You’ve reached a Premium article. To continue reading, please login or start a 3-MONTH TRIAL SUBSCRIPTION for just 99 cents/month. You’ll receive unlimited digital access plus a complimentary issue of our award-winning print magazine.
Join Our Newsletter
Join thousands of other jazz enthusiasts and get new music, artists, album, events and more delivered to your inbox.
Before he started beating bus lockers with two-by-fours and working with avant guitarist Marc Ribot, Tom Waits was a Beat-inspired songwriter with a jazzy bent. On 1974’s Heart of Saturday Night, his second album, Waits inhabits an eternal nocturnal milieu where neon signs buzz, pool balls roll and some poor schlemiel at the bar worries about his lady “catchin’ her death of cold out walkin’ in the rain.” Just 24 at the time, Waits sounds like an aged, whisky-soaked barroom habitue hunched over a piano and sharing a lifetime of dissolution. A first-rate rhythm section backs his play, with bassist Jim Hughart and drum legend Shelley Manne supplying slippery beats, while saxophonist Frank Vicari, clarinetist Gene Cipriano and trumpeter Jack Sheldon lend appropriately jazzy shadings.
While Waits’ music and lyrics would grow in sophistication, Heart of a Saturday Night features some of his most engaging songs. The opening “New Coat of Paint” sparkles with the anticipation of the night’s activities to come. “Diamonds on My Windshield,” recited Beat-poet style, reflects the nervous energy of a highway driver navigating rainslicked roads to the rhythm of his wiper blades. “Fumblin’ With the Blues” perfectly captures Waits’ shambolic bar-fly, simultaneously celebrating a life in which bartenders know him by name and realizing what that’s cost him. The set is also studded with surprisingly tender ballads: “San Diego Serenade” and “Shiver Me Timbers” are among the prettiest tunes Waits ever penned. With lyrics like “I’m blinded by neon, don’t try and change my tune/’Cause I thought I heard a saxophone, I’m drunk on the moon,” Heart of a Saturday Night provides the perfect soundtrack for nocturnal rambles. — Bob Weinberg