Let us agree at the top: Tom Waits is a great songwriter. Acclaimed and celebrated, unique and imitated, Waits's foundation in the American musical landscape is concretely laid. His musical tentacles are pervasive, except for one place: his songs don't ever seem to make it onto the ultimate summer playlists or mixtapes.
Maybe it's his voice, or his dark lyrics or the ragged musical kaleidoscope. It's challenging music, often divisive; that's to say, Waits doesn't have the summer accessibilty of, say, Mungo Jerry (although, come to think of it, we could imagine a Tom Waits cover of "In the Summertime").
Still, as we mark the first day of summer, allow me to present a few of my favourite Tom Waits summer jams, in hopes that your summer playlist will expand by at least a few, well worded, gravelly sung numbers:
1. "Step Right Up."
Here's Waits as carnival barker, a small-town snake oil salesman who has come to your town to sell you some summer fun. From the boozy backbeat to the big band, muted trumpet swells, here is a song that can get you shimmying away the day on the docks of your bay.
Bonus: If this one doesn't swing enough for you, try the remix.
2. "Telephone Call from Istanbul."
If beat novels are your summer reads, then this song, from Waits's album Frank's Wild Years, would be a great soundtrack.
3. "Tom Traubert's Blues."
Here, Waits uses Banjo Paterson's famous song "Waltzing Matilda" – otherwise known as Australia's unofficial national anthem, and one of the greatest summer tunes ever – as a tapestry to cast his own verses upon. It's a slow one, but will have you longing for the swagman's dusty trail and packing your own Matilda.
4. "Goin' Out West."
"Tom Traubert" is a great song, but might leave you a bit too contemplative to run out and jump on the Jet Ski. So our Waits playlist takes it up a notch here, with "Goin' Out West," from Waits's 1992 release Bone Machine. The beauty of this machismo-laced tune is that it will go over well at the beach ("I got hair on my chest/ I look good without a shirt .../ my friends think I'm ugly/ I got a masculine face"), or rolling down the highway ("I cut a hole in my roof/ The shape of a heart/ And I'm goin' out west/ Where they'll appreciate me").
5. "Come On Up to the House."
Every summer playlist needs that song for the end of the hot day, when you look out at the darkening landscape, rub your chin, sip a drink and contemplate the way things are. So here is a number for the twilight, the closing down, the drifing off of summer.
What Tom Waits songs would you add to the playlist? Let us know in the comments below.
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on Jun 20, 2012