Song Of The Week: “Step Right Up” by Tom Waits

Most of Tom Waits’ early music sounds to me like Billy Joel at the end of a 16-year-long bender. Backed by his own piano stylings, Waits’ songs paint vivid, unsettling pictures of a life hard lived. His 1976 record Small Change is a perfect example of this. While his later works would explore more abstract sounds and branch out into avant-garde music, Small Change is a dark, brooding collection of tracks with a surprisingly strong melodic center. On the record, the most interesting song sounds the most different from the rest of the tracks – “Step Right Up.” The song is notable for its lyrics, which sound like Waits reading advertisements for novelty items in a 1940s comic book. The lyrics, however, take on an odd, sinister quality when coupled with his backing jazz band which is unbelievably cool. This video is a live performance of the song off of German TV in 1977. The song is slowed down a little and Waits scats the lyrics almost incomprehensibly. At around 5:14 into the song, Waits utters one of my favorite lyrics of all time. Very cool stuff.


About Ryan Felder

My name is Ryan. I like music. On this blog, I post the setlists for my radio show, Art For Art's Sake, as well as reviews of the latest new independent music and a Song Of The Week, every week. You can listen to my radio show on 90.3 The Core, an independent student-run college radio station broadcasting from Rutgers University in Piscataway, New Jersey. My show runs Thursday nights from 12am-2am and streams live on the internet at View all posts by Ryan Felder

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