Thommy Ford Reads

A blog by the staff of the Thomas Ford Memorial Library

“Step Right Up” by Tom Waits

Track #44 on Thommy Ford’s Playlist


“Step Right Up” is track #2 on the album Small Change: 781.66 WAI

I love Tom Waits’ moody side as much as anyone. Those early records from the ’70s are especially full of slow, minor-key, low-life themed masterpieces. But even early-on, before the gonzo eclecticism of his later work, Waits could throw us a nice curveball now and then. On 1976’s Small Change, “Step Right Up” follows one of Waits’ greatest, darkest lyrics (“Tom Traubert’s Blues”) with an up-tempo parody of a sleazy sales pitch. In between lines that could be ripped from any back-of-a-magazine advert, Waits manages to weave a ridiculous list of negative product claims, “It steals your car… It forges your signature” and so on:

Well it takes weights off hips, bust, thighs, chin, midriff,
Gives you dandruff, and it finds you a job, it is a job
And it strips the phone company free take ten for five exchange,
And it gives you dandruff
And you know it’s a friend, and it’s a companion
And it gets rid of your traveler’s checks

There’s also something else going on in the lyrics that Waits fans will recognize from later songs like “16 Shells from a Thirty-ought-six.” He inserts little references to music where they might otherwise seem out of place: “It plays a mean rhythm master… and it doubles on sax.”

The band, which includes jazz drummer Shelley Manne and saxophonist Lew Tabackin, steams its way right through the song, a perfect accompaniment and a nice approximation of cheesey night-club jazz. But it’s really Waits’ gruff rapid-fire delivery that makes the song work. He’s part auctioneer, part beat poet. It’s a brilliant performance that makes “Step Right Up” stand out as a comic highlight among some of Waits most intense work. Come on in and check it out from our rock section.

Review by Matthew

One comment on ““Step Right Up” by Tom Waits

  1. raehering
    November 3, 2013

    I’ve always been a huge Tom Waits fan!

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This entry was posted on November 3, 2013 by in Music Review, Rock, Thommy Ford's Playlist.
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