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The 15 Best Tom Waits Songs

From apocalyptic blues boasts to backwoods chant-alongs, here are 15 songs that encapsulate Tom Waits' incredibly varied career.

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Music

An Alternative Christmas Playlist for the Coming Ice Age

If the idea is that earth, water, fire, air and space constitute the core elements of life, then these five songs might seem as their equivalents to surviving the complications that come from embracing the good and enduring the ugly of the Christmas season.

Music

Tom Waits: Eluding the Authorities

However many smokes he’s inhaled since childhood, Waits' trademark growl is a choice -- his first step to direct listeners' attention to the work of musical performance.

Tim Scherman
Music

The 100 Greatest Alternative Singles of the '80s: Part 5: 20 - 1

Songs of anxiety, paranoia, freak-outs, chilling verses, feverish desire, harrowing lyrics -- they all make for damn good music.

Music

Chuck E. Weiss: Red Beans and Weiss

Cartoonish in nature, like an exploding cigar joke. No matter how smart one thinks he or she is, one always laughs to the groove at the moment of detonation.

Music

Robert Ellis: The Lights from the Chemical Plant

On this challenging and intimate album, Robert Ellis walks up to the brink of despair and calls it out to play.

Music

Juana Molina: Wed 21

Constructed from looping bass lines, whirring guitars and keyboards, and her enigmatic, murmuring voice, this latest collection of songs from Argentina's premiere electro-folk songstress is a glorious mess of sound.

Music

Saturday Night, Sunday Morning: Gospel Music in a Secular World

Critically, commercially and historically, gospel is the great overlooked American music, maybe because few genres of music force you to confront your beliefs so immediately.

Music

Various Artists: The Voice Project Presents Home Recordings Volume 1

Music as a tool for social change: An important cause highlighted in a simple, yet powerful way.

Film

Everyone Lost: Protest Art and the Iraq War

While people were killing and dying, what did it matter whether there were decent songs being sung, insightful films being produced, appropriate art being inspired? When did poetry ever stop a war?

Music

Counterbalance No. 114: Tom Waits' 'Rain Dogs'

Inside a broken clock, splashing the wine with the 114th Most Acclaimed Album of All Time. A 1985 cult classic is this week's Counterbalance. You'll never be going back home.

Music

Death's Head Lullabies: Tom Waits - "That Feel"

What better way is there to end a concept album about death than with a song that spits in Death’s face?

Music

Death's Head Lullabies: Tom Waits - "I Don't Wanna Grow Up" / "Let Me Get Up on It"

Who is more suited for conveying honesty than a child, uncorrupted and unconcerned with politesse and decorum? It’s that notion Tom Waits runs with here, playing a child who for the first time is wrestling with the concept of aging, and the mortality that inevitably ends it.

Music

Death's Head Lullabies: Tom Waits - "Whistle Down the Wind"

For an album that is effectively a study on the different aspects of death, “Whistle Down the Wind” is probably the most honest and intimate depiction of an individual confronting his own mortality, of examining the life he led and not liking what he’s done.

Music

Death's Head Lullabies: Tom Waits - "Black Wings"

One can imagine "Black Wings" playing in the background as the ghostly image of the poncho-laden Man With No Name of Sergio Leone’s “Dollars Trilogy” rides across the sun-baked orange and red desert.

Music

Death's Head Lullabies: Tom Waits - "Murder in the Red Barn"

With "Murder in the Red Barn", Tom Waits offers a tale of small town murder in the American Deep South that would do William Faulkner proud.

Music

Death's Head Lullabies: Tom Waits - "Goin' Out West"

"Goin' Out West", simply put, flat-out rawks harder than anything else on Bone Machine. From the moment the drums kick in at the 15-second mark, the tune throbs and pulsates without relent.

Music

Death's Head Lullabies: Tom Waits - "In the Colosseum"

“In the Colosseum” details the dog-eat-dog entropy that results when Earth dies screaming, how those left on the planet’s shell fight and clamor over the heaps of stacked bodies to survive just a while longer. It is the sound of anarchy rising.

Music

Death's Head Lullabies: Tom Waits - "A Little Rain"

"A Little Rain" serves as an oasis among Bone Machine's desert of dread and despair.

Music

Death's Head Lullabies: Tom Waits - "Jesus Gonna Be Here"

"Jesus Gonna Be Here" is at once Bone Machine's purest distillation of the blues, a veritable tribute to its traditions and motifs, and a conscious caricature of the form.

Music

Death's Head Lullabies: Tom Waits - "The Ocean Doesn't Want Me"

In its depiction of a botched suicide, "The Ocean Doesn't Want Me" conjures goosebumps, accelerates heartbeats, and leaves a seasick queasiness in the listener.

Music

Death's Head Lullabies: Tom Waits - "Who Are You"

With “Who Are You”, Tom Waits scales back the world-reckoning themes of Bone Machine’s previous tracks, internalizing the despair to make one of the album’s most emotionally devastating songs.

Music

Death's Head Lullabies: Tom Waits - "All Stripped Down"

In "All Stripped Down", the visual comes to mind of a skin and bones Tom Waits in some tent show revival, his garment frayed and white collar stained yellow, conveying his message of salvation to a crowd of the undead at Armageddon’s zero hour.

Music

Counterbalance No. 100: Tom Waits' 'Swordfishtrombones'

Counterbalance rounds out the top 100 of Acclaimed Music's ranking of the most-acclaimed albums of all time by settling down in the Valley and hanging its wild years on a nail that it drove through its wife’s forehead. Tom Waits’ 1983 landmark is next. Never could stand that dog...

Music

Death's Head Lullabies: Tom Waits - "Such a Scream"

Feral and clangy, "Such a Scream" is one of the finest examples of Tom Waits’ ability to hone his workspace and use it as an instrument for imbuing his tunes with atmosphere.

Music

Death's Head Lullabies: Tom Waits - "Dirt in the Ground"

“Dirt in the Ground” is the whimpering microcosm of the individual’s irrelevance. It is the maudlin acceptance of inevitable decay, a funeral dirge for the sadly dead.

Music

Death's Head Lullabies: Tom Waits - "Earth Died Screaming"

We kick off our latest Between the Grooves series today. Among the records of Tom Waits, Bone Machine is the one fans keep hidden amongst themselves, a secret treasure only the devout are privy to and the seasoned are worthy of. Simply put, it is not for the faint of heart.

Reviews

'Down by Law' Is More Than Just Another Quirky Indie Film

Down by Law is only Jarmusch's third feature but already shows his confidence in crafting a unique style.

Music

Tom Waits - "Hell Broke Luce" (video)

"Matt Mahurin has created an apocalyptic war dream to accompany the song 'Hell Broke Luce'."

Music

Duke Robillard Jazz Trio: Wobble Walkin'

Wobble Walkin' proves Duke Robillard's skill at his craft while maintaining an understated feel.

Steven Spoerl
Music

Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band: Ultimate Hits

A compilation that shows that Bob Seger was at times a good artist, but also shows why he was never really a great one.

Victor Valdivia
Music

The Best Alternative Songwriters of 2011

Some of 2011's best songwriting came from artists whose work could be broadly defined as "alternative". Few of these artists fit the mold of the traditional singer-songwriter, creating music the blurs the lines defining genres.

Robert Alford
Music

Tom Waits: Bad As Me

Bad As Me is a bracing, defiant attack against things as usual. Its clash and clatter are combative, but in the end -- and here's what throws the suits off -- utterly beautiful.

Reviews

'Tom Waits on Tom Waits' Doesn't So Much Pull Its Subject in from the Shadows as Follow Him There

Much more than a poet of the streets, Tom Waits is the dharma bum who can transmute down at the heels grotesqueries into the lyrical and even the spiritually fecund.

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