Tom Waits-Heartattack and Vine-Vinyl.

Label: Anti.

In June 1980, thirty year old Tom Waits began work on his sixth studio album, Heartattack and Vine, which was the last album he released on David Geffen’s Asylum Records. The Asylum Records’ years had been frustrating for Tom Waits, who had released his debut album Closing Time in September 1973 and followed this up with The Heart of Saturday Night in October 1974. Although both albums were future classics, they never came close to troubling the American charts. However, across the Atlantic, where Tom Waits had a cult following, both album were eventually certified gold.

Nighthawks At The Diner.

After releasing two studio albums, Tom Waits returned in October 1975 with  Nighthawks At The Diner, which had been recorded in front of an invited audience. This genre-melting live album was released to critical acclaim and reached 164 in the US Billboard 200. Nighthawks At The Diner was Tom Waits first album to chart in America, and in Britain, was certified sliver. By then, Tom Waits’ popularity was growing in Britain.

Small Change.

Just under years later, Tom Waits returned with his much-anticipated third studio album, Small Change, in September 1976, which was produced by Bones Howe. By then, Tom Waits had been worn down by his gruelling touring schedule, which was taking its toll on his health and to make matters worse, he was now drinking heavily. It was a tough time for Tom Waits, but he managed to write and record another powerful album, albeit one that was quite different to its predecessors.

His new album Small Change featured a much more cynical Tom Waits  and a pessimistic mood pervaded the album. That was no surprise, because before writing the album, he had headed to Skid Row, in LA, where he hung around whilst looking for inspiration. This worked and he wrote The Piano Has Been Drinking and Bad Liver and A Broken Heart which were accurate portrayals of alcoholism. These two songs were part of an album that was released to critical acclaim, but failed commercially in America. Meanwhile, Small Change sold well in Britain and was certified silver, while the album was certified gold in Australia. Buoyed by the success of Small Change Tom Waits began working on the followup.

Foreign Affairs.

Just a year later, Tom Waits released Foreign Affairs in September 1977, which featured his duet with Bette Middler I Never Talk to Strangers. It was part of an album that Tom Waits wanted to sound like a film-noir soundtrack, and even the photo George Hurrell shot album cover had to fit the filmic image. Critics on hearing the cinematic sounding Foreign Affairs were won over by Tom Waits’ fourth studio album. However, just like  his previous albums, Foreign Affairs passed American record buyers by. It was a similar case in Britain and Australia where Tom Waits was a popular draw. This was a huge disappointment for the thirty-two year old singer-songwriter.

Blue Valentine.

Despite the failure of Small Change, Tam Waits soon began writing his fifth album Blue Valentine, which was recorded over six sessions that took place between July and August 1978. 

Just a month later in September 1978, Blue Valentine was released and was well received by the majority of critics. Blue Valentine featured Tom Waits’ trademark lived-in, worldweary vocal and saw him combine blues and jazz. Straight away, he bowled a curveball by opening the album with a cover of Somewhere from West Side Story. After that, Tom Waits documented the dark underbelly of life on the wrong side of town on Christmas Card from A Hooker In Minneapolis, Romeo Is Bleeding, Wrong Side Of The Road, Whistlin’ Past the Graveyard and A Sweet Little Bullet From A Pretty Blue Gun. Blue Valentine was a compelling album and although it made no impression on the American charts, was certified gold in Britain.  This was a relief for Tam Waits, who only had one album left on his contract with Asylum Records.

Heartattack and Vine.

With his contract with Asylum Records about to expire, Tom Waits realised that his next album Heartattack and Vine, which was recently released by Anti, was one of the most important of his career. If Heartattack and Vine was a success, David Geffen might renew his contract, or another record label would offer him a recording a contract. With that in mind, Tam Waits began work on Heartattack and Vine.

Over the next few weeks and months, thirty-four year old Tom Waits wrote eight new songs and the instrumental In Shades. These nine tracks he planned to record with engineer and producer Bones Howe who had produced most of his previous albums.

The recording sessions began on June the ’16th’ and continued until July the ’15th 1980 at Filmways/Heider Studio B, Hollywood, California, with Bones Howe taking charge of engineering and production, while Jerry Yester returned to look after some of the orchestral arrangements. Bob Alcivar was responsible for the rest of the orchestral arrangements as well as the string arrangements on Heartattack and Vine. 

Meanwhile, Tom Waits played piano, electric guitar and added vocals on what was his sixth album  Heartattack and Vine. During the sessions, different musicians were used for different tracks which meant drummer Big John Thomassie was joined by bassists Greg Cohen, Jim Hughart and Larry Taylor and Roland Bautista who played guitar and 12-string guitar. They were augmented by pianists Michael Lang and Ronnie Barron who also played Hammond organ. Completing the band was percussionist Victor Feldman and Plas Johnson who played baritone and tenor saxophonist. After a nearly a month, Tom Waits and his band had recorded his all important sixth studio album Heartattack and Vine.

Asylum Records scheduled the release of Heartattack and Vine for September 1980.  It found Tom Waits turning his back on the jazzier style that was a feature of previous albums for bluesy vampish vocals. Meanwhile, some of the lush, orchestrated arrangements hinted at fifties soundtracks and are very much a reminder of another era. The same can be said of Tom Waits, who is part poet, part lyricist and social commentator as he continues to dig deep into the dark underbelly of American society. In doing so, he documents the life of dreamers, schemers, chancers and romancers who live their life on the wrong side of the railroad tracks.

Just like previous albums, Heartattack and Vine is rich in imagery as Tom Waits paints pictures of America that many of citizens or tourist don’t or won’t want to see. Meanwhile, hipster hobo deploys rhythms during the album that are best described as off kilter, while sometimes, the guitars often have a nastier, gnarled sound. Similarly, Tom Waits vocals are quite different from his first couple of albums maybe his carousing and nocturnal, hard-living lifestyle was affecting his delivery? Sometimes it sounds as gargles with kerosene in the morning before existing on a daily diet Marlboro and Jack Daniels. Gravelly, lived-in and worldweary describes Tom Waits’ vocal by the time Heartattack and Vine was recorded. It was an album that looked like it marked the end of an era, because maybe, Tom Waits was about to leave Asylum Records. However, would he leave on a high?

The title-track opens Heartattack and Vine with bursts of gnarled, searing guitars, rhythm section, percussion and saxophone accompany Tom Waits as he delivers a menacing vocal. Very different is the instrumental In Shades, which is a slow blues. There’s then a sense of melancholy as Tom Waits lays bare his soul and delivers a worldweary vocal during the tear jerker Saving All My Love For You. Washes of Hammond organ open Downtown, which is a rich in imagery as Tom Waits delivers a vocal powerhouse whilst painting pictures as his band fuse blues and jazz. Jersey Girl is a wistful sounding, orchestrated ballad that has a confessional quality and finds Tom Waits paying tribute to The Drifters. However, Jersey Girl sounds as if it’s been inspired by Bruce Springsteen, who played the song in his sets during the early eighties.

Tom Waits drivers a gnarled vocal on ‘Til The Money Runs Out which finds hipster hobo at his poetic best. He then delivers a boastful vocal full of machismo and bravado on Mr. Siegal against a jangling tack piano. It’s all change on Ruby’s Arms which closes Heartattack and Vine, with horns then strings providing a backdrop for a pessimistic Tom Waits, who delivers  a lived-in vocal that is full sadness and despair. It seems that he’s saved the best until last on Heartattack and Vine.

Before the release of Heartattack and Vine, critics had their say on Tom Waits sixth album, and the majority were won over by an album that quite rightly received plaudits and praise. This augured well for the release of Heartattack and Vine in early September 1980.

Upon the release of Heartattack and Vine on the ‘6th’ of September 1980, the album spent three months on the US Billboard 200 and peaked at ninety-six. Meanwhile, Heartattack and Vine broke into the top forty in Australia, and reached thirty in the album charts. In Britain where Tom Waits was popular, Heartattack and Vine failed to trouble the charts and was the one that got away.

After the release of Heartattack and Vine, Tom Waits decided to leave Asylum Records and signed to Chris Blackwell’s Island Records. This was a new chapter in his career and began with the release of Swordfishtrombones in 1983. This was followed by 1985s Rain Dogs, 1987s Frank’s Wild Years, the live album Big Time and 1992s Bone Machine which won Tom Waits a Grammy Award for the Best Alternative Album. The following year, Tom Waits released The Black Rider in 1993, which was his swan-song for Island Records.

Next stop was Anti, where Tom Waits released the million selling album Mule Variations in 1999. After a gap of three years, Tom Waits returned with two albums in May 2002 Blood Money and Alice. Two years later, Tom Waits returned in 2004 with Real Gone, and after a five-year wait released Glitter and Doom Live in 2009. However, it wasn’t until 2011 that Tom Waits returned with his sixteenth studio album Bad As Me. Sadly, that was the last that was heard of Tom Waits.

That was until he started remastering and reissuing the six albums he released for Asylum Records, including Heartattack and Vine, which marked the end of an era. Just like Closing Time and The Heart Of Saturday Night, Heartattack and Vine is one of the best albums that Tom Waits released for David Geffen’s Asylum Records. During the seven-year period between 1973 and 1980, Tom Waits released six studio albums and the live album Nighthawks At The Diner. These albums include some of the best music that Tom Waits has released during a five decade career.

On Heartattack and Vine which closes the Asylum Records’ years, Tom Waits continues to document the dark underbelly of American life, and the dreamers, schemers, chancers and romancers who live on wrong side of the railroad tracks, as only he can do.

Tom Waits-Heartattack and Vine-Vinyl.

1 Comment

  1. Madeleine Gomez

    Fascinating review and life on tour always sounds brutal which you make very clear in this piece.

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