‘The Best Covers Ever’ series counts down our favorite covers of great artists.
“Downtown Train.” “Ol ’55.” “Jersey Girl.” These are just three of the Tom Waits songs better known for their covers (respectively: Rod, Eagles, Bruce) than for Waits’ own performances.
It probably doesn’t need saying that Tom’s recordings are, in the best way possible, idiosyncratic. So it makes sense that, like Dylan, like Cohen, his songs often become more popular when more “traditional” voices sing them. Many of the best covers, though, keep some of that strangeness. No, they don’t do “the Tom Waits voice” – most people wouldn’t be able to talk for a week after attempting that. But they don’t sand off the strangeness.
Tom’s debut album Closing Time came out 50 years ago this month; he’s doing a reissue to celebrate. It, and its successor The Heart of Saturday Night, are in some ways his least representative albums, though. The songwriting is already strong on these, but it comes in – if you can believe it – a fairly conventional package. His voice hasn’t revealed its true character (to pick one among many memorable descriptions: “a voice 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”), and he hadn’t discovered that hitting a dumpster with a two-by-four makes great percussion.
Some of those very early songs get covered in our list below. But his later, weirder, songs abound, too. Tom’s wife Kathleen Brennan, his musical co-conspirator for decades now, said her husband has two types of songs: “Grim Reapers” and “Grand Weepers”. On his Orphans box set, Tom divided them up another way: Brawlers, Ballers, and Bastards. You’ll find some of all flavors below. (And, if you want more new writing on Tom Waits music, subscribe to a newsletter called Every Tom Waits Song that – full disclosure – I also run).
– Ray Padgett
PS. Find Spotify and Apple Music playlists of this list, and all our other monthly Best Covers Ever lists, at Patreon.
I’d add Rickie Lee Jones’ “Rainbow Sleeve” from “Girl at her Volcano”.
And one substitution: Linda Thompson’s “Day After Tomorrow” for Joan Baez’s.
Typo alert: “ideal” should be “idea” on page 4
How this didn’t make the top 50 is just wrong
Oh, fuck yes. I’d never heard this. Merci!
John Hammond Wicked Grin Album is all Tom Waits songs, and the album is produced by Tom himself as the two of them are friends. Not having any of those songs on this list is criminal. The entire album is amazing. Nice list though despite the clickbait format. Cheers. I’ll be listening to a bunch of these that I haven’t heard.
Seriously: I honestly think these guys do a *better* job of both these songs.
I give you Jack L singing “The Piano Has Been Drinking” https://youtu.be/4a9ZqT6Yr3U,
and Paddy Sherlock dueting with Jack L on “Shoot the Moon” https://fb.watch/jEhHPz4GpH/ @ 51.46, and lastly: Paddy doing his own version: “If I Could Shoot the Moon.” https://youtu.be/GerFiLLWyPw
Hope you enjoy them as much as I do!
No “Come on up to the House” covers? I personally love Sarah Jarosz’s voice on her cover.
I Hope I Don’t Fall In Love With You
I’ve always loved this one.
Where was “Shiver Me Timbers” by Bette Midler.
Sorry, but your list can not be taken seriously without that song
I agree on Rainbow Sleeve. A huge miss here. The authors need to check it out.
I’ll be spending time with these. Thanks.
But, yeah, ignoring the the Hammond recording is a pretty significant oversight.
and live: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XK83bJ7A8jU
These others I’ll list, I’m tempted to say they were oversights for this list, but instead I’ll just share them because I think you’ll enjoy listening to them.
Heidi Talbot’s version of time Time is pretty gripping:
and live: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GG4w_cT5i90
Perhaps my favorite Waits cover:
Kris Delmhorst, Jeffrey Foucault and Peter Mulvey, Hold On from their album Redbird.
The aforementioned Sarah Jarosz’s cover of Come on up to the House:
And my favorite Jersey Girl cover:
Andy Cowan: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=br-d68kJT7g
Green Grass… Cibelle… family favourite..