365 Days of Album Recommendations – Sep 18

Tom Waits – Frank’s Wild Years


The second in Waits’ remarkable 80s trio, Frank’s Wild Years was bookended on either side by Swordfishtrombones (the rawest and dirtiest of the three), and Rain Dogs (the most cohesive and controlled). This album, by comparison, is where Waits most dramatically flexes both his theatricality, and his eclecticism. The songs both include and transcend genres, the instrumentation is both global and rooted in the junkyard, and Waits’ vocals run literally from whisper to scream, and all points in between.

It’s pointless, ultimately, to try and hyphenate up a description that explains this album, particularly after all these years, and after so many have tried. So instead I’ll take the opposite tack, and say this: strip out the Brechtisms, the Beefheartisms, the Mose Allisonisms, the Jacque Brelisms; sub out the klezmer, the polka, the blues, the opera; sub out the character changes, the skits, the soundbytes; sub it all out, and what you’re left with are a set of songs that are so moving, so deep, so powerful, so compelling, it is to be awestruck to listen to them.  It should be noted as well that the musicianship on the album is genuinely otherworldly.

I wouldn’t break this album apart if you paid me, but I will say I have some favorites:

  • Hang On St. Christopher
  • Blow Wind Blow
  • Temptation
  • I’ll Be Gone
  • Yesterday Is Here
  • Way Down In The Hole
  • Telephone Call From Istanbul
  • Cold Cold Ground

That’s simply 8 of the best songs ever written, and the performances simply cannot be topped. Straight up to the top, indeed.

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