Editor’s Note: The Albumism staff has selected what we believe to be the 100 Most Dynamic Debut Albums Ever Made, representing a varied cross-section of genres, styles and time periods. Click “Next Album” below to explore each album or view the full album index here.
Before he was the mad carnival barker of legend, Tom Waits was another ‘70s bar balladeer peddling his hard-luck songs all over LA. But what set Waits apart from Billy Joel and the Eagles was that Waits’ poetry came from deep in the soul, filling out the space between each piano key plunk with beautiful loneliness. Waits heard music in a way no one else did, and as such, delivered it to us in a way that cannot be replicated by anyone but. (Though the Eagles later recorded/ruined “Ol’ 55” because they are monsters undeserving of love.)
There is no love song more perfect than “Little Trip to Heaven (On the Wings of Your Love)” and there is no song sadder than “Martha.” Waits covers the whole spectrum of human longing here, right down to the cheeky sexiness of “Ice Cream Man.” Though there are a few clunkers—“Old Shoes (& Picture Postcards)” is bland by the high standards set by “Rosie” and “Ol’55”—overall, it’s pure and wistful from top to finish.
Waits would refine his songwriting on The Heart of Saturday Night (1974) and by SwordfishTrombones (1983), all but abandon it completely. But Closing Time remains an ever-lovely debut, an album to fall in love to, to miss a lover by, to play on a slow drive under a waning moon or a rising sun.