At first glance, it doesn’t appear as though American experimental troubadour Tom Waits and English power ballad superstar Adele have anything in common. When you dig a little deeper, however, you’ll find that… they have no direct links or any real things in common. Both have piano songs. Hey, that’s something!
As it turns out, Waits and Adele might be connected in a very small way. The themes and word choices from Adele’s major 2015 smash hit ‘Hello’ bear a passing resemblance to Waits’ ‘Martha’, the lovelorn piano ballad from his 1973 debut Closing Time.
Both songs take on the narrative of a telephone conversation with an old lover. ‘Martha’ became one of Waits’ early standards, inspiring covers from the likes of Tim Buckley and Bette Midler, but could the heartbreaking ballad really have been the impetus for Adele to conquer the pop charts with ‘Hello’?
This kind of connection seems relatively far-fetched, at least when you give it a cursory once over: the songs share no melodic similarities and even their similar narrative diverge pretty early on. That is until you learn that ‘Hello’ producer and co-writer Greg Kurstin confirmed the Waits influence on the song. During an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Kurstin explained that Adele, “didn’t want to just go through and write a pop song with any particular formula. We talked about Tom Waits, and different storytellers like that.”
Waits was definitely in the air during the recording of ‘Hello’, so it’s not that far of a leap to imagine Adele and Kurstin putting on Closing Time and being inspired by the narrative of ‘Martha’. Perhaps Adele was taken with a cover of the track, of which there are plenty to choose from. Maybe Kurstin’s encyclopedic music knowledge came into play, allowing him to cite Waits as an influence before songwriting and copyright lawyers started getting involved.
Whatever the case may be, it’s a wonderfully wacky bridge between generations to see a song as massive as ‘Hello’ get influenced by one of Waits’ hidden gems. You can check out both ‘Martha’ and ‘Hello’ down below to see if you can make a connection between the two songs.