This is going to be a hard one. Or very easy..this is one of my favourite albums of all time so I’m either going to wander into how much I love it or get mumbled along the way. Tom Waits debut ‘Closing Time’ is one of those perfectly aged yet never old albums about love and relationships. It has some of the best work he’s ever done, some true classics that once they start you can’t skip or try not to be engulfed by. His voice may be different on this record but the song is still the same. It is truly the foundation of an incredible career spanning over 40 years.
I’ve found Waits to be one of those rare artists where I haven’t found anyone else remotely similar to him. When I hear a lot of his songs I imagine him sitting at the bar of some dingy whiskey joint and when the door swings open a cloud of smoke rises out. He’s sitting there as you walk in with his head hanging low, hat tipped forward, telling yarns to someone he thought was sitting beside him but left 5 years ago. There’s emotion in his songs but the storytelling too is just fantastic. I see him up there with Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan in that regard. There’s such an incredible amount of incredible work he’s done, be it ‘The Early Year’s‘ volumes or songs with Bette Midler, an array of genre’s covered too.
Better get back to the subject here before I ramble on, which is his debut. There’s a folk/jazz sound to this album that blends together perfectly. Waits developed an aura in this album that you can hear in the piano intro to ‘Martha’ or in ‘Closing Time’. While you listen to the latter you go through a few emotions, you’re sentimental and nostalgic yet your looking back with a smile. Without a single lyric begin sung. What a fitting track ‘Closing Time’ is for the album too, a hopeful goodbye and see you later. The opening track ‘Ol’ ’55’ was released as a single and is more on the folk side and remains one of his trademark songs. You might know of it from The Eagles cover, but this is where the magic is. ‘I Hope That I Don’t Fall In Love With You’ follows and is also along the lines of folk. In fact, the first 4 tracks are folk heavy, with the rest of the album being piano led. ‘I Hope That I Don’t Fall In Love With You’ has become a Waits standard and he shows his writing skills through this love story about wanting to get to know this woman at a bar but not having the courage and before he gets the chance, she’s split.
‘Virginia Avenue’and ‘Old Shoes’ follow the folk trend but ‘Virginia Avenue’ certainly incorporates a laid back storytelling feeling, with a little jazz. I wouldn’t say I have a favourite track from this album but two of the best come next with ‘Midnight Lullaby’ and ‘Martha’. ‘Midnight Lullaby’ is one of those songs where it can take you to somewhere else. I think the perfect setting for a song like this would be underneath a lamppost at night looking at a city and all its lights. It’s almost a soundtrack to a late night stroll with nowhere to go. ‘Martha’ is up there with the Waits songs I go back to often. It’s just an incredible love song about a man calling his old love after 40 years to meet up. They’ve both gotten married and he realises that it was just not meant to be ‘I guess that our being together was never meant to be’. I highly recommend going away and taking 5 minutes to listen to this absolute classic. The next track up is ‘Rosie’ which is another love song, this time about a woman who has left him and he’s reminiscing about her. Another fantastic track and example of Waits ability. For a guy that was only 24/25 at the time, he was well able to write a love song and make it relate-able to the listener. Following up from ‘Rosie’ is ‘Lonely’ and it essentially is a lonely song, where Waits repeats that one word over and over, before declaring he still loves the woman who has broken his heart.
The most fun track on the album comes next in the form of ‘Ice Cream Man’. This will get you shaking with its super quick tempo and quicker lyrics, so I dare you to keep up with it! I’d love to see that one live! The little piano exit at the end will make you melt too. Waits then gives us a ‘Little Trip To Heaven’ and its jazz heavy as he tells us of his ‘Northern Star‘ that gives him his inspiration. He ends it with a little ‘shoo-be-doo, ba-ba-da’. ‘Grapefruit Moon’ is another one of Tom Waits tracks that has stood the test of time and is a big favourite amongst his fans. He’s a little heartbroken in this one but its the piano that does it for me. There’s an extended break in the middle where he goes on a little ramble but it’s beautiful. ‘Closing Time’ see’s us out in fashion. ‘Okey let’s do one for posterity‘ he says as the song begins and grows. That’s all he says but he doesn’t need to say anymore, a truly beautiful song follows. I’ve already spoken about this one so you get the point.
One of my top 5 albums, I’ll be listening to this as long as I can. It’s more than folk and jazz and smoky rooms, it’s love, loss, regret, happiness and a whole lot of bourbon.
Photo Credit: Genius