Used Songs is a solid collection of early Tom Waits material, an album that gives the listener a good appreciation of the incredible range of Waits's talents. There are ballads, blues, spoken-word jazz, and songs that just can't be categorised - though saying that, some songs, which aren't really among Waits's best, seem to have been chosen just to give the listener a wider range of styles, whereas it might have been better to give him/her a bit more of the same.
If you're coming to Waits for the first time (which you probably are, if you're interesting in buying a compilation album), I envy you. His rough, almost-barking voice can take time to get used to, but once you've got used to it, there's nothing like it. And to hear such a voice singing such sweet, tender songs as "A Sight for Sore Eyes," "Jersey Girl," or "Tom Traubert's Blues" is enough to bring a tear to your eye. Hearing somebody else sing these songs - somebody with a better-trained voice - and it's just not the same. There's no character, no heart, no warmth - and that's what Waits brings to everything he does.
A word of warning, though - once you've bought this album and been hooked by Waits, you'll want to buy everything he's ever done. So it might be an idea to save yourself some money, forget this album, and just do that instead.
For those of you who've never heard Tom Waits's voice, I think Daniel Durchholz sums it up pretty well when he describes it as sounding "like it was soaked in a vat of bourbon, left hanging in the smokehouse for a few months, and then taken outside and run over with a car." I have to admit, the first time I heard his gravelly growl on my friend's ipod, I burst out laughing. It just sounded so absurd, and at first I found it impossible to take him seriously. But after listening for just a few minutes, I'd been completely won over. The lyrics, music and the passion Waits conveys in spite of (or perhaps because of) his unique vocal style blew my mind, and left me hanging on his every growl.
Since then, I've listened to quite a lot of Tom Waits's music, and while I've fallen in love with most of his early music, the later albums he's released really don't appeal to me- they're so experimental and way out that I find most of them quite painful to listen to. Sorry, Tom Waits fans, but there it is. So when I found this 'best of' CD of his early releases (1973-80) for £5, I snapped it up.
And it didn't disappoint. This album is packed with fantastic songs, and explores the range of Waits's early style. Here comes the track list, with a brief snapshot of each song:
1: Heartattack and Vine- Bluesy, funky, with a classic bass riff.
2: Eggs and Sausage (in a Cadillac with Susan Michelson)- Live track, simple, stripped back jazzy piano and sax. Not a stand-out track.
3: A Sight for Sore Eyes- A more ballady, tender sounding song. Much more sweetly melodic, with a light piano accompaniment.
4: Whistlin' Past the Graveyard- Jazzy and upbeat, but kind of spooky thanks to Tom's hissing voice on this track!
5: Burma Shave- Very melancholy and heartfelt. Beautifully simple. Tom tones down the growling on this one for a more melodic sound.
6: Step Right Up- Hilarious, improvised-sounding lyrics- Tom mimics sales patter to promise us a panacea of a product that 'sanitises for your protection, gives you an erection, wins the election'!
7: Ol' 55- A simple, nostalgic and moving song, recorded before Waits's growling days when his voice was relatively normal!
8: I Never Talk to Strangers- Recorded with Bette Midler. Jazzy, and largely forgettable.
9: Mr Siegal- Classically bluesy, very cool.
10: Jersey Girl- One of Tom's more mainstream offerings. Breathtakingly beautiful music and lyrics with a chorus you can't help singing along to. This song's tenderness is somehow emphasised by the roughness of Waits's voice.
11: Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis- Tells a story every bit as interesting as the title!
12: Blue Valentines- Very moody and atmospheric; again, the title says it all.
13: Looking for the Heart of Saturday Night- Another more mainstream song, with wider appeal. Beautifully simple, with a nostalgic, country feel.
14: Muriel- Another piano based track, quite blue and jazzy. But not the best.
15: Wrong Side of the Road: Lazy, bluesy and more eerie hissing from Tom!
16: Tom Traubert's Blues: Absolutely beautiful variation on Waltzing Matilda. Heartbreaking vocals and lyrics- incredibly moving.
While hardcore Tom Waits fans might not appreciate this lighter, greatest hits type album, anyone with slightly more mainstream taste who still likes an eclectic range of music can't fail to appreciate this. From gritty ballads to jazz and blues songs straight out of a smokey nightclub, Tom's unique vocal abilities and clever lyrics always shine through. Please, please check this out. Once you get past the initial shock of the voice, you'll discover music that will make you laugh, think and cry.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Heart Attack And Vine
2 Eggs And Sausage (In A Cadillac With Susan Michelson)
3 Sight For Sore Eyes
4 Whistlin' Past The Graveyard
5 Burma Shave
6 Step Right Up
7 Ol' 55
8 I Never Talk To Strangers - Waits, Tom & Bette Midler
9 Mr Siegal
10 Jersey Girl
11 Christmas Card From A Hooker In Minneapolis
12 Blue Valentines
13 Looking For The Heart Of Saturday Night
15 Wrong Side Of The Road
16 Tom Traubert's Blues (Four Sheets To The Wind In Copenhagen)