Top 5 Tom Waits albums - #5 Closing Time

My introduction to Tom Waits music

When I was a teenager growing up, the only music I listened to was hard rock. Big hair, loud guitars, and overblown choruses. Then sometime around High School I read about this fellow named Tom Waits and a new album called Rain Dogs which was receiving much hoopla in the music magazines at the time. At this time I knew nothing about Tom Waits, and none of my friends at the time knew anything about him either. They were too busy listening to Def Leppard and Iron Maiden. There was also no Internet at the time, so it was impossible to find out what this man sounded like.

After some weeks, curiosity got the better of me and I went out and bought Rain Dogs on cassette. I was a little anxious at the time and worried that I might have blown my cash on something I wouldn't like, but pressing ahead I got the cassette home and put it on the crappy old tape player I had at the time. From the opening beats of the first song ‘Singapore’ my stomach sank. I had never heard such terrible music in my life. I kept thinking that Tom Waits must be some kind of comedian and the whole album was a joke. Fast forwarding the cassette, I tried to find at least one song that I liked, but it was hopeless, the first song wasn't a one-off ‘bad one’ and I soon found out that yes his voice really did sound like that. I was bummed, back then buying new music was a big deal, and albums weren't cheap for a kid at school. I had thrown away money on what sounded at the time, like the drunken ramblings of a man that couldn't hit a note.

It took many years after that first experience to give Tom Waits another try. This time around, I was tiring of the big haired, hard rock and branching out to REALLY CRAZY stuff like Huey Lewis and the News and Phil Collins. The second time I heard Tom Waits was on the album Closing Time. It sounded absolutely nothing like the previous Tom Waits I had heard... and surprisingly I loved it. That beat up voice that I thought I hated, sounded so real and world weary, the lyrics were strange but beautiful and the music sounded so earnest and heartfelt. That album (Closing Time), opened my ears to one of the greatest songwriters I know. Since this time I've given up listening to big haired hard rock and lost my enthusiasm for Phil Collins and Huey Lewis. I have become something of a Tom Waits obsessive.

So this hub is a joy to write, it lets me go back and listen to a lot of the Tom Waits albums I haven’t played in a long time. This hub is the first in a series which counts down my Top 5 Tom Waits Albums starting at number 5 with his debut album Closing Time.


Tom Waits 'Martha' from the album Closing Time.

Tom Waits - Lonely

Tracklisting

  1. Ol' '55 03:58
  2. I Hope That I Don't Fall in Love with You 03:54
  3. Virginia Avenue 03:10
  4. Old Shoes (& Picture Postcards) 03:40
  5. Midnight Lullaby 03:26
  6. Martha 04:30
  7. Rosie 04:03
  8. Lonely 03:12
  9. Ice Cream Man 03:05
  10. Little Trip to Heaven (On the Wings of Your Love) 03:38
  11. Grapefruit Moon 04:50
  12. Closing Time" (instrumental) 04.20

5. Closing Time (1973)

The funny thing about Tom Waits debut album is that it sounds nothing like Tom Waits. At least the Tom Waits that most people know today. On Closing Time his voice sounds.... well, kind of....normal. Released in 1973 Closing Time is a collection of earnest bar-room piano ballads. Closing time, as the title suggests, has the feel of a lonely bar as last orders are served up. Waits isn't trying too hard challenge the listener, in fact you could argue that it is an unremarkable debut, but that is also why why this is such a great album. These simply arranged songs stand on their own merits, and need no gimmickry or lavish production. The whole album has a very comfortable, melancholy quality to it, and there is none of the jarring noises or bizarre experimentation of Waits later work present here.

The reception for Closing Time was mostly positive. Rolling Stone called it “a remarkable debut album” and the Billboard called the album “hauntingly lovely”. Closing Time had little coverage in the UK. The album was not a big commercial success and to this day has sold less than 500,000 copies in the US, however it has retained a cult like following among many rock fans, many of whom would not normally be drawn to this style of music.

Many of the songs on Closing Time has been covered by numerous musicians since its release. ‘Ol’ 55’ has been covered by artists including Sarah Mclachlan, Richie Havens, Fairport Convention and notably the Eagles on their 1974 album On the Border. Waits himself was not a fan of the Eagles version, admitting “not that particularly crazy about [Eagles] rendition of it...... I thought their version was a little antiseptic.” Other songs on the album have been covered by artists including Bette Midler and Tim Buckley.

For the most part the songs on Closing Time are uniformly brilliant. Today the album stands up as one of Waits most endearing and tender albums of his 40 year career. Songs like ‘Martha’, ‘Grapefruit Moon’ and ‘Lonely’ are some of the most beautiful songs that Waits has written. If you have not been introduced to the music of Tom Waits this album is not a bad place to start. While its not really representative of his work as a whole, it is much more accessible than almost every album he has written since. So for all of these reasons Closing Time makes number 5 on my list of top 5 Tom Waits albums.


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Comments 2 comments

spartucusjones profile image

spartucusjones 4 years ago from Parts Unknown

Great Hub!

Huge Tom Waits fan & Closing Time is a great album. But you are right it is different that other albums, but most of his pre-Rain Dog albums have a different dynamic and our not quite as experimental.


Theeyeballkid profile image

Theeyeballkid 4 years ago Author

Thanks Spartucusjones, glad to hear you are a big Tom Waits fan, but not surprised with your excellent musical selections here on H.P.

Closing time and Heart of Saturday night are 2 of my faves, both could have made the top 5, but Closing Time just edges it for me.

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