The Ron Kane Files

Writing About Music

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Tom Waits

12-11-08 Tom Waits – The Island Years

“Swordfishtrombones”, “Rain Dogs”, “Frank’s Wild Years” and “Big Time” – the four albums Mr. Waits has released through Island Records, US.

I became aware of Tom Waits in the 70’s – just “another sucker on the vine”, as some would say. I was not overly enthusiastic about any artists on Elektra – Asylum Records; there would have been no reason for me to ‘check him out’. I was likely given a free copy of “Heartattack and Vine”, his final Asylum LP, in about 1980. I liked what I heard.

Obvious investigation of his Asylum catalogue revealed that I could find one or two things on each LP that I liked, but…I think I only kept “Nighthawks At The Diner” (a wonderful live 70’s album) and “Heart Attack and Vine”. I liked his humor, which is fairly legendary in Los Angeles.

Recently, I saw that his Island era CD’s were re-mastered and re-issued in Japan as “SHM” CD’s ( = Super High Material CD ). As far as I know, the US versions never got overhauled. But I messed up when I ordered – and got #2 & #3 (instead of #1 “Swordfishtrombones” – the album I really wanted a re-mastered CD of). There is a Japanese laser disc of the film “Big Time” – so I expect that a DVD can’t be far off (and no need for a re-mastered CD of it, unless tracks were added!). As far as I can tell – none of the Island era Waits re-masters have any bonus tracks.

I have not been able to follow his post-“Big Time” work very well – but I return to “Swordfishtrombones” and “Rain Dogs” often. I know when he played in Europe (in either the late 80’s or early 90’s), he worked with a friend of mine, Paul Telman (the ‘sound-man’ for The Nits). Rumor has it that Waits wanted to ‘steal’ Telman away from his duties with The Nits – and Telman declined. Interesting.

And I must repeat my story of my Elektra-Asylum copy of “Swordfishtrombones” – I was offered a copy (Australian, as it turns out), a fully-finished stock copy. I performed some minor indignity and obtained this fine LP, some years ahead of it’s Island debut. It has totally different (designed by Waits) cover art – but I think this version of the LP is basically the same as the Island issue. It was a wonderful ‘secret’ to have a cancelled Tom Waits release – particularly when it is his finest hour on vinyl. I wonder who at Asylum couldn’t ‘hear’ “Swordfishtrombones”?

So, Tom – thanks for the music. Where’s the DVD of “Big Time”? And can we have the “Rain Dogs” TV commercials as bonus tracks on that DVD, please? I remember the “In The Neighborhood” music video, too. All very cool stuff.



Anonymous Jim Donato said...

Ron! You have a E-A spiked pressing of "Swordfishtrombines" with a Waits designed cover and you didn't post a pic? What's up??!! Enquiring minds want to know!

Don't worry about the Promo Police - the statue of limitations has expired for this title!

9:21 AM  

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