Revisiting my extensive music collection, one artist at a time


When I began my 7-part series on Tom Waits’ discography back in 2012, I explained that I wasn’t always a fan and how I once asked a friend, “Does anybody actually like Tom Waits, or are they just pretending to enjoy his music to seem cool?” Fortunately tastes change and I have since come around to his music in a big way (without ever becoming cool myself). Although I initially jumped in via two compilations and slowly accumulated his individual albums, it wasn’t until I revisited his catalog for my blog that I appreciated the greatness of his debut album. Even detractors of his later raspy-voiced material should find a lot to like here, especially if you (mentally or physically) place yourself at the end of a dive bar in the wee hours of the morning.

For more information on this series, please read the opening paragraph of the first post, which featured the debut album from Led Zeppelin.



From TOM WAITS Part 2 – A Little Trip To Heaven, Step Right Up!:

Right off the bat I have to say that Tom Waits’ Closing Time (1973) is a monster of a debut album. On first listen it’s a pleasant collection of piano-based singer-songwriter fare that was popular at the time (i.e. Elton John & Jackson Browne), with Waits offering a slightly more gruff vocal style, but the songwriting slowly reveals itself to be something special. Unlike much of his later work which is often sung in character, these performances are more heartfelt and direct, and every song is a winner. “Ol’ 55,” which was famously covered by The Eagles, has a folky melody and an instantly memorable hook (“Now the sun’s coming up, I’m riding with lady luck”). He plays the sad, lonesome loser on “I Hope That I Don’t Fall In Love With You.” I knew from the demo version that it was a great song, and this recording is just as powerful. As I mentioned in my first post, the lyrics have a nice twist at the end when he sings “I think that I just fell in love with you” after the woman he’s had his eye on all night has left the bar. “Virginia Avenue” is a bluesy tune with jazz overtones and some blues guitar licks. I love the circular piano melody and muted trumpet. He’s already establishing a theme he would return to often: a sad sack story with an after-hours mood, the bars are closing, there’s nowhere to go and nobody to be with. “Old Shoes (& Picture Postcards)” is a country-folk song with simple harmonies during the second half of each verse (“So goodbye, so long, the road calls me, dear…”). As I expected when I heard the demo, this song needed a fuller arrangement, and I absolutely love it now, especially “Farewell to the girl with the sun in her eyes, can I kiss you and then I’ll be gone?” He uses a couple of children’s songs (“Sing a song of sixpence” and “Hush little baby don’t say a word”) to create a peaceful atmosphere on “Midnight Lullaby,” which is highlighted by muted trumpet and a hushed vocal performance.

There’s something about the higher piano notes during the early part of “Martha” that kills me every time. Also, it has an amazing chorus: “Martha, all I had was you and all you had was me.” It’s a melancholy look back at a love from his younger days, and when we discover that he’s not over her (“I love you, can’t you see?”), it’s truly heartbreaking. The second side of the original LP opened with “Rosie,” a very good country-blues song that pales slightly in comparison to any of the first six songs. “Lonely” features stark piano and aching vocals. Even though it’s a simple song with few lyrics (the word “lonely” repeated often), I love it. “Ice Cream Man” stands out from the rest of the album (which is very ballad heavy) with its uptempo arrangement and suggestive lyrics. It’s a fun tune with hints of Ray Charles’ “Hit The Road Jack.” “Little Trip To Heaven (On The Wings Of Your Love)” should be a piano bar standard. It has another killer melody (“Feel like I’m in heaven when you’re with me”) and a light, jazzy arrangement. Whoever inspired this song obviously made him really happy, and you can hear it in his voice during the “And it’s you” vamp at the end. “Grapefruit Moon” has a melody that blew me away the first time I heard it, making the lyrics “Every time I hear that melody…something breaks inside” somewhat prophetic. This is as catchy and melancholy as a Broadway show tune, and features a gorgeous cello & piano section. The instrumental “Closing Time” wraps up the album. It’s a perfect nightcap; a sweet little tune carried by piano and muted trumpet. This has to go down as one of the best debut albums I’ve ever heard. I didn’t expect it to impact me the way it did. No matter how good his subsequent releases might be, it’s hard to imagine anything surpassing this collection of incredible songs.


I’m curious to find out if other Waits fans also love his debut, or if you prefer later albums like Swordfishtrombones, Rain Dogs and Mule Variations. I love all of the above. If you’re less familiar with his music, please let me know your thoughts on the songs highlighted above. Thanks.

19 comments on “Satur-debut – TOM WAITS “CLOSING TIME”

  1. Aphoristical
    June 8, 2019

    I love it. He topped it, but it took him ten years.


  2. These early ‘piano’ ones are the ones for me. Can’t get into the ‘cool’ stuff, Rain Dogs, Swordfish etc…


    • True that the later albums are probably the “cool” ones. I love most of those as well but there’s something special about the debut. I don’t think any of the early piano ones is quite on the same level, but Closing Time is a high standard to live up to.


  3. J.
    June 9, 2019

    I may have told this story before, but my introduction to Tom Waits was via my English teacher. I was very into creative writing – especially songwriting, but I guess more the lyrical aspect – and he encouraged me and a pal to keep that up. As we were breaking for summer, he handed me a c-90 cassette with a chunk of Rain Dogs on one side and Nick Cave’s Murder Ballads in the other. Anyhoo, that set the course for me and Waits’ off the map stuff. I have the earlier barroom balladeer stuff, and while I think it’s really good, it doesn’t get me the same way his later stuff does (particularly the stuff on Anti-).


    • I can totally understand why the early stuff wouldn’t have the same impact as albums like Rain Dogs or Swordfishtrombones if those were your introduction to his music. I also love the Anti- albums, but there’s something special & unique about Closing Time. As for Nick Cave, about 15 years ago I finally checked him out, starting with Murder Ballads and The Boatman’s Call, and I’ve been a big fan ever since.

      Liked by 1 person

      • J.
        June 10, 2019

        I think it’s safe to say that I would have loved all his earlier albums if I’d heard them first. I do like them a lot, but I just don’t tend to revisit them all that often. I think the Anti- albums circle the line between those early albums and the likes of Rain Dogs, Swordfishtrombones, and Bone Machine (another of my favourites and an album I’ve gifted to a few pals over the years).

        Nick Cave has an incredible discography, huh? Murder Ballads and The Boatman’s Call we’re also my first two… The Boatman’s Call is devastating at times.


      • Waits has such a rich & deep catalog, and I love how many styles he’s covered even though on the surface it might seem like he has two sounds: barroom balladeer and weirdo with growling voice. That’s probably what I thought 20 years ago but clearly I was wrong. Yep, The Boatman’s Call is devastating in a good way. Can’t believe how much I got into Nick Cave. I only got to see him in concert once and the show was disappointing. A lot of that had to do with the terrible sound system at the venue, because he and The Bad Seeds always put on a spectacular show. Every live recording I have has blown me away.

        Liked by 1 person

      • J.
        June 11, 2019

        I’ve never seen Cave live, though it’s high on my list. Same with Waits. I’d love to see both, but the opportunity doesn’t present itself too often.


      • I would also love to see Tom Waits, but he doesn’t tour too often these days. Will have to make due with live recordings.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Alyson
    June 11, 2019

    I think like a fine wine or perhaps aged whisky, Tom Waits grows on you as you get older. That’s all.


    • You got right to the point, Alyson, and I completely agree. Something tells me Mr. Waits has enjoyed his fair share of aged whisky over the years, hence that one-of-a-kind voice.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Thom Hickey
    June 11, 2019

    I love it and all the asylum Years records. Recently written on heart of Saturday night. Regards Thom.


  6. Chris
    June 21, 2019

    I’m a sucker for piano based tunes and there’s plenty of that on his debut. I remember I wrote in my review of Closing Time that it’s like listening to “a lounge singer performing for you at home” (!) I like that his vocal is not as “raspy-voiced”, as you say, at this early stage. I enjoyed Rain Dogs too and should explore the oher Waits classics you mentioned

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Enter your email address to subscribe to KamerTunesBlog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 401 other followers


%d bloggers like this: