With 16 studio albums, a bunch of live releases, and two full soundtracks to his name, Tom Waits’ discography is an excellent, varied, but imposing body of work for newcomers to grapple with. While the Waits faithful will evangelize specific records as the best starting point (it’s a tie between Swordfishtrombones, Nighthawks at the Diner, and Real Gone, obviously), there’s a new option for curious neophytes: a playlist of individual Tom Waits songs compiled by Tom Waits himself.
Spanning decades of material, Waits, like a growling Virgil taking your soft little hand safely into in his gnarled grip, leads listeners on a tour of material that ranges from the stripped-down, piano-led folk inflections of his early releases through the formal experimentation and industrial grit of his post-’80s output with Kathleen Brennan.
The playlist is a great way for acolytes to revisit Waits’ catalogue through the world’s strangest party mix and an ideal way for those interested in, but overwhelmed by, the artist’s long, wide-ranging career to sample tracks from his many diverse musical phases.
The best part, though, is that unlike any other curated Waits primer, the inevitable arguments about what is and isn’t included—which periods of his career are emphasized and which aren’t given their proper due—have to come up against the fact that the artist himself put the playlist together. Mad about “Clap Hands” being the opener on this compilation? Well, then surely you must know Tom Waits’ music better than Tom Waits himself. Upset that the first half hour is dominated by piano ballads? Sure, maybe give Tom a call and explain why you think that misrepresents what makes his music so compelling.
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