Tom's Diner

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"Tom's Diner"
Single by Suzanne Vega
from the album Solitude Standing
Released April 1, 1987 (1987-04-01)
Format 12" maxi
Recorded 1986 (1986)–1987 (1987), Bearsville Sound Studios, RPM Sound Studios
Genre A cappella
Length 2:09
Label A&M/PolyGram Records
Writer(s) Suzanne Vega
Producer(s) Steve Addabbo
Lenny Kaye
Suzanne Vega singles chronology
"Tom's Diner"
"Solitude Standing"

"Tom's Diner" is a song written in 1981 by American singer-songwriter Suzanne Vega. It was first released as a track on the January 1984 issue of Fast Folk Musical Magazine.[1] When first featured on one of her own studio albums, it appeared as the first track of her Solitude Standing album in 1987. It was later used as the basis for a remix by the British group DNA in 1990. The 1991 release Tom's Album includes the DNA version as well as cover versions by such artists as After One, Chicago-based band Canasta, and Bingo Hand Job (R.E.M. and Billy Bragg).[2] It was also used as the background soundtrack for the opening scene of the 1993 film Untamed Heart.

Original version[edit]

Background and writing[edit]

The real Tom's Restaurant also appeared in Seinfeld.

The "Tom's Diner" of the song is Tom's Restaurant in New York City, which was later fictionalized as Monk's Cafe in Seinfeld.[3][4]

The song is written as a simple first person vignette of someone stopping at a diner for a cup of coffee. The song notes the newspaper as well as two women, one who enters the diner and one who stands outside in the rain. The ringing of bells at a nearby cathedral causes the singer to reminisce on an unnamed companion and a picnic previously. When the coffee is finished, it is time to leave the diner to catch a train.

Vega wrote the song based on a comment by her friend Brian Rose, a photographer, who mentioned that in his work, he sometimes felt as if "he saw his whole life through a pane of glass, and [...] like he was the witness to a lot of things, but was never really involved in them." She attempted to think and write in this fashion (including a male perspective[3]) while sitting at Tom's Restaurant, a diner on the corner of Broadway and 112th Street in New York City, which would later become famous as a location for some exterior scenes in the popular television sitcom Seinfeld. (The building belongs to Columbia University and houses some of its programs, as well as NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies.) The "bells of the cathedral" that she remarks hearing in the song are those of the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine, located one block to the east.

"Tom's Diner Day": The date of the composition[edit]

An article on Suzanne Vega's official Web site[5][6] uses clues in the song to determine the exact date that Vega wrote it.

Vega herself said that she wrote the song sometime in 1982; Brian Rose has said that it was written sometime between mid-1981 and mid-1982. The lyrics of the song refer to a rainy morning, when she was at the diner on the corner, reading in her newspaper of "a story of an actor / who had died while he was drinking", and afterwards "turning to the horoscope / and looking for the funnies". Only two newspapers in New York City carried comic strips, or "funnies", in 1981 and 1982, and only one, the New York Post, featured a front-page story of the death of William Holden (star of Bridge on the River Kwai), whose body was discovered on Monday, November 16, 1981. He had died from a fall at his apartment, suffered after drinking excessively. The story in the Post concerning Holden's death was not carried until two days later on Wednesday, November 18, which is taken to be the exact date of the composition.

On that day in New York, however, the weather was not rainy, but overcast. Vega has acknowledged that "Tom's Diner" features a composite of events, and that the rain was from a morning she remembered being in the diner during the spring of 1982, after the initial events of the song.

At a concert in the Exhibition Hall of Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, on Friday November 18, 2011, Vega performed "Tom's Diner" as the final song of her second set; Dublin-born guitarist Gerry Leonard accompanied her. Beforehand she explained to the audience that the day marked the 30th anniversary of the one on which she wrote the song. She also noted in a self-deprecating manner that the actor who had died while he was drinking was William Holden and that, despite his fame, she indeed had never heard of him until the morning when she read about his death.

Music and lyrics[edit]

Vega originally conceived "Tom's Diner" as a piece for voice and solo piano. Two versions feature on her album Solitude Standing; the album opens with an a cappella version, and closes with an instrumental version played on keyboards, with guitars lending support.

It has been suggested[by whom?] that Vega's layered singing was originally intended to be overlaid on top of the instrumental version, but that Vega and her producers ultimately preferred the effect of two separate versions of the tune. Vega's a cappella recording of the song is extremely sparse – no vocal effects are used except her singing voice – and clocks in at slightly over two minutes long. It was not released as a single; the song "Luka", which follows it on the album, was released as a successful single.

Vega opened her appearance at the Prince's Trust Concert on June 20, 1986 with an a cappella rendition of "Tom's Diner" to confront stage fright, intending to walk off stage afterwards if it wasn't well received. It was, and she performed a full and equally well-received set.[citation needed]

During the 2006 Major League Baseball season, Cincinnati Reds player Ryan Freel used this song as his entrance song when he came to bat.

The "Mother of the MP3"[edit]

An article in the now defunct magazine Business 2.0 revealed that "Tom's Diner" was also used by Karlheinz Brandenburg to develop the audio compression scheme known as MP3 at what is now the Fraunhofer Society. He recalled:

I was ready to fine-tune my compression algorithm...somewhere down the corridor, a radio was playing "Tom's Diner." I was electrified. I knew it would be nearly impossible to compress this warm a cappella voice.[7]

In a 2009 documentary about the history of the song by Swedish SVT, Brandenburg said:

I was finishing my PhD thesis, and then I was reading some hi-fi magazine and found that they had used this song to test loudspeakers. I said "OK, let's test what this song does to my sound system, to mp3". And the result was, at bit rates where everything else sounded quite nice, Suzanne Vega's voice sounded horrible.[8]

Brandenburg adopted the song for testing purposes, listening to it again and again each time he refined the scheme, making sure it did not adversely affect the subtlety of Vega's voice. While the MP3 compression format is not specifically tuned to play the song "Tom's Diner" (an assortment of critically analyzed material was involved in the design of the codec over many years), among audio engineers this anecdote has earned Vega the informal title "The Mother of the MP3".[9]

Track listings[edit]

12" maxi
  1. "Tom's Diner"
  2. "Left of Center"
  3. "Tom's Diner" (live)
  4. "Luka" (live)


Chart (1987)[10][11] Peak
Denmark (Tracklisten)[12] 24
Ireland (IRMA) 16
Sweden (Sverigetopplistan)[13] 56
UK Singles (The Official Charts Company) 58

The DNA remix[edit]

"Tom's Diner (DNA Remix)"
Single by DNA featuring Suzanne Vega
B-side Remix
Released September 18, 1990 (US)
Format CD single, CD maxi, 7" single,
12" maxi
Genre Trip hop, downtempo
Length 3:47
Label A&M, PolyGram Records
Writer(s) Steve Addabbo
Lenny Kaye
Suzanne Vega
Producer(s) Steve Addabbo
Lenny Kaye
Suzanne Vega chronology
"Men in a War"
"Tom's Diner"
"In Liverpool"
Audio sample
file info · help


In 1990, two British record producers remixed "Tom's Diner", grafting her vocals onto a dance beat from Soul II Soul and turning her simple ad-libbed outro – "Doo doo doo doo, doo da-doo doo" – into the song's driving hook. Without permission from Vega, her record label, or publisher, the duo released the remix on a limited basis for distribution to clubs as "Oh Suzanne" by "DNA featuring Suzanne Vega". Vega's record company of the time, A&M, decided to buy[citation needed] and release the remix rather than take DNA to court for copyright infringement. A&M struck the deal after consulting with Vega, who liked the interpretation,[14] and DNA, who conducted the transaction through intermediaries without revealing their true identities.[citation needed] The remix became a much larger hit than Vega had with the song originally, peaking at #2 on the UK singles chart and #5 on the US Billboard Hot 100, and it became one of a handful of tracks to chart in the top 10 of both the Modern Rock Tracks (#7) and Billboard R&B Tracks (#10) charts. A music video was also made of this version.

Track listings[edit]

CD maxi
  1. "Tom's Diner" (7" A) – 3:47
  2. "Tom's Diner" by Suzanne Vega – 2:39
  3. "Tom's Diner" (a cappella) by Suzanne Vega – 2:08
  4. "Tom's Diner" (12" A) – 5:20
7" single
  1. "Tom's Diner" – 3:47)
  2. "Tom's Diner" (a cappella) by Suzanne Vega – 2:08
12" maxi
  1. "Tom's Diner" (remix) - This version, containing a piano with a solo part, has never been released on CD or MP3 yet.
  2. "Tom's Diner" by Suzanne Vega
  3. "Tom's Diner" (a cappella) by Suzanne Vega


The song spawned a number of hip hop, dance, and rock remixes and remakes from artists such as Peter Behrens (drummer from Trio) and Bingo Hand Job, a whimsical one-time collaboration between Billy Bragg and R.E.M. It was also sampled in songs by Public Enemy, Nikki D, Twin Hype, and Lil' Kim, among other hip hop acts.

In 1991, Vega, noting the huge number of remakes of the song, released Tom's Album, a compilation of different versions of the song, spanning a variety of musical genres, including a parody by Mark Jonathan Davis[15] that worked in references to I Dream of Jeannie called "Jeannie's Diner," which Nick-at-Nite would use to promote its airings of the show. The album also featured another DNA remix of one of her songs, "Rusted Pipe." On the album's sleeve, Vega wrote: "A small song about eating breakfast became a song about accidental pregnancy (Daddy's Little Girl – Nikki D.) and the recent war in the Gulf (Waiting at the Border). One version incorporates forgotten bits of pop culture (Jeannie's Diner). All of them surprised me; a couple made me wince. I include them anyway."[16]


"Tom's Diner" lyrics were sampled (along with Vega's "Luka") by the rap duo Felt on their song "Suzanne Vega" from their album Felt: A Tribute to Christina Ricci. The lyrics have also been sampled for B-Real's song "Don't Ya Dare Laugh", off his 2009 Smoke N Mirrors album.

Lil' Kim recorded her own version of the song called "Right Now" featured on her second album The Notorious K.I.M. released in 2000.

The song has also been re-invented posthumously by 2Pac, for his song "Dopefiend's Diner" on Best of 2Pac. More recently, hip-hop artist Drake has used the sample on a track titled "Juice". The track appeared on promotional mixtapes in 2009. Underground rapper Steve Spag (from Windsor, ON) released a remix titled "Racin' For Answers" and was the single off his March 2010 album Ready Or Not. Miami based hip-hop group Git Fresh also used it for their single "She Be Like". Rapper Yo Gotti used the beat in his song "Standing in the Kitchen". The underground hip-hop artist Logic used the beat in his song "Are You Ready" on his mixtape Young Sinatra.

The "Do do do do do do do do" part of the song was sampled in "Weird Al" Yankovic's polka medley "Polka Your Eyes Out" and during the bridge of Danny!'s "Not the One".

It's also featured on "Centuries" by American rock band Fall Out Boy, released in 2014, and in "Keep Moving" by Adam Deacon & Bashy feat Paloma Faith. It was in the film directed by Noel Clarke.

The song was sampled in Aaliyah's single "Hot Like Fire".

A sample was used throughout the song, "It's All Good (TO's Diner)" by Triangle Offense.

AR Rahman seems to have used this tune in the ad for Craze Biscuits.[17]

On July 28, 2012, Suzanne Vega and the Soul Rebels Brass Band shared the stage and performed "Tom's Diner" together at the inaugural 2012 Boston Summer Arts Weekend in Copley Square.[18]

Portuguese singer Mickael Carreira samples this song in his 2013 collaboration with Snoop Dogg "A Força Está Em Nós".[19]


Chart successions[edit]

Preceded by
"Verdammt, ich lieb' dich" by Matthias Reim
German number-one single
September 7 – October 19, 1990
Succeeded by
"I've Been Thinking About You" by Londonbeat
Austrian number-one single
October 7 – November 4, 1990
Preceded by
"It Must Have Been Love" by Roxette
Swiss number-one single
October 22, 1990
Succeeded by
"It Must Have Been Love" by Roxette

Other covers[edit]

Jazz musician Ivo Perelman recorded "Tom's Diner" on his CD The Children of Ibeji (1991) as an Albert Ayler-ish improvisation, with Guilherme Franco featured on electric berimbau.

Italian pop/hip-hop duo Karmah released a new version of "Tom's Diner" on their album Be Good To Me.

Kevin Cossom sampled the song is his 2009 song "I Got Paper."

Erin McCarley covers "Tom's Diner" at live shows, while her keyboardist beatboxes the score.

The House producers "Bingo Players" covered the song in their 2010 song "Tom's Diner"

Australian Producers Anna Lunoe & Wordlife covered "Tom's Diner" in 2012 with Anna Lunoe performing Suzanne's vocals.

In 2014, American rock band Fall Out Boy sampled the track for their song "Centuries". Singer Lolo also provided vocals for the intro and bridge.

B.o.B. and Mike Posner sampled the song in their 2014 song "In My Zone."


  1. ^ (Retrieved April 14, 2008)
  2. ^ Bingo Hand Job on Discogs (Retrieved January 7th 2011)
  3. ^ a b (Retrieved April 14, 2008)
  4. ^ Suzanne Vega on NY Times Measure for Measure Blog [1] (Retrieved September 24, 2008)
  5. ^ David Hammar. ""Tom's Diner Day" November 18th, 1981". The Official Suzanne Vega Website. Archived from the original on 9 March 2007. Retrieved 27 March 2011. 
  6. ^ "Tom's Diner". Retrieved 27 March 2011. 
  7. ^ Suzanne Vega Fun Facts (official Web site)
  8. ^ Sveriges Television, Hitlåtens historia: Tom's Diner – Suzanne Vega. Aired 6 February 2010. [2]
  9. ^ Jürgen Herre. "Suzanne Vega". Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft. Retrieved 2013-12-31. 
  10. ^ a b Irish Single Chart (Retrieved April 10, 2008)
  11. ^ UK Singles Chart (Retrieved April 10, 2008)
  12. ^ " – Suzanne Vega – Tom's Diner". Tracklisten.
  13. ^ " – Suzanne Vega – Tom's Diner". Singles Top 60.
  14. ^ Beadle, Jeremy (1993), Will Pop Eat Itself?, Faber and Faber, p. 207, ISBN 0-571-16241-X 
  15. ^
  16. ^ Vega, Suzanne (1991), Tom's Album (LP record sleeve notes), A&M Records, 395 363-1 
  17. ^ Video on YouTube
  18. ^ Rettig, James (September 8, 2014). "Hear Fall Out Boy Sample Suzanne Vega’s "Tom’s Diner" On New Single "Centuries"". Stereogum. Retrieved 2014-09-23. 
  19. ^
  20. ^ " – DNA feat. Suzanne Vega – Tom's Diner". ARIA Top 50 Singles.
  21. ^ " – DNA feat. Suzanne Vega – Tom's Diner" (in German). Ö3 Austria Top 40.
  22. ^ " – DNA feat. Suzanne Vega – Tom's Diner" (in Dutch). Ultratop 50.
  23. ^ "Tom's Diner in Canadian RPM 10 Dance Chart". Library and Archives Canada. Retrieved 5 June 2013. 
  24. ^ Canadian peak
  25. ^ " – DNA feat. Suzanne Vega – Tom's Diner" (in French). Les classement single.
  26. ^ "Chartverfulgong > DNA feat. Suzanne Vega > Tom's Diner –" (in German). Media Control Charts. PhonoNet GmbH.
  27. ^ "Hit Parade Italia - Indice per Interprete: V". Hit Parade Italia. Retrieved July 6, 2012. 
  28. ^ "Nederlandse Top 40 – DNA feat. Suzanne Vega search results" (in Dutch) Dutch Top 40.
  29. ^ " – DNA feat. Suzanne Vega – Tom's Diner". Top 40 Singles.
  30. ^ " – DNA feat. Suzanne Vega – Tom's Diner". Swiss Singles Chart.
  31. ^ UK Singles Chart (Retrieved April 10, 2008)
  32. ^ Hot Dance Club Play Tracks
  33. ^ Hot Dance Music/Maxi-Singles Sales Tracks
  34. ^ Hot 100 Airplay
  35. ^ "1990 Austrian Singles Chart" (in German). austriancharts. Retrieved 12 April 2010. 
  36. ^ "Single top 100 over 1990" (pdf) (in Dutch). Top40. Retrieved 12 April 2010. 
  37. ^ "1990 Swiss Singles Chart" (in German). swisscharts. Retrieved 12 April 2010. 
  38. ^ "Billboard Top 100 – 1991". Retrieved 2009-09-15. 

External links[edit]