“I didn’t really identify with the music of my own generation,” Tom Waits once said, then pausing for a moment, and adding: “But I was very curious about the music of others.” It is in that sentiment we go looking inside the curiosity of one of contemporary music’s greatest minds.
There are very few living artists that we would wholeheartedly listen to when they suggested their top 20 albums of all time. Usually, such a list is riddled with personal choices that don’t necessarily resonate far and wide. However, the favourite albums of Tom Waits is a collection so perfectly balanced, so neatly constructed, and so rich with the sonic texture that made Waits himself a star that we’re just happy to press play and let the playlist ring out.
As Tom Waits once said: “My reality needs imagination like a bulb needs a socket. My imagination needs reality like a blind man needs a cane,” so it will come as little surprise that the deep, gravelly voice of Mr Waits has been discussing some artists that have inspired him through the years. It’s a near-perfect playlist that has kept us bopping along for a good while.
A few years back, Waits compiled a list that brings together what he would consider to be 20 of his most cherished albums of all time, a collection of records that he has carried around with him since his early days working in music.
Starting life primarily as a jazz musician during the 1970s, it is unsurprising that Waits has decided to include the great Thelonious Monk as part of his most favoured albums. “Monk said, ‘There is no wrong note, it has to do with how you resolve it’,” Waits once told The Guardian. “He almost sounded like a kid taking piano lessons. I could relate to that when I first started playing the piano because he was decomposing the music while he was playing it.”
He added: “Solo Monk lets you not only see these melodies without clothes, but without skin. This is astronaut music from Bedlam.” It shows Waits to be a consummate artist, capable of spotting clean lines where others might be confused.
Being inspired by Bob Dylan and The Beat Generation, Waits would later move to Los Angeles, where he signed his first recording contract with Asylum Records. The development of Waits’ sound would gradually move closer to rock, blues and experimental genres, so it was clear that he would cite Trout Mask Replica by Captain Beefheart as an album that had a significant impact on his life.
“The roughest diamond in the mine, his musical inventions are made of bone and mud,” Waits said of Beefheart’s album. “Enter the strange matrix of his mind and lose yours. This is indispensable for the serious listener.
“An expedition into the centre of the earth, this is the high jump record that’ll never be beat, it’s a merlot reduction sauce. He takes da bait. Dante doing the buck and wing at a Skip James suku jump. Drink once and thirst no more.”
Meanwhile, when discussing the freewheelin’ troubadour Bob Dylan, Waits added: “For a songwriter, Dylan is as essential as a hammer and nails and a saw are to a carpenter. I like my music with the rinds and the seeds and pulp left in – so the bootlegs I obtained in the Sixties and Seventies, where the noise and grit of the tapes became inseparable from the music, are essential to me.”
With the likes of Frank Sinatra, the Rolling Stones, The Pogues and more listed, see Tom Waits favourite records below and press play on the playlist to get the party started.
Tom Waits’ 20 favourite albums of all time:
- In the Wee Small Hours – Frank Sinatra
- Solo Monk – Thelonious Monk
- Trout Mask Replica – Captain Beefheart
- Exile On Main Street – The Rolling Stones
- The Sinking of the Titanic – Gavin Bryers
- The Basement Tapes – Bob Dylan
- Lounge Lizards – Lounge Lizards
- Rum Sodomy and the Lash – The Pogues
- I’m Your Man – Leonard Cohen
- The Specialty Sessions – Little Richard
- Startime – James Brown
- Bohemian-Moravian Bands – Texas-Czech
- The Yellow Shark – Frank Zappa
- Passion for Opera Aria
- Rant in E Minor – Bill Hicks
- Prison Songs: Murderous Home – Alan Lomax Collection
- Cubanos Postizos – Marc Ribot
- Houndog – Houndog
- Purple Onion – Les Claypool
- The Delivery Man – Elvis Costello
“Songs really are like a form of time travel because they really have moved forward in a bubble,” Waits once said. “Everyone who’s connected with it, the studio’s gone, the musicians are gone, and the only thing that’s left is this recording which was only about a three-minute period maybe 70 years ago.”
Below, enjoy a full playlist of the albums selected by Mr Waits.