Song of the Day #4,301: ‘In the Neighborhood’ – Tom Waits

The charms of Tom Waits have largely eluded me, though I can’t say I’ve spent a lot of time trying to figure them out.

One of Waits’ most celebrated albums, Swordfishtrombones, was released in 1983. It marked a move for Waits from piano and strings toward more obscure and eclectic instrumentation, introducing the old-fashioned circus vibe for which he is now well-known.

The album drew universal critical acclaim, named by many critics as one of the best of the year and the decade. Spin, in a 1989 article, even went so far as to name Swordfishtrombones the second-best album of all time (since you’re wondering, #1 was James Brown’s Sex Machine).

I can’t echo that praise, having listened to the album all the way through just once, but I did start to fall for it. Something about the mournful drums and horns, Waits’ sadly ravaged vocals, the observational but poetic lyrics — it all casts quite a spell.

A little Bruce Springsteen, a little Randy Newman, a little Bob Dylan… the DNA of this album is rich, and yet it still feels very much like a wholly original work.

It also makes a great soundtrack for a global pandemic.

Well, the eggs chase the bacon round the fryin’ pan
And the whinin’ dog pidgeons by the steeple bell rope
And the dogs tipped the garbage pails over last night
And there’s always construction work bothering you

In the neighborhood
In the neighborhood
In the neighborhood

Well, Friday’s a funeral and Saturday’s a bride
And Sey’s got a pistol on the register side
And the goddam delivery trucks, they make too much noise
And we don’t get our butter delivered no more

In the neighborhood
In the neighborhood
In the neighborhood

Well, Big Mambo’s kickin’ his old grey hound
And the kids can’t get ice cream, cause the market burned down
And the newspaper sleeping bags blow down the lane
And that goddam flatbed’s got me pinned in again

In the neighborhood
In the neighborhood
In the neighborhood

There’s a couple Filipino girls gigglin’ by the church
And the window is busted and the landlord ain’t home
And Butch joined the army, yeah, that’s where he’s been
And the jackhammer’s digging up the sidewalks again

In the neighborhood
In the neighborhood
In the neighborhood

One thought on “Song of the Day #4,301: ‘In the Neighborhood’ – Tom Waits

  1. Dana Gallup says:

    My knowledge of Tom Waits pretty much begins and ends with “Downtown Train,” though even that song is more familiar to me from Rod Stewart’s hit cover version.

    I suppose I understand the critical accolades, but if I’m in the mood to hear something that sounds like Newman, Springsteen or Dylan, I’m more inclined to pop on one of their records.

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