“I like beautiful melodies telling me terrible things.”—Tom Waits
For those unfamiliar with Tom Waits’ work, his deep and distinctive voice spanning across experimental genres can appear to be a difficult one to manoeuvre. Starting work predominantly as a jazz musician during the 1970s, Waits has experimented over the years and has added his own special influence in the genres of blues, rock and roll and, at times, punk.
A prolific reader, a student of film, and a man who generally takes inspiration from all means of cultural movements, getting involved with some of Waits music can seem a daunting one at first. With 16 studio albums spanning from his debut in 1973 right up until his most recent in 2011, each of Waits’ records have been a reflection of his mindset at that moment.
“I used to think that all great recordings happened at about 3am,” Waits once told The Guardian in reference to his approach to music. “So my first studio experiences, I wanted to be recording after the bars closed. I just thought that’s when it all happened. And it worked for me for a while, I guess. But I don’t believe that so much any more. I realise now there’s more than one way to sneak up on a herd of cattle,” he added in what is a clear indication of his entry into the creative world.
As Waits has grown older, his output has understandably slowed. “It’s the usual story. When I was younger I wanted to be older,” he again told the Guardian, before adding: “Now I am older I am not quite so sure.” More moments of self-reflection have taken precedence and, in recent years, he decided to reissue his first seven albums with improved mastering and exclusive vinyl. His historic 1973 debut album Closing Time was re-released alongside 1974 effort Heart Of Saturday Night, 1975’s Nighthawks At The Diner, Small Change a year later, 1977 album Foreign Affairs, Blue Valentine (1978) and Heartattack And Vine which was originally released in 1980.
Waits has famously kept major parts of his life private, has rarely offered a major insight into his deepest thoughts. “I don’t think that you should be perfectly candid and frank about the intimate details of your personal life with the public at large,” he told Interview Magazine. Subsequently, it creates considerable personal problems. I think you have to keep a certain amount of your life very private.” While the musician often keeps his cards close to his chest, he did allow a peek behind the curtain to coincide with the news of the aforementioned re-release, and we found that Waits had personally curated a 76-song playlist of songs which spans decades.
The selection of songs offers an interesting viewpoint into Waits’ mindset of his early material, the playlist mixing his styles but often reverting back to his piano ballads as he eases you into the world of Tom Waits.
Enjoy the playlist, below.