Rain Dogs

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Rain Dogs
Tom Waits - Rain Dogs.png
Studio album by Tom Waits
Released 30 September 1985
Recorded RCA Studios
Genre Rock, experimental rock, blues
Length 53:46
Label Island
Producer Tom Waits
Tom Waits chronology
Rain Dogs
Franks Wild Years

Rain Dogs is the eighth album by American singer-songwriter Tom Waits, released in September 1985 on Island Records.[1] A loose concept album about "the urban dispossessed" of New York City, Rain Dogs is generally considered the middle album of a trilogy that includes Swordfishtrombones and Franks Wild Years.[2]

The album, which includes appearances by guitarists Keith Richards and Marc Ribot, is noted for its broad spectrum of musical styles and genres, described by Rolling Stone as merging "Kurt Weill, pre-rock integrity from old dirty blues, [and] the elegiac melancholy of New Orleans funeral brass, into a singularly idiosyncratic American style."[3]

The album peaked at #29 on the UK charts[4] and #188 on the US Billboard Top 200. In 1989, it was ranked #21 on the Rolling Stone list of the "100 greatest albums of the 1980s." In 2003, the album was ranked number 397 on the magazine's list of "The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time".

Composition and recording[edit]

Waits wrote the majority of the album in a two-month stint in the fall of 1984 in a basement room at the corner of Washington and Horatio Streets in Manhattan. According to Waits, it was:

kind of a rough area, Lower Manhattan between Canal and 14th street, just about a block from the river ... It was a good place for me to work. Very quiet, except for the water coming through the pipes every now and then. Sort of like being in a vault.[5]

In preparation for the album, Waits recorded street sounds and other ambient noises on a cassette recorder in order to get the sound of the city that would be the album's subject matter.[6]

A wide range of instruments were employed to achieve the album's sound, including marimba, accordion, double bass, trombone, and banjo, indicating the many different musical directions spread across Rain Dogs. Coming as it did in the mid 1980s—when most musicians depended on synthesizers, drum machines, and studio techniques to create their music—the album is notable for its organic sound, and the means by which it was achieved. Waits, discussing his mistrust of then fashionable studio techniques, said:

If I want a sound, I usually feel better if I've chased it and killed it, skinned it and cooked it. Most things you can get with a button nowadays. So if I was trying for a certain drum sound, my engineer would say: "Oh, for Christ's sake, why are we wasting our time? Let's just hit this little cup with a stick here, sample something (take a drum sound from another record) and make it bigger in the mix, don't worry about it." I'd say, "No, I would rather go in the bathroom and hit the door with a piece of two-by-four very hard."[7]

Waits also stated that "if we couldn't get the right sound out of the drum set we'd get a chest of drawers in the bathroom and bang it real hard with a two-by-four," such that "the sounds become your own."[8]

Rain Dogs was the first time that Waits worked with guitarist Marc Ribot,[9] who was impressed by Waits' unusual studio presence:

Rain Dogs was my first major label type recording, and I thought everybody made records the way Tom makes records. ... I've learned since that it's a very original and individual way of producing. As producer apart from himself as writer and singer and guitar player he brings in his ideas, but he's very open to sounds that suddenly and accidentally occur in the studio. I remember one verbal instruction being, "Play it like a midget's bar mitzvah."[10]

Ribot also recalls how the band would not rehearse the songs before going to record; rather, Waits would play them the songs on an acoustic guitar in the studio.

He had this ratty old hollow body, and he would spell out the grooves. It wasn't a mechanical kind of recording at all. He has a very individual guitar style he sort of slaps the strings with his thumb ... He let me do what I heard, there was a lot of freedom. If it wasn't going in a direction he liked, he'd make suggestions. But there's damn few ideas I've had which haven't happened on the first or second take.[10]

The album marks the first time Waits recorded with guitarist Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones.[11] Waits said:

There was something in there that I thought he would understand. I picked out a couple of songs that I thought he would understand and he did. He's got a great voice and he's just a great spirit in the studio. He's very spontaneous, he moves like some kind of animal. I was trying to explain "Big Black Mariah" and finally I started to move in a certain way and he said, "Oh, why didn't you do that to begin with? Now I know what you're talking about." It's like animal instinct.[12]

According to Barney Hoskyns, the album's general theme of "the urban dispossessed" was inspired in part by Martin Bell's 1984 documentary Streetwise, to which Waits had been asked to contribute music.[13]


Though it has been remarked that the man on the cover bears a striking resemblance to Waits, the photograph is actually one of a series taken by the Swedish photographer Anders Petersen at Café Lehmitz (a café near the Hamburg red-light boulevard Reeperbahn) in the late 1960s. The man and woman depicted on the cover are called Rose and Lily.

The cover-text resembles - in placement and font - Elvis Presley's self-titled debut album, as well as The Clash's London Calling. The European version of the cover features red rather than blue text, as in the former albums.

Critical reception[edit]

Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
AllMusic 5/5 stars[14]
Blender 4/5 stars[15]
Mojo 5/5 stars[16]
Q 5/5 stars[17]
The Rolling Stone Album Guide 5/5 stars[18]
The Village Voice B+[19]

The album has been noted as one of the most important musically and critically in Waits' career, in particular to the new direction which he undertook from 1983's Swordfishtrombones onwards. AllMusic critic William Ruhlmann wrote: Rain Dogs can't surprise as Swordfishtrombones had." Nevertheless, Ruhlman further commented that "much of the music matches the earlier album, and there is so much of it that that is enough to qualify Rain Dogs as one of Waits' better albums."[14] Music critic Robert Christgau stated that Waits "worked out a unique and identifiable lounge-lizard sound that suits his status as the poet of America's non-nine-to-fivers."[19]

In his 1985 review for Rolling Stone, Anthony Decurtis gave the album a mixed review, writing: "Rain Dogs insists on nosing its way around the barrooms and back alleys Waits has so often visited before."[20] However, in a more recent review in 2002, Rolling Stone critic Arion Berger praised the album, describing the music as "bony and menacingly beautiful." Berger also observed that "it's quirky near-pop, the all-pro instrumentation pushing Waits' not-so-melodic but surprisingly flexible vocals out front, where his own peculiar freak flag, his big heart and his romantic optimism gloriously fly."[3]

Pitchfork Media listed Rain Dogs as 8th best album of the 1980s.[21] Slant Magazine listed the album at number 14 on its list of "Best Albums of the 1980s".[22] Rolling Stone listed it as number 21 on its list of "100 Best Albums of the Eighties."[23]

Track listing[edit]

All songs written and composed by Tom Waits except where noted.

Side one

No. Title Writer(s) Length
1. "Singapore"     2:46
2. "Clap Hands"     3:47
3. "Cemetery Polka"     1:51
4. "Jockey Full of Bourbon"     2:45
5. "Tango Till They're Sore"     2:49
6. "Big Black Mariah"     2:44
7. "Diamonds & Gold"     2:31
8. "Hang Down Your Head"   Kathleen Brennan, Waits 2:32
9. "Time"     3:55

Side two

No. Title Length
10. "Rain Dogs"   2:56
11. "Midtown" (instrumental) 1:00
12. "9th & Hennepin"   1:58
13. "Gun Street Girl"   4:37
14. "Union Square"   2:24
15. "Blind Love"   4:18
16. "Walking Spanish"   3:05
17. "Downtown Train"   3:53
18. "Bride of Rain Dog" (instrumental) 1:07
19. "Anywhere I Lay My Head"   2:48
Total length:


All personnel credits adapted from the album's liner notes.[24]

Chart positions[edit]


  • Hoskyns, Barney (2009). Lowside of the Road. (London: Faber and Faber)
  1. ^ Paul Maher (1 Aug 2011). Tom Waits on Tom Waits: Interviews and Encounters. Chicago Review Press. p. 151. Retrieved 3 July 2012. 
  2. ^ "Amazon Rain Dogs review". amazon.com. 
  3. ^ a b Berger, Arion (October 2002). "Tom Waits - Rain Dogs". Rolling Stone 907. 
  4. ^ http://www.theofficialcharts.com/archive-chart/_/3/1985-10-26/
  5. ^ Hoskyns 2009, pp. 307–308
  6. ^ Hoskyns 2009, p. 308
  7. ^ "The Sultan Of Sleaze: In Interview with YOU Magazine". Tom Waits Library. 1985. 
  8. ^ "The 100 Greatest Albums of the 1980s," Rolling Stone issue 565, November 16, 1989.
  9. ^ Jay S. Jacobs (28 May 2006). Wild Years: The Music And Myth of Tom Waits. ECW Press. p. 138. Retrieved 3 July 2012. 
  10. ^ a b "Comments and anecdotes On Waits". Tom Waits Library. 
  11. ^ Waits later contributed vocals and piano to The Rolling Stones album Dirty Work, and Richards later contributed vocals and guitar to the track "That Feel" on Waits' 1992 album Bone Machine, as well as several tracks on 2012's Bad as Me.
  12. ^ "Big Black Mariah lyrics". Tom Waits Library. 
  13. ^ Hoskyns 2009, pp. 308–309
  14. ^ a b Ruhlmann, William. "Rain Dogs – Tom Waits". AllMusic. Retrieved February 6, 2015. 
  15. ^ Blender link[dead link]
  16. ^ "Tom Waits – Rain Dogs CD". CD Universe. Retrieved February 6, 2015. 
  17. ^ "Rain Dogs". Q: 101. October 1992. 
  18. ^ Brackett, Nathan; Hoard, Christian David, eds. (2004). The New Rolling Stone Album Guide. Simon & Schuster. p. 854. 
  19. ^ a b Christgau, Robert (December 3, 1985). "Christgau's Consumer Guide". The Village Voice. Retrieved February 6, 2015. 
  20. ^ Decurtis, Anthony (November 21, 1985). "Tom Waits - Rain Dogs". Rolling Stone. Retrieved February 6, 2015. 
  21. ^ Dahlen, Chris (November 20, 2002). "Top 100 Albums of the 1980s". Pitchfork. Retrieved February 6, 2015. 
  22. ^ "The 100 Best Albums of the 1980s". Slant Magazine. March 5, 2012. Retrieved February 6, 2015. 
  23. ^ "100 Best Albums of the Eighties". Rolling Stone. November 16, 1989. Retrieved February 6, 2015. 
  24. ^ Rain Dogs (LP). Tom Waits. Island Records. 1985. 207 085-620. 
  25. ^ "Tom Waits – Rain Dogs". dutchcharts.nl. Hung Medien. Retrieved July 26, 2012. 
  26. ^ "Tom Waits – Rain Dogs". norwegiancharts.com. Hung Medien. Retrieved July 26, 2012. 
  27. ^ "Tom Waits – Rain Dogs". swedishcharts.com. Hung Medien. Retrieved July 26, 2012. 
  28. ^ "Tom Waits | Artist | Official Charts". The Official Charts Company. Retrieved July 26, 2012. 
  29. ^ Rain Dogs – Tom Waits: Awards at AllMusic. Retrieved July 26, 2012.
  30. ^ "Tom Waits – Rain Dogs". austriancharts.at. Hung Medien. Retrieved July 26, 2012. 
  31. ^ "Tom Waits – Rain Dogs". charts.org.nz. Hung Medien. Retrieved July 26, 2012. 
  32. ^ "Canadian album certifications – Tom Waits – Rain Dogs". Music Canada. Retrieved July 26, 2012. 

External links[edit]