Saturday, July 29, 2017

Tom Waits: Frank's Wild Years Trilogy & Shows # 666, 667, 668


I first discovered the album Rain Dogs by Tom Waits in a record store, amongst a pile of other records. I decided to pick up this record for several reasons, I heard that Keith Richards played on it and one of the songs was featured in the 1986 Jim Jarmusch film Down By Law, which Waits also starred in. Upon listening to the record, I soon learned that it was part of a trilogy from Tom Waits that is often referred to as The Frank’s Wild Years Trilogy, or the Island Trilogy (since the albums were released on Island Records). A “rain dog” is believed to be a stray dog that wanders around because it cannot find its way home, the rain has washed away the scent. This is a fitting description of many of the characters found not only in this trilogy, but to characters found in the songs of Tom Waits

In 1982 Waits released the soundtrack to the Francis Ford Coppola film, One From The Heart. Despite being an Oscar nominated soundtrack, the album Swordfishtrombones, which was produced in the same year and was to follow the One From The Heart soundtrack, was deemed not so great by his then record company Elektra-Asylum. The label thought that this would cause Waits to lose fans and not respond well with new audiences. He was dropped from the label. Island picked up the album and released it in 1983. It should also be noted that in 1980, Waits started moving towards a new sound with his album Heartattack and Vine, but it was nothing compared to the level of experimentation on Swordfishtrombones. This album marked a shift in Waits songwriting approach and sound. Swordfishtrombones featured unusual instrumentation and a more abstract approach to songwriting, as opposed to the style Waits had been known for in the 70s, which was a more piano/jazz crooner and string orchestra based style. The songs delve into a dirty blues style with odd instrumentation and features poetry segments. There is also an undeniable Captain Beefheart influence found here. This album not only marked a new style for Waits, but it was also the first album that Waits produced himself. Throughout the album’s tracks we find a world of seedy characters that drift amongst themes of being homesick, deteriorating hometowns and fading into obscurity and myth in some form or another. It is also important to note the influence of Waits wife Kathleen Brennan during this time and even more so in his later songwriting. They would often collaborate with one another, even during this trilogy.

“Underground” starts off Swordfishtrombones with a sideshow growl and is symbolic in terms of the characters that would be brought forth on this album. Musically, it also showcases a change in direction. We are introduced to Frank, a character that shows up within this album and the two the follow it. The song talks of a world going on beneath the surface. It is symbolic for the journey that Frank the sailor will take and the listener. “Shore Leave” is a bizarre, yet vivid blues inspired song laying down another blueprint for the world that Frank has found himself in. Along with “Johnsburg, Illinois”, we find a character lamenting in homesick territory. “16 Shells From a Thirty-Ought Six”, is now perhaps one of the best-known songs in Waits catalogue. It drifts with a steamship-like off kilter blues groove, as Waits growls with an undeniable confidence. The lyrics tell the tale of a man determined to kill a crow, but instead he captures it and tortures it instead for his own amusement “Town With No Cheer” and “In The Neighborhood” display a more morose vibe of a character who has vanished. In these songs we find that there are only myths and rumours of who this wild character was and where he has gone. Musically, “Town With No Cheer” features bagpipes, harmonium and a creepy eeriness to it, while “In The Neighborhood” has a marching band feel. “Frank’s Wild Years” is a humorous spoken word segment. With lyrics portraying Frank “Hanging up his wild years”, but then he burns down his house and “Torched it/Parked across the street/Laughing” before he gets on the Hollywood Freeway and heads north. The title track “Swordfishtrombones”, further tells the myth of Frank, who “Came home from the war with a party in his head” and brings forth strong imagery as the tale of Frank, unpacks itself even further.

Rain Dogs was released in 1985. A loose concept of the “urban dispossessed” finds its way through the songs found on this release. The album features a broad range of musical styles from pre-50’s rock sounds (Brecht often appears in reviews of this album) to blues and even New Orleans funeral brass, combined to make its own unique sound. Rain Dogs also features a variety of instruments such as marimba, accordion, trombone, pump organ, double bass and banjo to help achieve its plethora of sounds. In addition to this, Keith Richards appears on some tracks, Marc Ribot and even Robert Quine (of Richard Hell & The Voidoids), among other musicians. “Singapore” has been described as a grim nightlife memoir, with its off-kilter sounds and lyrics taking the listener into a dangerous world of being a sailor. “Clap Hands” displays a sense of delusion and melancholy amongst its electric guitar, and cold marimba rattles. “Cemetery Polka” features a humorous/fascinating collection of bizarre aging relatives along with the songs polka syncopation. “Jockey Full of Bourbon” is notable for Waits smooth vocals, exotica conga rhythms and steamy, Cuban music inspired guitar lines provided by Marc Ribot. This mood-setting piece appears in the opening of the 1986 film Down By Law. With its vivid film noir dynamics, the lyrics portray a troubled crime induced world and features lyrics such as “Hey little bird fly away from home/Your house is on fire/Your children are alone” which represent a desire to escape, to do nothing, fear and the unknown. The gritty blues of “Big Black Mariah” features Keith Richards undeniable slithery grooves amongst Waits growling Howlin’ Wolf inspired vocal as lyrics tell a tale of a police chase by a “Big Black Mariah” which is actually the name used for an old fashioned police car.

“Hang Down Your Head” is a melodic track that has drawn comparisons to Tom Waits earlier work, while “Time” echoes street corner philosophies (as stated on Tom Waits website), “9th & Hennepin” was inspired by actual events in Minneapolis. Apparently Waits was in an all-night donut shop and found himself stuck in-between a pimp war that involved ammunition fire, this is alluded to in the lyrics to this track that is intense in its instrumentation. “Gun Street Girl” is a rustic folk/blues number relating to small time hustlers, as “Blind Love” features guitar work by guitarist Robert Quine, along with “Downtown Train”. This song is perhaps mentioned the most when referring to this album. It has been covered by many artists, including Rod Stewart, who made it a top ten hit in 1989. “Anywhere I Lay My Head” ends Rain Dogs drawing on the New Orleans funeral jazz influence mentioned earlier. With lyrics such as “The wind is blowing cold”, “I don’t need nobody/Because I learned to be alone”, and “Anywhere I lay my head is home”, Waits evokes a certain melancholic, drunken, epiphany-like atmosphere.

1987’s Frank’s Wild Years is the third album found in this trilogy. The songs featured in this set tell a rags-to-rags story. The songs found here are based on a stage play that Waits and wife Kathleen Brennan wrote of the same name. Several of the songs from that play were rearranged and put on this album. The tale subtitled Un Operachi Romantico in Two Acts, follows Frank on a hazy, ill-fated Orphic journey as musically, Waits gets even more adventurous. The music and themes emphasized here are more theatrical, building on the atmospheric soundscapes that started on 1985’s Rain Dogs. “Hang On St. Christopher” starts off the album with its locomotive like bassline, traffic sounding brass instruments and watery guitar sounds. It paints a picture of a mythic landscape surrounding the automobile and the wild ride that is about to occur. “Straight To The Top” appears in two versions here, first as rhumba, then later subtitled Vegas. Both juxtapose Frank’s journey towards fame in two similar and different ways.

"Temptation”, one of the standout tracks on this album, tells the tell about a character that is surrounded by dizzying temptations and intoxicating imagery before a downward spiral leaves him humbled. Musically, the song is a skewed rhumba of sorts with touches of the blues, as Waits sings in a gruff falsetto throughout this engaging track. “I’ll Be Gone” is a frenetic accordion driven ballad, “Telephone Call From Istanbul” features booming percussion, arpegiated guitars and a smoky, gravely vocal from Waits as he tells us to “Never trust a man in a blue trench coat/Never drive a car when you’re dead” in this tale of the showbiz world, “Cold Cold Ground” is an acoustic based ballad featuring a hazy vocal. In an interview from 1987 with Rip Rense of the New York Post, Waits stated that this song is “Just kind of a hardening back to his earlier times; a romantic song thinking about home, and all that.” “Train Song” is a nostalgic trip with a musical piano/accordion accompaniment, as “Innocent While You Dream (78)” ends the album. This song, is repeated in a different musical form, as was “Straight To The Top”, found earlier on this album. This song with an old timey arrangement repeats a moral that the character Frank learned earlier on this album, but it is one that doesn’t come to realization until the end of this album.

In addition to these three albums, Big Time was a soundtrack released in 1988 that accompanied a film of the same name. This film features performances of songs from this trilogy as well as older songs in Waits catalogue. It is not generally considered as part of the trilogy, but definitely connects with it on some level. Overall, the Frank’s Wild Years Trilogy is a journey on different levels. If Swordfishtrombones found Waits branching out into new experimentations musically, Rain Dogs was where Waits found his voice. Frank’s Wild Years the album shows Waits at top creative form and even more so adventurous. This trilogy of albums revitalized Waits’ career. It has been called a junkyard trilogy, but each album stands on its own and is effective whether separate or together, as part of this trilogy. In a trilogy of self-discovery, it is interesting that the album Rain Dogs wanders around record shops and finds people. Within a pile of records, you never know what will find you. But, the unique atmosphere and mood created within this trilogy is something that hovers over listeners that find themselves in this world that was created by Waits in the 80s. Like Frank, it is a mood that is unpredictable and finds us and leaves a lasting impression in more ways than one.


Show 668 (Frank's Wild Years Part II) (Originally Aired On July 29th, 2017):

1. Tom Waits - Hang On St. Christopher
2. Tom Waits - Temptation
3. Stompin' Tom Connors - Sudbury Saturday Night
4. Stompin' Tom Connors - Luke's Guitar
5. Harry Nilsson - Let The Good Times Roll
6. The Kinks - This Time Tomorrow
7. Thee Grinch - Each Side
8. Dusty Mush - Couch Potato
9. The 14th Wray - Your Face Is In My Mind
10. Times New Viking - Faces On Fire
11. Titus Andronicus - Titus Andronicus Forever
12. The Courtneys - Frankie
13. Broken Social Scene - Vanity Pail Kids
14. The Scenics - I Killed Marx
15. The Diodes - Play With Fire (Live)
16. Tom Waits - Straight To The Top (Rhumba)
17. Tom Waits - Telephone Call From Istanbul (Big Time Version)
18. Tom Waits - Way Down In The Hole (Big Time Version)
19. The Replacements (With Tom Waits) - Date To Church
20. Paul Westerberg (With Tommy Stinson & Tom Waits) - Low Down Monkey Blues
21. Paul Westerberg - Dead Sick Of
22. Prehistoric Cave Strokers - Sold Out (Live At The Coach n' Horses 1991)
23. The Ronald Regan Story - (Your Love Has Turned My Heart Into A) Hand Grenade
24. Revo - Uncontrollable Urge
25. Ancient Shapes - I Wanna Put My Tears Back In
26. The 427's - The Score
27. Tom Waits - Falling Down

To download this weeks program, visit CJAM's schedule page for Revolution Rock and download the file for July 29.


Show 667 (Frank's Wild Years: Part I) (Originally Aired On July 22nd, 2017):

1. Tom Waits - Underground
2. Tom Waits - 16 Shells From A Thirty-Ought Six
3. Tymon Dogg - Low Down Dirty Weakness
4. The Cramps - Can't Hardly Stand It
5. Catl. - 5 Miles
6. Elvis Costello - I'm Not Angry
7. Elvis Costello - No Action (Demo)
8. Elvis Costello - Mystery Dance (Honky Tonk Demo)
9. Mise En Scene - Closer
10. No Aloha - Work Shirt
11. The Psychic Alliance - No Fixed Address
12. Port Juvee - Mania
13. Tom Waits - Frank's Wild Years
14. Tom Waits - Cemetery Polka
15. Tom Waits - Jockey Full of Bourbon
16. Mogwai - Punk Rock
17. Secret Bad Boy - Chicken
18. Carbonas - Lost Cause
19. Shocked Minds - You Want Me To Stay
20. Durango 95 - Forget About Me
21. Tandoori Knights - Dress On
22. Light Bulb Alley - Cut Me Loose
23. Betrayers - Spit Hood
24. The Fall - Craigness
25. Howlin' Wolf - Mister Airplane Man
26. Tom Waits - Big Black Mariah
27. Tom Waits - Rain Dogs

To download this weeks program, visit CJAM's schedule page for Revolution Rock and download the file for July 22.


Show 666 (An almost all horror themed episode) (Originally Aired On July 15th, 2017):

1. The Mummies - The House On The Hill
2. The Sadies - Friendly Devil
3. Pow Wows - Shock Corridor
4. Suspicions - Nocturne
5. No Museums - This Western
6. Comet Gain - Ripped Up Suit!
7. Dusty Mush - I Ate Your Dog
8. The Stones - At The Café
9. Damaged Bug - Mood Slime
10. Ty Segall - Black Magick
11. The Belle Isles - Detroit Sound
12. Cat Wranguleur - Little Witch
13. Cub - My Chinchilla
14. The Mockers - Madalena
15. Buddy Lee & The Satellites - Countdown
16. Deja Voodoo - (Some Things Just Don't) Wash Off
17. Deja Voodoo - Monsters In My Garage Got Married
18. Beat Happening - Bury The Hammer
19. Soft Serve - Phantasm
20. Adam Strangler - Crossed
21. The Wooden Sky - Swimming In Strange Waters
22. Dion Lunadon - White Fence
23. 13 Engines - Dirty Little Rat (Brave New Waves Session)
24. Walrus - Later Days
25. Kid Congo Powers & The Pink Monkeybirds - Psychic Future
26. X - Devil Doll
27. Mission Of Burma - Red
28. Misfits - I Turned Into A Martian
29. Black Lips - Occidental Front

To download this weeks program, visit CJAM's schedule page for Revolution Rock and download the file for July 15.

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