The Onion A.V. club does a feature called Gateways to Geekery, a sort of beginner's guide to a particular genre, artist, writer, etc. They'll pick some work from the artists' catalog that serves as a suitable introduction to their full body of work, and show you where to go next. For the longest time, I've been meaning to lift the idea and write a Tom Waits primer. But alas, they beat me to it.
But I still think the idea deserves to take flight here, because Tom Waits is such a large part of my personal music philosophy. He's often the litmus test by which I guage other musicians, and even other music fans. I tip my cap to Waits fans, because I know it isn't an easy thing to be. There are immense barriers of entry. Becoming a Waits fan takes persistence, patience, context, and even faith. And I'm here to help with all those things.
You might be wondering, "If it takes such effort to find the guy appealing, shouldn't that tell you something?" I agree it seems a bit suspect, but it's like bitter wines, or dark coffee. It seems like the real aficionados are fans, and while you may not like it yourself, you sort of infer that there's something to it. Tom Waits is the creamless, unsweetened dark roast of folk music.
In what is now the fifth Deeper In feature, I'll recommend recommend six Tom Waits albums you should explore, and give you a bit of coaching on how to enjoy them. I'll focus on two records from each of his unofficially categorized eras: The jazzbo beatnik era, the avante-garde theatric era, and the mangled folk era. These are my categorizations, mind you. In fact, you could probably break it down further. His first eight albums--the so-called jazzbo stuff--range from quiet folk to smokey blues. Furthermore, the mangled folk category only really covers a couple of his albums, but they're so important to Waits' canon that they deserve their own grouping.
I'll divide my analysis of each album into several sections: "Why You Should Know It", "Songs to Know", and how it measures up on the "Waits-o-Meter":
This ridiculous thing will give you an idea of how accessible the album is. A low rating means anyone can enjoy it; a high rating means it'll take some getting used to. Finally, I'll supply an "Also Check Out" section--similar albums from Waits' vast discography that qualify as necessary listening.
Stay tuned for the first entry in the series: Closing Time, Tom's debut...a.k.a the one that you'll probably like!