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From Bob Dylan to the Rolling Stones: Tom Waits named his 20 favourite albums of all time

There are few people 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. But The favourite albums of Tom Waits is 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.

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 being 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—and a playlist that feels every bit as nourishing as you’d expect.

Starting life primarily as a jazz musician in the 1970s, it comes as little surprise that Waits has decided to include the 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 seen 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.”

Speaking about 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 by Frank Sinatra
  • Solo Monk by Thelonious Monk
  • Trout Mask Replica by Captain Beefheart
  • Exile On Main Street by the Rolling Stones
  • The Sinking of the Titanic by Gavin Bryers
  • The Basement Tapes by Bob Dylan
  • Lounge Lizards by Lounge Lizards
  • Rum Sodomy and the Lash by The Pogues
  • I’m Your Man by Leonard Cohen
  • The Specialty Sessions by Little Richard
  • Startime by James Brown
  • Bohemian-Moravian Bands by Texas-Czech
  • The Yellow Shark by Frank Zappa
  • Passion for Opera Aria
  • Rant in E Minor by Bill Hicks
  • Prison Songs: Murderous Home Alan Lomax Collection
  • Cubanos Postizos by Marc Ribot
  • Houndog by Houndog
  • Purple Onion by Les Claypool
  • The Delivery Man by Elvis Costello

Below, enjoy a full playlist of the albums select by Mr Waits.