Tom Waits is a legendary American singer-songwriter known for his unique voice and eclectic style that combines elements of blues, jazz, and rock music. Over the course of his career, he has released numerous critically acclaimed albums and gained a dedicated fan base. His music is characterized by his raw, gravelly vocals and his ability to capture the essence of the human experience in his lyrics.
In this list of the 10 best Tom Waits songs of all time, we’ll explore some of his most iconic tracks that have solidified his status as one of the greatest musicians of our time.
1. Tom Traubert’s Blues (Four Sheets to the Wind in Copenhagen)
“Tom Traubert’s Blues” is a ballad written and performed by Tom Waits. The song is a sorrowful and poignant meditation on loss, loneliness, and the search for redemption. The lyrics are a series of vivid images and scenes that capture the experience of a lost and wandering soul, set against the backdrop of a bustling city. The mournful melody is driven by Waits’ gravelly vocals, with the accompaniment of a plaintive accordion and a steady drumbeat.
2. Ol’ 55
“Ol’ 55” is a melancholic ballad by Tom Waits that portrays the emotions of a man at the end of his rope. The song is about a man who is reflecting on his past and thinking about the mistakes he has made, as he drives down the highway at night. The lyrics describe the feeling of being lost and alone, but also the comfort of knowing that there are people who care about him waiting for him at home. The song is full of vivid imagery and beautiful melodies, with Waits’ raspy voice perfectly capturing the emotion of the lyrics.
3. Jockey Full of Bourbon
“Jockey Full of Bourbon” is a song by Tom Waits that was released in 1985 as the opening track of his album “Rain Dogs”. The song is a combination of blues, jazz, and rock influences and features Waits’ signature growling vocals. The lyrics tell the story of a man who is down on his luck and turns to drinking to ease his troubles. The song has been covered by several artists, including John Hammond Jr. and Diana Krall. “Jockey Full of Bourbon” has become a fan favorite and is often performed during Waits’ live shows.
4. Downtown Train
“Downtown Train” is a song by Tom Waits from his album “Rain Dogs” released in 1985. The song has a more polished sound than some of Waits’ earlier works and features a steady beat with a catchy melody. Waits’ gravelly voice tells the story of a man looking for love and longing to ride the downtown train to find it. The song’s lyrics are filled with vivid imagery, and Waits’ vocals are both soulful and tender. The song has been covered by several artists over the years and was a top 10 hit for Rod Stewart in 1989.
5. I Hope That I Don’t Fall in Love with You
“I Hope That I Don’t Fall in Love with You” is a melancholic ballad by Tom Waits from his debut album, “Closing Time,” released in 1973. The song has a stripped-down arrangement with a simple piano melody and Waits’ distinctive gravelly vocals. The lyrics describe a narrator’s apprehension about falling in love with a woman he meets in a bar, as he imagines the potential pain and heartbreak that could come with it. The song has a wistful and reflective quality, capturing the bittersweet feeling of longing and uncertainty.
6. Hold On
“Hold On” is a song by Tom Waits from his 1999 album “Mule Variations”. The song has a bluesy and soulful feel with Waits’ distinctive raspy voice accompanied by a mixture of electric and acoustic guitars, percussion, and harmonica. The lyrics are simple yet powerful, expressing a message of hope and resilience in the face of adversity. Waits encourages the listener to “hold on” and not give up, even in the toughest of times. The song has been praised for its emotional depth and has become a fan favorite, often performed live by Waits.
“Time” is a hauntingly beautiful ballad by American singer-songwriter Tom Waits. It features on his 1985 album “Rain Dogs” and has since become one of his most beloved songs. With its mournful melody and melancholic lyrics about the passage of time and the fleeting nature of life, “Time” showcases Waits’ unique ability to evoke powerful emotions through his music. The song is stripped back, with Waits’ gravelly voice accompanied only by a simple piano melody and occasional accordion flourishes. It’s a testament to the power of Waits’ songwriting that a song so seemingly simple can have such a profound impact on the listener.
8. Jersey Girl
“Jersey Girl” is a romantic ballad written by Tom Waits and made famous by Bruce Springsteen. It tells the story of a man who is in love with a girl from New Jersey and how she brings light into his life. Waits’ original version, however, has a more stripped-down and raw sound compared to Springsteen’s more polished cover. The song features Waits’ distinctive gravelly vocals, accompanied by a piano and accordion. “Jersey Girl” has become a beloved classic and is often played at weddings and other romantic occasions.
“Singapore” is a haunting track from Tom Waits’ 1985 album “Rain Dogs.” The song features Waits’ signature raspy vocals over a jangly guitar and melancholic piano, giving it a noir-esque feel. The lyrics are a blend of dark humor and sadness, telling the story of a sailor who is lost in the streets of Singapore and longing for his lost love. Waits’ unique delivery and poetic lyrics make “Singapore” a standout track in his discography and a fan favorite.
“Martha” is a poignant ballad from Tom Waits’ 1973 album, “Closing Time.” The song tells the story of a man who reaches out to an old flame, named Martha, after many years of separation. The lyrics are bittersweet and reflective, as the man reminisces about their youthful days and longs to reconnect with her. The instrumentation is sparse, featuring only Waits’ voice and piano, which emphasizes the intimacy and vulnerability of the song.