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Tom Waits – Used Songs

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I vacillate between Tom Waits’ early L.A.-folky, mid jazzy-pop, or later avant-noise periods as my favorite. I guess I just like Tom Waits, but if I had to nail it down to one disc, I would go with his Used Songs (1973-80) collection, featuring the best of the (mid jazzy-pop) Bones Howe era and the classic “Ol’ 55″ from the early period.

Veteran pop and jazz producer/engineer Bones Howe, fresh off his success with the Association and the 5th Dimension, decided that he needed to produce a “significant artist” to round out his portfolio.

David Geffen suggested Tom Waits as such an artist. Howe’s background in jazz and pop neatly prepared him for the atavistic beatnik Waits: a singer-songwriter who borrowed nimbly from the noir side of various idioms (cool jazz, beat poetry, folk, Dixieland, cabaret) and funneled them through his mordant and ironic yet romantic imagination, creating an oeuvre uniquely his own.

Howe recorded (mostly live to two-track) Waits’ standards like Nighthawks At the Diner, Small Change (with “Tom Traubert’s Blues,” “Step Right Up,” and not on the collection “The Piano Has Been Drinking”), Foreign Affairs (with the Waits/Bette Midler duet “I Never Talk to Strangers,” “Burma Shave,” “Muriel”), Blue Valentine (“Blue Valentines,” “Whistlin’ Past the Graveyard,” “Wrong Side of the Road”), and Heartattack and Vine (the title track, “Jersey Girl”).

Eventually Waits too went his own way, because as Howe sees it, “Every relationship with an artist is a terminal relationship.”

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About Eric Olsen

  • The Theory

    I really like “Alice”, but it’s the only thing from him I’ve heard. What’s one of your favorites from him from the avant-noise period, eric?

  • ClubhouseCancer

    Oh, I envy you, Theory.
    I can;t imagine having all this fave music new to me.
    Go buy the trilogy Swordfishtrombones, Rain Dogs and Frank’s Wild Years. These thematically-related mid-80’s ones are where he really defines the style he’s mostly used ever since. Sword is more junkyardy, Rain Dogs is a little more rock-y/poppy, and Frank’s is weirdest and vocally wildest.

    After those, you’ll want to buy everything.

  • http://www.unproductivity.com Tom Johnson

    Theory, do yourself a favor and check out the triumvirate of Swordfishtrombones, Rain Dogs, and Frank’s Wild Years. The albums are the blueprint that Waits would build from for everything he’s done since. I think everything he’s done is well-worth checking out, but a favorite of mine is Bone Machine.

    Word has it his catalog is getting the remaster treatment next year (I really wish I had bookmarked this, as I can’t find it now.) I’ve held off picking up the early discs in hopes of not spending money in vain . . . I hate having to buy this stuff twice, and I’m sure it all needs the remaster treatment like anything else from the 80s . . .

  • http://www.foliage.com/~marks Mark Saleski

    tom’s right about that. Swordfishtrombones and Rain Dogs are must-haves.

    Bone Machine is a great one. for uber-weird check out The Black Rider.

    i saw Waits in boston a few years back…i could have gotten seats for the next evening’s show, but didn’t.

    then i read the review…they started with the Black Rider into…with Waits walking in from the back of the theatre, screaming “Ladies and Gentlemen!!!!” with a big ‘ole bullhorn.

    i’m not bitter about it though…

  • http://www.foliage.com/~marks Mark Saleski

    oh yea, forgot to mention: i own all of Waits’ recordings in one form or another…including Used Songs…i got it while on vacation when i discovered that i forgot to pack any Waits cds.

    sorry…couldn’t make it through two weeks without one.

  • http://www.unproductivity.com Tom Johnson

    I highly suggest anyone catch Waits when he’s on Letterman from time to time. The guy is so genuine that it’s hard to believe he’s an artist of such stature. And he’s hilarious, tells great stories every time he’s on. The most recent appearance, he told the story about how he took his kids to a music store and no one recognized him. Later that day he took them to the dump and a bunch of guys who worked there recognized him. He says something like, “That’s my fanbase. Musicians don’t recognize me, but the guys at the dump do!”

    Even better, get a hold of the VH1 Storytellers bootleg – the whole show is, as the name suggests, stories about each of his songs. Very funny stuff.

  • ClubhouseCancer

    re: Comments 2 and 3

    Tom Johnson, you and I are in mind-meld.

    Get out! It’s MY HEAD, MAN!

  • http://www.unproductivity.com Tom Johnson

    ClubhouseCancer: Malkovich Malkovich?

  • ClubhouseCancer

    This is clearly off-topic, but does anyone else think the puppetry scenes in that movie were some of the best parts? Amazing cinematography.

  • Eric Olsen

    Getting back to this late – I agree about the trilogy the Waits-heads recommend. If you have to pick one, my fave is Swordfishtrombones, which is weird, hilarious, musical,and a bit dangerous.

  • The Theory

    went to barnes and noble after work last night and listened to the snippets they had availible to listen to. Good stuff. i’ll probably have to pick them up sometime.