Rain Dogs  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Rain Dogs is an album by Tom Waits, released in August 1985. It peaked at #188 on Billboard's Top 200 albums chart.



Coming as it did in the mid 1980s - when most musicians depended on synthesizers, drum machines and studio techniques to create their music - Rain Dogs is notable for its organic sound, and the means by which it was achieved in the studio. Waits, discussing his mistrust of the 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".

In order to achieve the many musical directions spread across Rain Dogs, a wide range of instruments were employed to get the album's unique sound, including marimba, accordion, double bass, trombone and banjo. Sounds were created from less conventional means as well. Waits has noted that for this album, "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."

Rain Dogs marked the first time that Waits worked with guitarist Marc Ribot , 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.
Ribot also recalls how the band would not rehearse the songs before going to record, but 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.<ref name = anecdotes/>

The album also marks the first time Waits was to record with Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards <ref>Waits would later contribute vocals and piano to the Rolling Stones album Dirty Work, and Richards would also later contribute vocals and guitar to the track "That Feel" on Waits' 1992 album Bone Machine</ref>. As to the reasons for getting Richards involved, and concerning their working relationship in the studio while recording the album Waits said:

There was something in there that I thought he [Keith Richards] 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."


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. As Rolling Stone put it "With Rain Dogs [Waits] dropped his bedraggled lounge-piano act and fused outsider influences -- socialist decadence by way of Kurt Weill, pre-rock integrity from old dirty blues, the elegiac melancholy of New Orleans funeral brass -- into a singularly idiosyncratic American style," with the reviewer going on to describe the music as "bony and menacingly beautiful."

The album is notable for its many different musical styles; among the album's nineteen tracks are two instrumentals ("Midtown" and "Bride of Rain Dog"), a polka ("Cemetery Polka"), a "kind of a New Orleans thing with trombone" ("Tango Till They're Sore") , ballads ("Time"), pop music ("Downtown Train"), and "a gospel thing"("Anywhere I Lay My Head"). "Blind Love" marks Waits' first fully-fledged attempt at the Country music genre (although some songs from his debut Closing Time had hinted at this direction). As Waits said on the "Rain Dogs Island Promo Tape" ( which consisted of taped comments on songs as sent to radio stations, circa late 1985): "Blind Love is one of my first country songs. I like Merle Haggard, most of those other guys, though, sound like they're all just drinking tea and watching their waist and talking to their accountant. This one I think subscribes to some of that roadhouse feel."


Rolling Stone magazine called Rain Dogs Waits's "finest portrait of the tragic kingdom of the streets". The album's title comes from an expression which also suggests this tragic kingdom of the streets; "Rain dogs" are dogs which became lost after the rain washed away the scent of home, thus barring their return. Waits cast further light on the metaphor by stating that the album was about "People who live outdoors. You know how after the rain you see all these dogs that seem lost, wandering around. The rain washes away all their scent, all their direction. So all the people on the album are knit together, by some corporeal way of sharing pain and discomfort."

As with most Waits albums since Swordfishtrombones in 1983, Rain Dogs includes a spoken word number. "9th and Hennepin" concerns a character who observes the inhabitants of Hennepin Avenue and 9th Street in Minneapolis, Minnesota "through the yellow windows of the evening train." The songs depicts a bleak portrayal of characters who "started out with bad directions," in an environment where "everyone is behaving like dogs". In interview Waits described the inspiration for its lyrics, admitting that while the street itself is in Minneapolis
[M]ost of the imagery is from New York. It's just that I was on 9th and Hennepin years ago in the middle of a pimp war, and 9th and Hennepin always stuck in my mind. "There's trouble at 9th and Hennepin." To this day I'm sure there continues to be trouble at 9th and Hennepin. At this donut shop. They were playing "Our Day Will Come" by Dinah Washington when these three 12-year-old pimps came in in chinchilla coats armed with knives and, uh, forks and spoons and ladles and they started throwing them out in the streets. Which was answered by live ammunition over their heads into our booth. And I knew "Our Day Was Here." I remember the names of all the donuts: cherry twist, lime rickey. But mostly I was thinking of the guy going back to Philadelphia from Manhattan on the Metroliner with the New York Times, looking out the window in New York as he pulls out of the station, imagining all the terrible things he doesn't have to be a part of.


Despite the facial similarity, the man on the cover of Rain Dogs is not Tom Waits. The photograph is 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 sixties. The man and woman depicted on the cover are called Rose and Lily. The cover typography is similar to that of Elvis Presley's self-titled debut. Other artists to use similar designs are K.D. Lang on Reintarnation, and The Clash on London Calling.

The European version of the cover features red rather than blue text.

Album song covers

  • The song "Downtown Train" became a #2 US hit for Rod Stewart in 1989.

Track listing

All songs by Waits, except where noted.

  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
  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


  • Tom Waits – Vocals (1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,12,13,14,15,16,17,19), Guitar (2,4,6,8,9,10,15,16,17), Farfisa Organ (3,19), Piano (5,12), Pump Organ (8), Banjo (13), Harmonium (18)
  • Michael Blair - Percussion (1,2,3,4,7,8,13,17), Marimba (2,7,10,12), Congas (4), Drums (8,14,18), Metal Percussion (12), Bowed Saw (12), Parade Drum (19)
  • Stephen Taylor Arvizu Hodges - Drums (1,2,4,6,10,11,15,16), Parade Drums (3)
  • Larry Taylor - Double Bass (1,3,4,6,8,9,10,15), Bass (7,11,14,16)
  • Marc Ribot - Guitar (1,2,3,4,7,8), Lead Guitar (10)
  • Chris Spedding - Guitar (1)
  • Hollywood Paul Litteral - Trumpet (1,11,19)
  • Tony Garnier - Double Bass (2)
  • Robert Previte - Percussion (2), Marimba (2)
  • William Schimmel - Accordion (3,9,10)
  • Bob Funk - Trombone (3,5,10,11,19)
  • Ralph Carney - Bass Sax (4,14), Sax (11,18), Clarinet (12)
  • Greg Cohen - Double Bass (5,12,13)
  • Keith Richards - Guitar (6,14,15), Backing Vocals (15)
  • Robert Musso - Banjo (7)
  • Arno Hecht - Tenor Sax (11,19)
  • Crispin Cioe - Sax (11,19)
  • Robert Quine - Guitar (15,17)
  • Ross Levinson - Violins (15)
  • John Lurie - Alto Sax (16)
  • G.E. Smith - Guitar (17)
  • Mickey Curry - Drums (17)
  • Tony Levin - Bass (17)
  • Robert Kilgore - Organ (17)

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Rain Dogs" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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