Tom Waits, the husky, crooning explorer of America’s dark underbelly, has etched his name into the annals of experimental rock and roll through relentless creativity since graduating from the smokey jazz clubs of his formative years.
Throughout the 1970s and ’80s, Waits pioneered a unique form of jazz, one forged in drinking dens, street corners and dimly lit music venues. Vaudevillian in character and unique in delivery, Tom Waits is one of the world’s most iconic cult figures. Despite his lack of mainstream commercial success, he has gone on to influence countless musicians. But what of his own influences? Although Waits began his musical career as a sort of brooding cocktail-jazz singer, in the 1980s, he embraced the worlds of rock ‘n’ roll and blues. During this period, one of his biggest inspirations was The Rolling Stones, whose 1972 album Exile On Main Steet he once described as one of his favourite records of all time.
Exile On Main Street was The Rolling Stones’ first double album. The band started work on the gargantuan record in 1969 during the sessions for Sticky Fingers, and continued into 1971 when the band relocated to a villa in the south of France. Like Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones were living as tax exiles during this period, and so many of the songs on the record seem to reflect the “outlaw” perspective of a band on the run. The recording sessions in Nellcôte, France, were in no way plan sailing. Keith Richards had started using heroin on a daily basis, a habit that frequently prevented him from attending recording sessions. According to the Stones’ bassist, Bill Wyman, the band were up all night seven days a week, frantically working on material as a result.
But, even these late-night sessions were prone to interruption, with guests such as William S. Burroughs and John, Lennon frequently dropping by at a moments notice. Nevertheless, the Stones’ successfully released Exile On Main Street in 1972 — but it was met with mixed reviews. However, in the late ’70s, the record underwent something of a critical re-appraisal, and, today, it is regarded as one of The Rolling Stones’ greatest achievements.
Waits certainly found a lot to appreciate in Exile On Main Street. In a 2005 interview, he described the effect the record had on him, stating: “‘I Just Want To See His Face’ – that song had a big impact on me, particularly learning how to sing in that high falsetto, the way Jagger does,” Waits began.
Adding: “When he sings like a girl, I go crazy. I said, ‘I’ve got to learn how to do that.’ I couldn’t really do it until I stopped smoking. That’s when it started getting easier to do. [Waits’s own] ‘Shore Leave’ has that, ‘All Stripped Down’, ‘Temptation’. Nobody does it like Mick Jagger; nobody does it like Prince. But this is just a tree of life. This record is the watering hole. Keith Richards plays his ass off. This has the Checkerboard Lounge all over it.”
Tom Waits’ favourite Rolling Stones album has certainly aged well. Nearly 50 years after its release, it still sounds fresh and vital – dripping with all the swagger and virtuosity you would expect from a band at the very peak of their game. For Waits, ‘I Just Want To See His Face’ was so masterful it even convinced him to swap out his signature gravelly style for a Jagger-esque falsetto, as you can hear in tracks such as ‘Talking at the Same Time’.
Take a listen below and see if you can hear Jagger’s influence, below.