1983: Swordfishtrombones

Tom Waits. A great songwriter, but an acquired taste.

His music has been covered by Joe Bonamassa (at least twice), Steve Earle, The Ramones, Rod Stewart (at least thrice), Bruce Springsteen, Eagles, Bob Seger (at least twice), Robert Plant, and many, many others.

This may have been the most bizarre album to have been released in 1983. There’s no way of telling, because no one has heard every album released in any given year.

But coming from a guy who started his career off with a few albums of boozy, late night, closing time bar music and even collaborated with Bette Midler, this is quite the change in style.

He’s always been a great songwriter, but here’s where he broke out with the first truly essential album which would define the rest of his career.

Always singing with whiskey soaked & nicotine dried vocal chords, he began singing (sometimes shouting), maybe even barking, his lyrics to percussive music that sounds like it could be played in a hellish carnival scene in a movie.

But it was a refreshing change of pace for a man whose music was starting to become unexciting and predictable. Even Bob Seger recognized the brilliance behind Swordfishtrombones‘ “16 Shells from a Thirty-Ought Six” and covered it to great effect 12 years later on his It’s a Mystery album.

Seger would even cover “Downtown Train” (from Wait’s follow up Rain Dogs) the same year that Rod Stewart had a hit with it.

1983 was an interesting year for music with debut albums from Metallica and REM, and classic albums from Iron Maiden, ZZ Top, U2, The Police, and Yes. But the most interesting album of the year came from Tom Waits, even if it isn’t one that you’d listen to often, let alone crank during a summer car ride.