Top 10 Tom Waits Songs Of The 1970’s

Tom Waits Songs 1970s

Photo: By Theplatypus (Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons.) [CC BY-SA 2.5-2.0-1.0 (, GFDL

From the early 1970’s until the end of the decade, Tom Waits released six albums of piano infused ramblings of warm beer, cold women, phantom truck drivers and late night episodes of shame and pleasure. All songs came from the voice of a troubadour masquerading as a backroom piano man. Tom Waits built a loyal following over the years that would define the term cult artist across the board. Tom Waits’  first record entitled Closing Time was released in 1973. That year in 1973 also saw the releases of  Bruce Springsteen’s first album Greetings from Asbury Park, Billy Joel’s Piano Man and Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon.

Each album Waits released in the 1970’s, would present fans with a voice growing deeper and darker. Tom Waits’ career took a dramatic turn musically in 1980 after the release of the album Heartattack and Vine. From that point on, Tom Waits would generate some of the most interesting arrangements of original  material than almost any other single artist of his generation. But there are many fans who adore Tom Waits’ 1970’s material. His early songs hold a special place in the heart of longtime Tom Waits fans  Here are some of our favorites.

# 10 – Martha

Tom Waits “Martha,” was released on his first album Closing Time. The  song centers around the story of old Tom Frost calling his ex after 40 years to go meet for a cup of coffee. Yes, before Facebook, there was the concept of actually calling people to go out. Tom Waits’ “Martha,” is one of his most beautiful songs. The idea of reaching out to your long lost love after so much time resonates with so many people.

It is a song of beauty and yet pain. The strings circle Tom Waits’ vocals and piano chords to add a depth to the music that creates both clarity and ambiguity to the idea of rekindling lost love. Tragic, yet beautiful, it is what came to define the majority of Tom Waits songs in the 1970’s

# 9 – Romeo is Bleeding

Tom Waits album Blue Valentine  was a record clearly inspired by the movie West Side Story. A modern day retelling of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet play. There were many records released in the 1970’s that were inspired by the art of West Side Story. Bruce Springsteen’s Born to Run was perhaps the most famous record to have been released that paid tribute to the film. Tom Waits took his tribute even further than Bruce because he actually recorded a song from the film for the Blue Valentine album.

Opening the record was one of the most heartfelt versions of “Somewhere (there’s a place for us),” ever recorded. Tom Waits low gravely baritone set the stage for a record set to explore the landscape of the city streets. While “Somewhere,” opened the door, it was “Romeo is Bleeding,” that landed the listener into the heart of Tom Waits’ urban drama.

# 8 – Muriel

Another tale of lost love, broken hearts, visions of ghosts, cheap cigars, penny arcades, and lonely late night bars. All wrapped up in a display of gorgeous piano playing and sultry jazz soaked saxophone lines. Its sounds like Sinatra at his finest, but it’s just Waits at his most brilliant. Released on the Foreign Affairs LP, the song “Muriel,” is simply to die for. The great Tom Waits album Foreign Affairs was released in 1977. The album featured the legendary trumpet player Jack Sheldon. Also on the record was Bette Midler singing a duet with Tom Waits on the track “I Never Talk to Strangers.”

# 7 – “Tom Traubert’s Blues”

Tom Waits “Tom Traubert’s Blues,” was the opening track on Tom Waits third album entitled Small Change. A beautiful piano wrapped in luscious teary eyed strings and a heartfelt vocal define one of Tom Waits’ richest songs. The chorus of “Waltzing Matilda,” is taken from a song written in 1895 in Australia by Bango Paterson.

# 6- Ol’ 55

“Ol’55,” was released on Tom Waits first album Closing Time. The song was covered by the Eagles and released on their On the Border LP. However, the song’s arrangement by the Eagles was in stark contrast to Waits’ piano lullaby turnpike original version. It’s hard to believe that the same artist responsible for “What’s He Building In There?” composed “Ol’55,” But that is what has made fans of Waits music become lifetime fans.

There are those who love the song and sadly some who don’t. I I always felt it was just one of those great songs that sounded good driving down the highway on a summer day with the windows open and just feeling good. It just had that vibe to it.

# 5 – Warm Beer and Cold Woman

Well you don’t have to even listen to this one, because just the title alone qualified it as one of Tom Waits best songs. Kidding aside, the great song “Warm Beer and Cold Woman,” was released on the legendary Nighthawks at the Dinner LP. It was an album of brand new material recorded in front of a live audience. The song displayed the dry wit and sarcasm that Waits would present to his fans for the rest of his career. Waits every day man observations of the generalities of life soon became the focus of his lyrical ideas and musings.

# 4 – New Coat of Paint

A nice walking bass line, a blues scale and some downtown street walking barroom dreams illuminated one of Waits most enjoyable pieces. The song “New Coat of Paint,” call call call call was released on Waits’ The Heart of a Saturday Night LP. The song was also recorded by New Jersey legend Southside Johnny on his 1984 In the Heat LP.

# 3 – I hope That I Don’t Fall in Love with You

Many Tom Waits fans have argued over the years that this was Tom Waits’ best song of the 1970’s. It is difficult to argue against the choice. The song was released on Tom Waits first record Closing Time. As beautiful as the song was musically, it was the ironic twist at the end of the song that served as an introduction to Tom Waits’ mastery. One for the books for sure.

I always felt that there were so many similarities between Tom Waits and Frank Sinatra. Those similarities were based on both singer’s amazing ability to paint a picture to set the scene, to place you in the shoes of those they were singing about. While Tom Waits was a writer and singer Frank Sinatra was just a song interpreter, in the end they succeeded the same way. They made you believe in every word that they sung.

# 2 –  Invitation to the Blues

It’s hard to imagine anyone else singing this song other than Tom Waits. As brilliant as a songwriter Waits is, his performances of his material have become just as iconic. Waits sings about the blues in a growl that can never be duplicated. In the song “Invitation to the Blues,” Waits low baritone delivered a haunting low down and out portrait of the desperate seeking solace at the corner bus stop in the middle of the night. It was a place that seemed to often frequent the characters of Tom Waits art throughout his career.

The song was a chilling and authentic representation of the true meaning of the blues. The song “Invitation to the Blues,” was released on Tom Waits Small Change LP in 1976. It was side two’s opening track.

# 1 – “Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis”

The choice for the Number One spot on our Tom Waits Top Ten songs 1970’s list was no slam dunk. There were so many great songs that were written and recorded by Tom Waits during his first decade of recording. However, we have chosen a song that clearly depicted the aura of Tom Waits from the many avenues the man clearly has driven, walked ,and slept on throughout his life. First off, how could you not love the title? A  perfect representation of the story about a character simply telling a story that is truly just a story, if you get what we are saying. Just listen to the song, it will all become clear, hopefully?  For Christ sake!

Top 10 Tom Waits Songs 1970’s

Photo: By Theplatypus (Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons.) [CC BY-SA 2.5-2.0-1.0 (, GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons


  1. Kayte Lopez August 10, 2020
    • Brian Kay August 10, 2020

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