Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Tom Waits Steps Right Up into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame

The ridiculous institituion known as the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inducted an interesting cast of characters this year, including Alice Cooper, Dr. John, Darlene Love, Leon Russell, Neil Diamond and Tom Waits.

Tom Waits is an artist I have been meaning to get to know better, as I am a huge fan of just about everyone even remotely related to him on the rock family tree - Dylan, Young, Cohen, etc. Like Dylan, Waits filters his music through the guise of a well thought out alter ego. Whereas Zimmerman seems to shape-shift his persona every few years (or albums), Waits has found the gravelly voiced barfly suits him well and has refined it over four decades. I like to imagine that when he gets offstage he turns into a Tony Randall-style dandy.

Put-on or not, Tom Waits has delivered a steady stream of great records and modern standards that puts him in contemporary songwriting’s highest ranks

My favorite Waits tune (admittedly I don’t know that many) is “Step Right Up” from his 1976 LP Small Change. It’s a brilliantly strung-together litany of sales terms one might hear from a used car salesman, Atlantic City boardwalk shyster and/or Ron Popeil. As someone who writes advertising copy for a living, I appreciate the ease with which he spews claims he has no intention of backing up with anything like facts or information:

Step right up
Please allow thirty days for delivery, don't be fooled by cheap imitations
You can live in it, live in it, laugh in it, love in it
Swim in it, sleep in it,
Live in it, swim in it, laugh in it, love in it
Removes embarrassing stains from contour sheets, that's right
And it entertains visiting relatives, it turns a sandwich into a banquet
Tired of being the life of the party?
Change your shorts, change your life, change your life
Change into a nine-year-old Hindu boy, get rid of your wife,
And it walks your dog, and it doubles on sax
Doubles on sax, you can jump back Jack, see you later alligator
See you later alligator
And it steals your car
It gets rid of your gambling debts, it quits smoking
It's a friend, and it's a companion,
And it's the only product you will ever need
Follow these easy assembly instructions it never needs ironing
Well it takes weights off hips, bust, thighs, chin, midriff,
Gives you dandruff, and it finds you a job, it is a job
And it strips the phone company free take ten for five exchange,
And it gives you denture breath
And you know it's a friend, and it's a companion
And it gets rid of your traveler's checks
It's new, it's improved, it's old-fashioned
Well it takes care of business, never needs winding,
Never needs winding, never needs winding

Here’s the great Tom Waits doing “Step Right Up” in 1977 on the German TV show Rockpalast.

Congrats and TCB, TW.
Buy Small Change on iTunes here

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