Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Tom Waits Covers #5: Bette Midler

Most Tom Waits fans are familiar with I Never Talk to Strangers, his bar-room duet with Bette Midler from the 1977 album Foreign Affairs. Fewer people know that the incongruous pair also enjoyed a lengthy on-off relationship in the late 70s.

MP3: Tom Waits & Bette Midler - I Never Talk To Strangers

Buy: Amazon | 7digital

This was during Waits' down-at-heal years when he called the infamous Tropicana Motel in Los Angeles his home.

According to Barney Hoskyns' new biography Lowside of the Road Waits' digs were such a tip that he didn't want his new gal seeing the place. Hoskyns quotes Midler, "Tom lives... sort of knee-deep in grunge so he was kind of reluctant to invite me over. I grew up in lots of clutter myself and delicate I ain't, so I kept after him till he finally invited me over".

Bette Midler first encountered Waits when he played a gig at the Bottom Line in New York in 1974 and was bowled over by songs from his brand new album The Heart of Saturday Night. Presumably Shiver Me Timbers was on the set list.

MP3: Tom Waits - Shiver Me Timbers

Buy: Amazon | 7digital

I'd not actually heard Midler's version until my friend Pete Marsh suggested it after my post on Sara Watkins' new Tom Waits cover. It's from Bette's third album, the brilliantly titled Songs for the New Depression (1976), which is notable also for her duet with Bob Dylan on Buckets of Rain. Pete warned that, "It may well be a bit Streisand-ish for you". I heard a live version recorded later which did sound a little Vegas lounge but this original I quite like.

MP3: Bette Midler - Shiver Me Timbers/Samedi et Venredi

Buy: Amazon | 7digital

It's dawned on me that the majority of Tom Waits covers I've posted so far have been by women. What is about songs of sailors, midgets and hard-luck cases that the ladies love so much? If you have any insights I'd like to hear them. Suggestions of other great Tom Waits covers are also most welcome.

Previous Tom Waits Covers
Solomon Burke - Diamond in Your Mind
Bruce Springsteen - Jersey Girl
Tori Amos & Heidi Talbot - Time
Sara Watkins - Pony

Other Related Posts
Songs from the Lowside of the Road - obscure tracks featured in the new biog

Related Links
Tom Waits - official site
The Eyeball Kid - essential Waits news blog
Bette Midler - official site


Azra said...

I love this man!
It´s a fool moon,,,,jajajaja
I don´t speak English very well, but I Would want to let you a message...

I like "Rain Dogs" a lot. What´s your favourite?

Nigel Smith said...

@Azra - thanks for your feedback.

I don't think I can pick a favourite Tom Waits album. I first heard his music in the Jim Jarmusch film Night on Earth. Shortly after that I bought Rain Dogs so I do have a lot of affection for the record and think it's an excellent starting point for people wanting to discover Tom Waits in all his glory.

buttonhead said...

Fantastic! Great photo. Great songs.

stephen said...

Bette also covered Tom Wait's song, "Martha" when she appeared on SNL in 1979.


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