Category Archives: The Best Songs

Great songs: Tom Taubert’s Blues – Tom Waits

Wikipedia:
“Tom Traubert’s Blues” opens the album Small Change. Jay S. Jacobs has described the song as a “stunning opener [which] sets the tone for what follows.” The refrain is based almost word by word on the 1890 Australian song, “Waltzing Matilda” by A.B. “Banjo” Paterson, although the tune is slightly different.

Old Grey Whistle Test, 1977:

The origin of the song is somewhat ambiguous. The sub-title of the track “Four Sheets to the Wind in Copenhagen” seems to indicate that it is about a time that Waits spent in Copenhagen in 1976 while on a tour. There, he apparently met Danish singer Mathilde Bondo. Indeed, in a 1998 radio interview, she confirmed that she met Waits and that they spent a night on the town together.

Waits himself described the song’s subject during a concert in Sydney Australia in March 1979: “Uh, well I met this girl named Matilda. And uh, I had a little too much to drink that night. This is about throwing up in a foreign country.” In an interview on NPR’s World Cafe, aired December 15, 2006, Waits stated that Tom Traubert was a “friend of a friend” who died in prison.

Bones Howe, the album’s producer, recalls when Waits first came to him with the song:

He said the most wonderful thing about writing that song. He went down and hung around on skid row in L.A. because he wanted to get stimulated for writing this material. He called me up and said, “I went down to skid row … I bought a pint of rye. In a brown paper bag.” I said, “Oh really?.” “Yeah – hunkered down, drank the pint of rye, went home, threw up, and wrote ‘Tom Traubert’s Blues’ […] Every guy down there … everyone I spoke to, a woman put him there.”

Allmusic Review:

by Thomas Ward
“Tom Traubert’s Blues” is one of Tom Waits’ most popular songs, although this is due in the most part by Rod Stewart’s vastly inferiors cover version. Waits’ original is heartbreakingly beautiful, containing some of the artist’s finest lyrics, especially in the croaking opening “Wasted and wounded/’Taint what the moon did/Got what I paid for now”. The story, essentially a drunken tale, fits the gorgeous, elegiac melody perfectly, and indeed the song is so evocative it’s almost impossible for the listener not to be swept up in the story. Although the arrangement and the use of strings doesn’t take any real risks, it embellishes the melody beautifully. Without doubt, one of Tom Waits’ finest recordings.

Here introduced as Waltzing Matilda at Rockpalast in 1977:

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The best songs: The Ghost of Tom Joad by Bruce Springsteen

The Ghost of Tom Joad is a fantastic and often overlooked song by Bruce Springsteen. It is the title track on his album from 1995. The album, The Ghost of Tom Joad, has a focus on storytelling. It is largely accoustic and the songs are stories of people in difficulties and struggles. The influence of Guthrie and Dylan is clear.

Recorded sometime April–June 1995 at Thrill Hill West (Bruce’s Los Angeles home studio). Springsteen handles guitar and vocals and his 4-man backing band on this recording is Danny Federici (keyboards), Garry Tallent (bass), Marty Rifkin (pedal steel, dobro) and Gary Mallaber (drums). (from Brucebase)

The character Tom Joad is the lead character in John Steinbeck’s classic 1939 novel The Grapes of Wrath, is mentioned in the title and narrative. Near the end of the story, Tom makes his famous “I’ll be there” speech, which is also noted in the lyrics.

The idea is that the ghost of Tom Joad, the spirit of working together as a community, will prevail in times of great injustice and depression. I think it means that our times are mirror images of past times, the ghost of the depression in the late twenties to the early forties.

The song also takes inspiration from The Ballad of Tom Joad by Woody Guthrie and by the John Ford film The Grapes of Wrath.

Another inspiration is this speech by George Bush in 1990:

“Until now, the world we’ve known has been a world divided – a world of barbed wire and concrete block, conflict and cold war. Now, we can see a new world coming into view. A world in which there is the very real prospect of a new world order. In the words of Winston Churchill, a ‘world order’ in which ‘the principles of justice and fair play … protect the weak against the strong …’ “

Springsteen was clearly ironically quoting Bush’s speech when he wrote the line, “Welcome to the new world order” in the first verse.

So it’s a song with several origins and a very political song.
It was originally done as a sombre protest/folk song by Springsteen but has later been done in a radically louder arrangement by Rage Against the Machine.

Men walkin’ ‘long the railroad tracks
Goin’ someplace there’s no goin’ back
Highway patrol choppers comin’ up over the ridge
Hot soup on a campfire under the bridge
Shelter line stretchin’ round the corner
Welcome to the new world order
Families sleepin’ in their cars in the southwest
No home no job no peace no rest

The highway is alive tonight
But nobody’s kiddin’ nobody about where it goes
I’m sittin’ down here in the campfire light
Searchin’ for the ghost of Tom Joad

Bruce Springsteen  has also performed the song in various arrangements, solo in very quiet shows and as a more hard and up-tempo rock song.

Here’s the fabulous album version from 1995:

He pulls prayer book out of his sleeping bag
Preacher lights up a butt and takes a drag
Waitin’ for when the last shall be first and the first shall be last
In a cardboard box ‘neath the underpass
Got a one-way ticket to the promised land
You got a hole in your belly and gun in your hand
Sleeping on a pillow of solid rock
Bathin’ in the city aqueduct

The highway is alive tonight
But where it’s headed everybody knows
I’m sittin’ down here in the campfire light
Waitin’ on the ghost of Tom Joad

The great cover version by Rage Against The Machine:

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The 20 best songs from Bruce Springsteen’s CD boxset “Tracks” according to JV – part 2

 

What’s really the most amazing thing about this vast collection is that there really isn’t a bad song on it – Bruce Springsteen’s outtakes and leftovers are better than most artists’ released album tracks.

 

When we first started this task of finding the 20 best tracks off Tracks I was sure it would be an enjoyable but easy endevour. Not so.

 

They’re all so goddam good!

 

It took a lot longer than expected, and it was much more fun!

 

 

…and here are the rest from 10 to 1:

 

10. Janey don’t you lose heart:

You got your book baby with all your fears
Let me, honey, and I’ll catch your tears
I’ll take your sorrow if you want me to
Come tomorrow that’s what I’ll do
Listen to me
Recorded June 16 in 1983. Great track from the Born in the USA sessions. Steve Van Zandt on guitar and background vocals. When the song was being readied for release as the B-side to “I’m Goin’ Down” in 1985,  Nils Lofgren went into a studio and replaced Van Zandt’s vocal track.

 

Like “My Love Will Not Let You Down,” this was also on side two of Landau’s suggested track listing for Born in the U.S.A.  “Janey” has been played in concert ten times (5 times on the Rising tour). Clarence Clemons’ name is not on the credits on the box set but obviously he participates, and he magnificently plays on the song.

Live in Los Angeles 1985:

Here’s a great version from the Devils and Dust tour (2005) solo/piano:

Continue reading The 20 best songs from Bruce Springsteen’s CD boxset “Tracks” according to JV – part 2