time limits for now.

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MrKnickerbocker

clap hands
Closing Time (1973)

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We begin with the very first Tom Waits album and, in many ways, the least authentic Tom Waits album.

Produced by Jerry Yester from The Lovin’ Spoonful, Closing Time would be Waits’ first of seven albums released on the Asylum label during the first part of his career. Prior to the recording of this album, Waits spent several years on the Los Angeles club scene building his sound, his style, and his persona – an eloquent, yet erratic barfly with a linguistic love of Bob Dylan and the Americana soul of Jack Kerouac. He was discovered at the age of 22 by record executive David Geffen, signed to Asylum, and recordings followed soon thereafter with a five-piece jazz band.

The album was recorded in ten days using mostly live first or second takes, with string overdubs and one additional instrumental (the title track) added later. Waits and Yester had different ideas about the sound of the album and, in the end, Yester’s folk rock tendencies won out. In my mind, Tom Waits has had four major stylistic eras of his songwriting. This first album solidifies Waits as a piano-based singer-songwriter with an ear for jazzy melodies, California folk music vibes, and a distinctly 1970s sound. The Early Years of Tom’s songwriting explore this territory with less pinache than he would have liked, but you can hear hints of later Tom throughout these fairly straightforward tunes.

Closing Time gave Waits his first album and his first two national tours. His persona carried the early live performances and his stint opening for Frank Zappa no doubt netted the young musician some new fans.

The album was received well by music critics, though there was limited coverage or press at the time. Awareness of the songs came more from a successful cover of “Ol’ 55” by The Eagles, who, much to Waits’ dismay, added even slicker production and three-part vocal harmonies.


To this day, Closing Time is considered an essential part of Tom’s discography, though a bit too sentimental and inauthentic to be a classic.

For further review and investigation, I will be posting videos and podcasts to the related album. Unfortunately, no real footage exists from the first couple years, but here are some podcasts that delve deeper into the albums and review each track.

Down in the Hole podcast, Episode 1 – Closing Time

Tom Waits Song by Song podcast - playlist for Closing Time

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@Shadow, @Whooten, @Mosh, @bearfan, @JudasMyGuide, @Detective Beauregard
 
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Mosh

Winner of the 2020 Dumbest Comment Ever Award
Staff member
I’ll have to listen again but I really like this album. Closing Time is one of my favorite instrumentals. Only song I know I’ll be voting off for sure is Ice Cream Man.
 

JudasMyGuide

A Moravian soul
:okok:

I don't even need to re-listen to it, I know this one by heart. Very hard to vote here, in the end I decided to pick Ice Cream Man, Little Trip to Heaven and Closing Time - all are good on their own, but pale next to the other songs. Also, it's possible that it's just me being weared out near the end by the general atmosphere (but then again, the penultimate Grapefruit Moon might be my favourite early Waits song, so probably not).
 

Whooten

Ancient Mariner
Old Shoes
Midnight Lullaby (although Hush Little Baby at the end really saves the song)
Rosie
Lonely
Little Trip to Heaven
 

MrKnickerbocker

clap hands
My general opinion of Nighthawks is that it is essentially listening, but is truly an album of beat poetry. I couldn’t tell you the difference between any of the songs and I’ve heard it at least 20 times.

If people really want to include it, we can, but I don’t think it’s worth it.
 

Niall Kielt

Ancient Mariner
Hearing most of these for the first time and tricky to vote. The atmosphere is definitely getting to me by the end but overall I think this is a good album, you can certainly hear the emotional maturity the belies his tender years at this stage. Although as Indiana Jones once said "honey, it ain't the years, its the mileage."

Voting for;
Old Shoes
Midnight Lullaby
Rosie
Little Trip to Heaven

Standout Tunes;
Virginia Avenue
Martha
Ice Cream Man

Honourable Mention;
Lonely almost got voted for and almost made it as a Standout Tune. I like the melancholy melody and I sorta like the jazzy bit too but running one in to the other makes this song not quite sit right with me. It makes me think "do I like this? Of course I do. What? Really?"

I see Ice Cream Man has a couple of firm votes. This is the only song I recognise as having heard before, I think its great, possibly out of place on the album but one of the few I would actively seek out on its own. Got a Hit the Road Jack feel. I want a full song from the piano intro/outro though.
 

Mosh

Winner of the 2020 Dumbest Comment Ever Award
Staff member
Actually got to this tonight.

I think this is a great album. I love the vibe of it, the songs are great too but this one really nails it in the atmosphere department. It's like you're listening to the band late at night in a mellow smokey club. The songs range from uplifting to sorrowful to somewhere in between. Waits' voice wasn't yet the iconic mad growl but there are slight hints of gruffness that give it character. I'm imagining this singer is in his 3rd set and has possibly had a few drinks. The musicians also play with so much looseness, it's like the wheels can come off at any moment but they don't. I'm not really into the whole singer songwriter thing typically but the free flowing sound of Closing Time really makes these songs stand out. I Hope I Don't Fall In Love With You seems like the most accessible thing on the album to me but even that has a ton of personality that proves a good song is more than just some words and chords. It's the performance that elevates it. Closing Time (the song) is one of my all time favorite instrumentals. It has all those great qualities I mentioned above just without the words. But the trumpet and piano playing is so lyrical that the words aren't even needed. Perfect ending to a near perfect album. I say perfect because there's also Ice Cream Man.

Ice Cream Man is not a bad song and I'm not sure what the general fan consensus is on it, but it's so at odds with the vibe of the rest of the songs that it almost ruins the album. It's just so out of place. Maybe that was intentional and I can kinda see where he was going, but it doesn't work. Since this time I was listening with the intention of voting off songs, I asked myself if I would single out a song like that on any other album where it may fit in better. I found two answers. The first is that it doesn't matter, while we are focusing on songs I think it's fair to take into account how a song contributes to the overall feel of an album, especially when an album is as atmospheric as this and when there are already so many good songs that it's hard to choose ones to vote for. But also more simply, I don't think it's a very good song. B-side material.

I had a hard time bringing myself to vote for anything else but I managed.

I'd like to comment a little on the Frank Zappa connection cause I think it's interesting. When I read that Tom Waits toured with Frank Zappa I thought that was a very strange combination, but then I looked at the dates and realized it's actually a pretty decent fit. Frank was transitioning out of one of his Jazzier periods and was probably still playing a lot of that material (although the more commercial Overnite Sensation had been released by then). In fact, the song Blessed Relief (1972) isn't that far off from Closing Time in my opinion:


Also worth pointing out that the cover was designed by Cal Schenkel, who also did the design for Closing Time (Cal was also living with Frank and possibly turned him on to Waits).

Anyway looking forward to this! Other than Rain Dogs, the rest of Waits' work is all new to me.
 
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Niall Kielt

Ancient Mariner
Well put. I took the atmosphere for granted but you're right, the performance(s) make it and not every collection of chords and words is imbued with such personality.
 

Whooten

Ancient Mariner
You may want to check out The Early Years vols 1&2.

These are unauthorized releases of different versions of songs from the first couple of TW albums. Many of the songs have different arrangements and personality. Not to jump ahead, but the Early Years version of Diamonds on my Windshield is a big contrast to the "official" version on The Heart of Saturday Night.
 

MrKnickerbocker

clap hands
I totally agree about taking a listen to The Early Years, the versions are really quite different. In some cases they add a new dimension to the song that enhances it (Ice Cream Man, I Hope That I Don't Fall in Love With You) and in others I'm very glad that the album version is the definitive arrangement (Ol' 55, Old Shoes).

These are basically demos that Waits never wanted released, but they provide a nice insight into his early style vs. the final production of his debut.

For anyone interested:




 

MrKnickerbocker

clap hands
These early Waits albums are so interesting to me because of the widely different reactions that they receive from fans. There is never an easy consensus on which songs are good vs. which songs are bad - as we can already see in this survivor! I think that his later albums might produce a more unified voting climate.

Everything always boils down to the song for me. Is it listenable, enjoyable as a self-sustaining piece? Does it have a catchy melody, hook, rhythm? Do the lyrics and music represent a unified theme? Personally, I love the folksy numbers on Closing Time like Ol' 55 and Old Shoes (this one might actually be my favorite on the album), even if they don't necessarily represent the purest form of Tom's character. The songs that seem to hint at where Tom's sound is going like Virginia Ave and Grapefruit Moon, though more indicative of his true style, feel like sketches rather than complete works. He would go on to do these types of songs much, much better (especially on the next album).

Thus, I'm voting for:

- Virginia Avenue, which never seems to move beyond a mood piece with a cool two chord sway. There's less of a song here and more of a rough idea.

- Rosie, which is poorly sequenced on the album and pales in comparison to Martha. It's probably the best of what I'm voting for here, but only really memorable for that pretty thin falsetto attempt.

- Lonely, which I simply do not like. Easily my least favorite song on the album.

- Little Trip to Heaven, which sounds like Sinatra when he's drunk. That honestly might have been the intent, but I can't say I love the result.

- Grapefruit Moon, for which I have the same reasoning that I had for Virginia Ave.
 

JudasMyGuide

A Moravian soul
I think that his later albums might produce a more unified voting climate.

The Ocean Doesn't Want Me Today FTW!!! :bigsmile:

Anyway, I agree with most of your assessments above, especially the first two songs. I will vote for Lonely in the next round and I really didn't like it at all for quite some time, but it grew on me a bit. It's just that this minimalistic, completely drunk and down on its luck tune actually fits the album (more on that below).

LTtH is kinda drunk Sinatra and that's why I like it. Anyway, you probably shouldn't like most of Foreign Affairs and Blue Valentine as well :p

But I really, really disagree with Grapefruit Moon. It's not a rough idea, it's a heart wrenching, emotional and deadly bomb of a tune. Possibly the best one here, although Old Shoes and Martha make some fine competition.

This whole album (and pardon me for paraphrasing Starostin here) sounds like an impressionistic look inside a pub during the [roll credits] Closing Time. You have your character studies here, one next to another, the hopes, the dreams, the winners and the losers, all drenched in a generous amount of alcohol. This is a work of a mature songwriter right here, actually the kind of album many artists strive to make throughout their career. But the really impressive thing isn't just that this was his debut - what's absolutely unbelievable is that he wasn't content with that and try to extend the boundaries, to reach out, to travel further... so much he almost forgot to get back. And for that, he'll probably always be my hero. Regardless of whether I listen to him or not at the moment.
 

MrKnickerbocker

clap hands
LTtH is kinda drunk Sinatra and that's why I like it. Anyway, you probably shouldn't like most of Foreign Affairs and Blue Valentine as well :p

You are correct about both those albums, though at last listen I think I preferred BV.

But I really, really disagree with Grapefruit Moon. It's not a rough idea, it's a heart wrenching, emotional and deadly bomb of a tune. Possibly the best one here, although Old Shoes and Martha make some fine competition.

To be fair, I don't dislike Grapefruit Moon (I'd still probably rate it a 7 or 8/10), but I just feel that he does this song much better on subsequent albums. It's not bad, it's just not reaching the full potential of what it could be the way that Martha does.

This whole album (and pardon me for paraphrasing Starostin here) sounds like an impressionistic look inside a pub during the [roll credits] Closing Time. You have your character studies here, one next to another, the hopes, the dreams, the winners and the losers, all drenched in a generous amount of alcohol. This is a work of a mature songwriter right here, actually the kind of album many artists strive to make throughout their career. But the really impressive thing isn't just that this was his debut - what's absolutely unbelievable is that he wasn't content with that and try to extend the boundaries, to reach out, to travel further... so much he almost forgot to get back. And for that, he'll probably always be my hero. Regardless of whether I listen to him or not at the moment.

You have written a perfect synopsis of this album. It's a classic, but Waits' own desire to be better makes it one of his lesser albums overall, which is truly saying something because it's pretty dang good. Great for a debut and definitely far more mature than it deserves to be.
 

Shadow

Deluxe Edition
Staff member
I'd like to comment a little on the Frank Zappa connection cause I think it's interesting. When I read that Tom Waits toured with Frank Zappa I thought that was a very strange combination, but then I looked at the dates and realized it's actually a pretty decent fit. Frank was transitioning out of one of his Jazzier periods and was probably still playing a lot of that material (although the more commercial Overnite Sensation had been released by then).
I believe the match happened because Zappa and Waits had the same manager at the time. For the most part, Waits got a hostile response from Zappa's audiences. Perhaps to make up for that, Zappa would occasionally invite Waits up on stage during the Mothers' set to tell bad jokes:


In 2005, Waits listed The Yellow Shark as one of his twenty favourite albums.
 
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