Oh God, this is some shape I’m in!
With band at Montreux in 1982:
Nothing much to say, just one of my favourite songs.
1974 (7 min.):
2009 (4 and a half minute), without Neil Young but good version, but those other guys also knows how to handle a guitar:
Both good, but the 1974 version is out of this world!
This David Crosby anthem of rebellion and personal freedom was recorded on January 9, 1970, at Wally Heider’s “Studio C” in San Francisco. It is likewise one of the few songs from Déjà Vu to have been recorded live by CSN&Y. The truly inspired interaction exhibits the raw and unabashed fury that became synonymous with the supergroup’s “electric” material with sizable instrumental contributions from all four. However, there is no doubt that it is Crosby who dominates the proceedings with perhaps the most impassioned lead vocal of his career. “Almost Cut My Hair” also amply demonstrates the three-way electric guitar “cross talk” between Crosby, Stephen Stills, and Neil Young. This is most prominent during the instrumental break prior to the “When I finally get myself together…” verse.
There is an extended and unedited version of this break included on the Crosby, Stills & Nash box set. This song is also notable for first popularizing the phrase “let[ting] my freak flag fly” — which took on new meaning in the late ’80s after Crosby served a year in a Texas prison. He began performing the song with a lyrical alteration to the line “…it increases my paranoia, like looking in my mirror and seeing a lit up Texas trooper.”
“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.”
“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:
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:
Continue reading The best songs: The Ghost of Tom Joad by Bruce Springsteen
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
Live in Los Angeles 1985:
Here’s a great version from the Devils and Dust tour (2005) solo/piano: