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iTunes Review

After a decade as a boozy beatnik piano singer who liked to run his mouth off, Tom Waits re-emerged in 1983 with a nearly brand new approach. Part Captain Beefheart/ Howlin’ Wolf blues, part field-holler, part Salvation Army-junkyard band, Waits took a decisive step into the guttural underground to which he’d always paid a sentimental homage. But here he was getting down on all fours and groveling without shame, coming on from any angle he could muster. “16 Shells From A Thirty-Ought Six” is a taut, rhythmic groan, punctuated with trombone and brake drum. “Johnsburg, Illinois” is a quiet, sentimental piano ballad that trickles like liquor down the drain. “Town With No Cheer” and “In the Neighborhood” shuffle with a street urchin’s limp. “Underground,” “Down, Down, Down” muscle past with the aggression of a scrappy street gang. Marimbas, congas, upright bass, the percussive attack add an extra dimension, with Waits’ own voice also an instrument in the mix, sometimes gentle, more often loud and abrasive, scraping itself raw in outrage.

Customer Reviews

Throw a highball in the crankcase, nail a crow to the door....

Ok, you either love Tom Waits, hate him, or have no idea who he is - but wonder why this person you highly respect (or love) can't live without him. Fair enough. If you love Tom Waits, you don't need me to tell you this is one of his best - which for a man with this body of work is saying quite a lot. If you hate him, nothing I say will change that gravel voice to Dean Martin. So I guess this review is for those who fall into the last category. The reason you want to hear this album? Listen to how a song becomes an aural landscape....a movie for the ears. Listen how he paints scenery with words. You see the characters. You feel the sea spray. You smell the oil in the engine of a '38 Ford with rusted windshield wipers. This ain't love songs, sweetie. These are the alleys you see from the car window you'll never walk down....but you'll know that Tom has lived here forever. Simply stated, there is no one out there who does what Tom Waits does. This is why Bob Dylan lists Tom Waits as "one of the best at the game."


This album has been in my listening rotation almost nonstop since I first heard it as a teenager. I was hanging out in a punk rock commune in the hood that year and this album was being played on a ratty turntable in the living room one Saturday afternoon. This album sold me on Tom Waits entire body of work in that first listen. Most of Waits' albums are events in and of themselves, but this one is the biggest for me. "Shore Leave" is a vivid picture, "Johnsburg, Illinois" short and so sweet, "Swordfishtrombone" a story felt rather than heard. The content in this album is almost materially tangible, visible as Waits presents it. Many artists tell stories in their music. Tom Waits shows you stories. You hear, see, smell and feel them.

1/3 of a key period

Swordfishtrombones? Are you kidding me? It's only a top-flight, first-magnitude-ordered example of an honorable, muttering genius getting his ya yas out. The broadest-ranged of the trio of 'weird' releases (Frank's Wild Years and Rain Dogs being the other two). I love conceptual continuity. Having a song named Frank's Wild Years on this release is pef peft perfect.. It may be complex listening, but who knows: It just might be good for you, too!


Born: December 7, 1949 in Pomona, CA

Genre: Rock

Years Active: '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

In the 1970s, Tom Waits combined a lyrical focus on desperate, low-life characters with a persona that seemed to embody the same lifestyle, which he sang about in a raspy, gravelly voice. From the '80s on, his work became increasingly theatrical as he moved into acting and composing. Growing up in Southern California, Waits attracted the attention of manager Herb Cohen, who also handled Frank Zappa, and was signed by him at the beginning of the 1970s, resulting in the material later released as The...
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