35 Albums in 35 Years: 1985

In an ongoing attempt to bleed my opinions all over your computer screen, I’m selecting one album from every year that I’ve been alive that has some sort of significance to me…and then writing about it.  Welcome back to 35 Albums in 35 Years.


tomwaits1985: Tom Waits’ Rain Dogs

Some years seem to generate so many more albums that hold special places in my heart than others.  It becomes a challenge to not only pick one to write about, but to even narrow the number down to a manageable level to begin with.  1985 is one of those years.  I kind of agonized over which record to choose.  In the end though, there was really only one direction to go in.

Someone once described Tom Waits’ music to me as an acquired taste, but one that you’ll wonder why it took you so long to acquire.  Yeah, that about sums it up.  A mix of folk, country and western, jazz, blues, punk, gospel, spoken word, traditional standards, old sea shanties, and all around experimental weirdness, Tom Waits has forged a musical path steeped deep in American roots, but at the same time all his own.  This is the guy who will record the kind of sing-along song you would hear in an Irish bar one moment to a scary and experimental piece of spoken word madness the next.  No one else sounds like Tom Waits.  No one else can sound like Tom Waits.

For years and years I was aware of the man, but tended to ignore his musical output, just remembering him as that weirdo who covered The Ramones or as Francis Ford Coppola’s Igor in Bram Stoker’s Dracula.  It wasn’t until I was in film school that I discovered the wonderful music Waits makes by way of Jim Jarmusch’s Down by Law.  Waits acted in the film and a couple of his songs were used in the movie as well.  One of those songs was the New Orleans funereal jazz sounding number “Tango till They’re Sore.”

I was hooked.  I needed more.

I found out which album the song came from, his seminal work, 1985’s Rain Dogs, and set about remedying its absence from my record collection.  After listening to the album for the first time, I was taken by how stylistically all over the place it is, the tying thread being a kind of thematic concept about the downtrodden and dispossessed peoples of New York City.  It’s really heavy, but achingly beautiful.  The album also has a raw and organic sound that compliments the work’s moods and themes wonderfully.  You can feel the dirt and grime from the city streets through the pianos, guitars, and assortment of other instruments throughout the record.  It’s all very real.

Very often, art (and music especially) will get assigned a color, a visual descriptor of how it makes you feel, how it moves you, or just its all around tone.  There are black records and blue records.  There are white records and red records.  Rain Dogs is a gray record.  It’s the musical accompaniment to a cloudy, dreary day in a filthy city.  It’s broken glass and dust on cracked slabs of pavement, darkened shadows cast by old, worn down buildings.  It’s a vacant lot with dying weeds.  The rust on a broken down automobile.  The ugly underbelly of the sprawling Metropolis, its urban decay.  Waits wanted to capture the mood of the lost souls of the big city, and he did it in spades.

It’s rare for an album to so perfectly capture its creator’s intent, but when it happens, the effect is sublime.  Rain Dogs is as flawless a record as you’re bound to find, and it’s an excellent entry point into the wonderfully weird world of Tom Waits.

- Favorite song: “Tango till They’re Sore”

- Runner up: “Anywhere I Lay my Head”

Some other albums I almost wrote about instead: The Smiths – Meat Is Murder; Jesus and Mary Chain – Psycho Candy; The Dead Kennedys – Frankenchrist; Weird Al Yankovic – Dare to Be Stupid.


Thomas H Williams

Thomas H Williams

From a bunker somewhere in Central Texas, Thomas H. Williams spends most of his time with his wife, his two sons, and his increasingly neurotic dog. He listens to a lot of music, drinks a lot of excellent beers, and gets out from time to time. For even more shenanigans, visit heavenisanincubator.blogspot.com.

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