Closing Time (album)

Closing Time (album)
Closing Time
Studio album by Tom Waits
Released March 1973
Recorded Spring 1972 at Sunset Sound Recorders and United Western Recorders in Hollywood, California
Genre Rock, folk, blues, jazz
Length 45:46
Label Asylum
Producer Jerry Yester
Tom Waits chronology
Closing Time
The Heart of Saturday Night

Closing Time is the debut studio album by American singer-songwriter Tom Waits, released in March 1973 on Asylum Records. Produced and arranged by former Lovin' Spoonful member Jerry Yester, Closing Time was the first of seven of Waits's major releases through Asylum, the final being Heartattack and Vine (1980).

Upon release, the album was mildly successful in the United States, although it did not chart and received little attention from music press in the United Kingdom[1] and elsewhere internationally. The album is noted for being folk and jazz influenced. Critical reaction to Closing Time was positive.[2][3] The album's lead, and only, single, "Ol' '55", attracted attention due to a cover version by Waits's better known label mates The Eagles. Other songs from the album were covered by artists ranging from Tim Buckley[4] to Bette Midler.[5] The album has sold under 500,000 copies in the United States and has gained a contemporary cult following among rock fans.[6] The album has been reissued twice since its initial release, in 1999 and again in 2010.



Tom Waits began his musical career in 1970, performing every Monday night at The Troubadour, a venue in Los Angeles.[7] Waits's setlist at these series of shows, described as "hootenanny nights"[8] consisted primarily of Bob Dylan covers[9] although it included songs which would later appear on Closing Time and its successor, The Heart of Saturday Night (1974), including "Ice Cream Man", "Virginia Avenue", "Ol' '55", "I Hope That I Don't Fall in Love with You", "Shiver Me Timbers" and "Diamonds on my Windshield". Around this time, Waits also began working as a doorman at the nearby club, The Heritage, which was also a coffee house by day. In November 1970, Waits performed his first paid show at the The Heritage, earning $25 for his performance.[10] At a Troubadour performance in summer 1971, Herb Cohen inadvertently spotted Waits and became his manager. Through Cohen's contacts, Waits recorded a number of demos in Los Angeles in late summer 1971 with producer and engineer Robert Duffey, later released as The Early Years in two respective volumes, against Waits's wishes. In order to focus on his career, Waits relocated from San Diego to Los Angeles in early 1972 and performed more frequently at The Troubadour, where David Geffen discovered him performing "Grapefruit Moon."[11] The performance, which "floored" Geffen,[12] led Geffen to negotiate with Waits's manager Cohen and Waits signed to Asylum Records within a month.


Prior to the recording of the album, Waits became friends with his designated producer Jerry Yester and one afternoon in early 1972 recorded a pre-production tape in Yester's residence.[13] The instrumentation, recording arrangements and musicians were also discussed during this session with Waits making "it absolutely clear he wanted a standup bass player."[14] Drummer John Seiter, guitarist Peter Klimes, trumpeter Tony Terran and additional guitarist Shep Cooke were recruited through Yester and through Seiter, jazz bassist Bill Plummer was hired.

The main recording sessions for Closing Time took place at Sunset Sound Recorders in Hollywood, California — where Buffalo Springfield, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young and The Doors had previously recorded — during spring 1972 with Yester fronting production, almost immediately after Waits's signing and were described "quick and efficent."[15] Waits was "nervous, but confident enough in his own material"[15] during the beginning of the sessions, however, as the sessions progressed, Waits and Yester "were pulling against each other" over the direction which the album would take, with Waits wanting a jazz-laden record and Yester more focused on producing a folk-based album. Despite this, Waits was "absolutely communicative"[16] with his fellow musicians; articulating his direction and using metaphors to describe how he wanted the songs to sound. The sessions took a total of ten days with the first two days focusing on "getting used to [the studio]"[17] Both Waits and Yester wanted to record during the evening and night, however, due to no slots being available, recorded through the morning and afternoon "from ten to five every day."[17] During the recording of "Ol' 55", Seiter contributed backing vocals and "came up with a perfect harmony line that started faintly before the chorus even began."[16] The sessions concluded with a total of nine songs completed, though unsatisfied with the amount of songs, a second recording session was arranged the following week in United Western Recorders. The following Sunday, the final session for Closing Time began, with guest musicians Arni Egilsson replacing Plummer and Jesse Erlich performing cello.[18] The title track, "Closing Time", was the only song recorded in full and Yester later described the session as "the most magical session I've ever been involved with. At the end of it, no one spoke for what felt like five minutes, either in the booth or out in the room. No one budged. Nobody wanted the moment to end."[18] String overdubs were later cut for "Martha" and "Grapefruit Moon" the following day. The final recordings were mixed and mastered at Wally Heider Recorders.[19]



Closing Time features an eclectic mix of musical styles. While tracks such as "Ol '55", with its "gentle slipnote piano chords",[16] and "Old Shoes", "a country-rock waltz that picked up the feel of 'Ol' 55'", are usually considered folk-like numbers, other songs such as "Virginia Avenue", "Midnight Lullaby", whose outro features an instrumental segment of the nursery rhyme "Hush Little Baby", and "Grapefruit Moon" reveal a quieter, more jazz-like temperament. "Ice Cream Man" is often noted as being the most "up-tempo"[20] song of the album, whereas "Lonely" is toned-down and slow-paced. The sophisticated piano melodies are often accompanied by trumpets, typical of the jazz sound that Waits originally designated for the album. Noticeable string arrangements are also featured on the album, on "Martha" and the final "Closing Time", the latter being purely instrumental.


The songs on Closing Time are often noted for their lyrical content, which like the music, vary in form. "Ol' 55" narrates the story of a man riding "lickety splitly" in a car and is often seen as a song about escapism, "like his near-contemporary Bruce Springsteen."[21] This theme is also seen in "Old Shoes" which narrates another story about "a footloose young stud hitting the road and semi-sneering",[22] particularly in lyrics such as "your tears cannot bind me anymore" and "my heart was not born to be tamed." Other lyrics on the album are described as melancholic, particularly "Lonely", "I Hope That I Don't Fall in Love with You" and "Grapefruit Moon", which are "both self-concious and lacklustre."[21]

The intro to "Midnight Lullaby" borrows lyrics from "Sing a Song of Sixpence".[22] This form of song-writing became a life-long habit of Waits following the writing of "Midnight Lullaby", in which he assembled lyrics from fragments of oral tradition.

Packaging and title

The album cover was designed by Cal Schenkel, who was inspired by "Waits's own idea of how the album should sound." It depicts Waits leaning against a bar-room piano which is furnished with a shot of rye, a bottle of beer, cigarettes, an ashtray and a small candle with a blue pool table lamp above Waits's head.[17] In the top right corner, there is a large clock which shows 3:22. The back cover art is minimal in design and only features a photograph of Waits staring directly in to the camera lens, reputedly taken after a Waits's performance at The Troubadour.[17] Both photographs were taken by Ed Caraeff.[citation needed]


Closing Time was released worldwide in March 1973 by Asylum. The album's lead single, "Ol' 55", was released a month prior to the album for promotion. The single featured the same song pressed on both sides of the record with the A-side being a version recorded in mono and the B-side being recorded stereo. Waits's first national tour also coincided with the album's release, and ran from April to June 1973. The band line-up for the tour consisted of Waits (vocals, acoustic guitar, piano), Bob Webb (standup bass), Rich Phelps (trumpet), and John Forsha (guitar). The opening date of this tour was at The Cellar Door in Washington, D.C. opening for Tom Rush. The tour would go on to take in dates in venues such as Max's Kansas City in New York and The Boarding House in San Francisco, opening for acts such as Danny O'Keefe, Charlie Rich, Buffalo Bob Smith (of Howdy Doody fame) and John P. Hammond.[23] A second promotional tour ran from November to December 1973, opening for Frank Zappa. This tour consisted of only the stripped-down line-up of Waits on vocals, acoustic guitar, and piano, with Bob Webb on standup bass. Elektra Records re-released Closing Time throughout Europe in 1999 on limited edition CD and in 2010, Elektra and Asylum reissued the album on CD and LP, respectively.[24]


Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
Allmusic 4.5/5 stars[20]
Robert Christgau (B+)[25]
Rolling Stone (positive)[26]
Mojo 4/5 stars
Billboard (positive)[27]

Closing Time, at the time of its release, was received by the American music press with positive critical acclaim, although its coverage was limited. In its original Rolling Stone review, the album was positively referred to as "a remarkable debut album", compared to Randy Newman, and was branded as a "boozier, earthier version of same and delights in rummaging through the attics of nostalgia, the persona that emerges from this remarkable debut album is Waits's own, at once sardonic, vulnerable and emotionally charged"[26] while the "Dean of American Rock Critics" Robert Christgau noted that with his "jazz-schooled piano and drawling delivery [...] Waits exploits an honest sentimentality which he undercuts just enough to be credible",[25] also noting his similarity to Newman. Allmusic held the album in high regard, describing "his lovelorn lyrics" as being "sentimental without being penetrating. But he also has a gift for gently rolling pop melodies" and his "self-conscious melancholy can be surprisingly moving."[20] Billboard referred to the album upon its release as "hauntingly lovely [...] which captures the essence of a moment, a thought or a love."[27]

The album received little coverage the United Kingdom and elsewhere internationally, with its promotion being little more than a featured advert in the NME.[1] However, in recent years, NME has described Waits as a "veteran singer-songwriter."[28]


Closing Time reached a wider audience through cover versions by more successful artists and have since continued to have been covered. Later in 1973, Tim Buckley released the album Sefronia, with a cover of "Martha,"[4] the first ever cover of a Waits song by a known artist. Buckley's version was also included in the 1995 tribute compilation Step Right Up: The Songs of Tom Waits. "Ol' '55" was recorded by The Eagles for their 1974 album On the Border.[29] "Martha" was covered again in 1979 by Bette Midler on Saturday Night Live[5] and once again by Meat Loaf on his 1995 album Welcome to the Neighborhood. "Ice Cream Man" was covered in 1991 by Screamin' Jay Hawkins, one of Waits's influences, for his album Black Music For White People. "Lonely" was covered by Bat For Lashes, and a live version was included on the deluxe edition of her album Two Suns.

Track listing

All songs written by Tom Waits.

No. Title Length
1. "Ol' '55"   3:58
2. "I Hope That I Don't Fall in Love with You"   3:54
3. "Virginia Avenue"   3:10
4. "Old Shoes (& Picture Postcards)"   3:40
5. "Midnight Lullaby"   3:26
6. "Martha"   4:30
7. "Rosie"   4:03
8. "Lonely"   3:12
9. "Ice Cream Man"   3:05
10. "Little Trip to Heaven (On the Wings of Your Love)"   3:38
11. "Grapefruit Moon"   4:50
12. "Closing Time" (instrumental) 4:20
Total length:


Guest musicians
  • Jesse Ehrlich - cello
  • Tony Terran - trumpet (on "Closing Time")
  • Arni Egilsson - bass (on "Closing Time")
Technical personnel


  1. ^ a b "Tom Waits Closing Time, His first album on Asylum Records". NME (May 12, 1973). 
  2. ^ Hoskyns, pg. 89-90
  3. ^ Humphries, pg. 53
  4. ^ a b Richie Unterberger. "Sefronia - Tim Buckley | AllMusic". allMusic. Retrieved April 22, 2011. 
  5. ^ a b ""Saturday Night Live" Buck Henry/Bette Midler (1979) - Soundtracks". IMDb. Retrieved April 22, 2011. 
  6. ^ "Artist : Tom Waits - Festival Information de Jazz de Montréal". Jazz de Montréal. Retrieved April 24, 2011. 
  7. ^ Humphries, pg. 38
  8. ^ Humphries, pg. 39
  9. ^ Hoskyns, pg. 48
  10. ^ Humphries, pg. 40
  11. ^ Hoskyns, pg. 76
  12. ^ Humphries, pg. 45
  13. ^ Hosykyns, pg. 82
  14. ^ Hosykyns, pg. 83
  15. ^ a b Humphries, pg. 49
  16. ^ a b c Hoskyns, pg. 84
  17. ^ a b c d Humphries, pg.50
  18. ^ a b Hoskyns, pg. 86
  19. ^ (1973) "Recorded at Sunset Sound, Hollywood, Engineered by Richie Moore; Mixed at Wally Heider Recorders", p. 3 [CD]. Album notes for Closing Time by Tom Waits. Los Angeles, California: Elektra Records (7559-60836-2).
  20. ^ a b c
  21. ^ a b Humphries, pg. 51
  22. ^ a b Hoskyns, pg. 85
  23. ^ "Tom Waits Performances: 1970-1975". Tom Waits Library. Retrieved January 9, 2007. 
  24. ^ Farah Ishaq (November 5, 2010). "Tom Waits to Reissue First Four Asylum Albums on Vinyl - Spinner". Spinner. Retrieved April 23, 2011. 
  25. ^ a b "Robert Christgau: CG: Tom Waits". Robert Christgau. Retrieved April 23, 2011. 
  26. ^ a b Stephen Holden (April 26, 1973). "Closing Time by Tom Waits | Rolling Stone Music | Music Reviews". Rolling Stone. Retrieved April 23, 2011. 
  27. ^ a b "Closing Time Tom Waits is a hauntingly lovely new album of introspective songs and folk/jazz music which captures the essence of a moment, a thought or a love.". Billboard (March 17, 1973): 7. 
  28. ^ "Tom Waits announces two UK show | News | NME.COM". NME. May 22, 2008. Retrieved April 23, 2011. 
  29. ^ "Eagles Albums". Retrieved April 22, 2011. 

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