Mar 312023

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30. Lucinda Williams – Hang Down Your Head

More muted high hat than full-on drums, and more of a lonesome wail of a guitar line than a steady rock-and-roll strum, this version is slower tempo and much less upbeat. Lucinda Williams leans in to the sorrow, drawing out the emotion almost a full minute longer than the brisk, sub-three minute original. – Sara Stoudt

29. Nora O’Connor – Looks Like I’m Up Shit Creek Again

Nora O’Connor’s approach is a little more honkytonk than the original. You can picture a lonesome cowboy swaying back and forth to this tune, just him and his steed at a laid-back clip-clop. O’Connor has some extra accompanying instruments to help her tell her tale of woe, but both the original and this cover ultimately surrender to their fate, narrating matter-of-factly. – Sara Stoudt

28. Einav Jackson Cohen & Iddo Sternberg – Teshakri li (Lie to Me)

The most impressive thing about this version of the track is how, even with the original melody and time signature retained, the feeling of the song changes. Where the original has Waits’ trademark gravely vocal and a dirty guitar and drums giving the track a proper rockabilly/skiffle style sound, Jackson Cohen’s clean delivery (fully in Hebrew also) and the addition of hand claps turns the song from a late-night thrash dancer to a sunny afternoon garden party dance. Now that’s a party I’d want to attend! – Brendan Shanahan

27. Joan Baez – Day After Tomorrow

This song was Waits’s way of expressing discontent with the war of the time in Iraq. It seems natural for Joan Baez, no stranger to political statements and antiwar protests herself, to cover this epistolary song. Baez’s version is a little less raspy, yet still deep and resonant. The folk guitar is faint, letting the soldier’s storytelling point of view be the main focus. However, the guitarist and the vocals maintain some independence. There are moments where the rhythm of the words and of the guitar do not always sync up, occasionally lost in their own storylines. – Sara Stoudt

26. The Blind Boys Of Alabama – Way Down in the Hole

Though not a hit by any stretch of the imagination, “Way Down in the Hole” has likely become Tom Waits’ best-known song. Not due to its inclusion on his excellent 1987 album Franks Wild Years. In fact, not due to his own version at all. But rather, due to The Wire, to many greatest television show of all time, using “Way Down in the Hole” as its theme song. They didn’t use Waits’ version though. At least, not initially. Season 1 was soundtracked by The Blind Boys Of Alabama’s Spirit of the Century version. As we noted when writing about Steve Earle’s cover (#37), every season was soundtracked by a different version. Tom himself had to wait for season two. The Blind Boys were first. – Jane Callaway

25. The Wild Reeds – Tom Traubert’s Blues

In 2019, Dualtone Records released the tribute album Come On Up to the House: Women Sing Waits. There were some splashy names on it. Phoebe Bridgers. Rosanne Cash. Aimee Mann. But the stealth best cover on the set came from the lesser-known Wild Reeds. Appropriately enough, the band members first met at Los Angeles club The Troubadour, Tom’s old haunt, and they picked a song from his early days too: “Tom Traubert’s Blues.” That’s the one, if the name doesn’t ring a bell, where he sings “Waltzing Matilda.” It starts off slow, ambient, and dreamy. It stays dreamy, but gains propulsion as it goes, moving from a slow ambient lilt to a powerful slice of folk-gospel with the three singers belting their hearts out. – Ray Padgett

24. Kirsti,Ola&Erik – Lonely

Kirsti Hauke, Ola Kvernberg, and Erik Nylander’s 2015 cover album Rags & Silks features some of the more frequently explored cool songs by oft-explored cool artists. It includes takes on Nick Drake’s “River Man,” The Beach Boys’ “God Only Knows,” Nick Cave’s “Into My Arms” and, of course, the requisite Tom Waits tune. But the left turn the trio took in terms of their Tom track choice was a truly inspired one. Despite its beauty, the 1973 heartbreaker “Lonely” has lived up to its name in that it doesn’t get covered very often. K, O & E’s spare and regal version is not only one of the few, it is the absolute best. Hauke’s plaintive and angelic vocal is shadowed by Kvernberg’s violin throughout and the combo makes for such a moving listen, it should come with a warning: Do not play if you are feeling fragile, as you may crumble into a sloppy, teary mess.Hope Silverman

23. Das Kapital – Telephone Call from Istanbul

Chicago punk band Das Kapital posted this song on MySpace back in the day. It’s since disappeared from the internet – until now. The group roars through this Franks Wild Year gem that features the best piece of advice in the Waits canon: Never trust a man in a blue trenchcoat. Never drive a car when you’re dead. – Ray Padgett

22. Niamh Parsons – The Briar and the Rose

The original of this has me visualizing Waits, like a burnt-out priest, morose and maudlin, on that cusp between drunkenness and regret, shortly ahead the hangover hitting home. Which isn’t, I guess, anything his oeuvre elsewhere tries to dispel. So quite how the idea came to make this anthem of decay into a celebratory hymn was and is quite astonishing. Yet is works. Niamh Parsons is from the fresher-faced end of Irish trad-based spectrum, with her co-singer, Tom Dunne, sounding equally wholesome. The purity they offer on “The Briar and the Rose” is sublime, as far opposite the sour bittersweet offered by Waits as to be completely transformative. – Seuras Og

21. The Unthanks – No One Knows I’m Gone

The Unthanks made their name as sensitive interpreters of invariably bleak folk songs from the North East of England, yet they’ve never been afraid to perform songs from outside this tradition. That’s provided those songs are concerned with death, loneliness, hardship, and despair. The group found the perfect track in Waits’ “No One Knows I’m Gone” in 2011, written, somewhat unusually, from the first-person perspective of a forgotten dead person in the grave. The two Unthank sisters — Becky and Rachel — wrapped it in their incomparably sad and haunting vocals, amidst dramatic strings that added to a suitably gothic atmosphere. Their sublime rendering of such morbidly poetic lines as “The rain makes such a lovely sound / To those who are six feet underground” further proved the perfect preparation for their engagement with the verse of Emily Brontë in 2019, for their third album in the Lines series. – Adam Mason


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  15 Responses to “The 50 Best Tom Waits Covers Ever”

Comments (15)
  1. Great list.
    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

  2. How this didn’t make the top 50 is just wrong

  3. 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.

  4. 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”,
    and Paddy Sherlock dueting with Jack L on “Shoot the Moon” @ 51.46, and lastly: Paddy doing his own version: “If I Could Shoot the Moon.”

    Hope you enjoy them as much as I do!

  5. No “Come on up to the House” covers? I personally love Sarah Jarosz’s voice on her cover.

  6. 10,000 Maniacs
    I Hope I Don’t Fall In Love With You

  7. I’ve always loved this one.

  8. Where was “Shiver Me Timbers” by Bette Midler.
    Sorry, but your list can not be taken seriously without that song

  9. I agree on Rainbow Sleeve. A huge miss here. The authors need to check it out.

  10. I’ll be spending time with these. Thanks.

    But, yeah, ignoring the the Hammond recording is a pretty significant oversight.
    and live:

    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:

    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:

  11. Green Grass… Cibelle… family favourite..

  12. Waits’ Gun Street Girl by Canned Heat became much more bluesy, brilliant!

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