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56 of 57 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Strangle All The Christmas Carols"...It's A Really Great Tom Waits REMASTER Compilation!, 20 Jan 2008
By 
Mark Barry "Mark Barry" - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)    (TOP 50 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Used Songs (1973-1980) (Audio CD)
The Asylum label period of Tom Waits' extraordinary career began in 1973 with his debut album "Closing Time" and ended 8 albums later in 1980 with "Heartattack & Vine". He then signed to Island Records and in 1982 released "Swordfishtrombones" to howls of joy, amazement, praise and derision - all in equal measure. And most of his albums on Island ('82 - '93) and Anti ('99 to the present day) have been the same ever since - mad, bad, beautiful, discordant and utterly unique in a world of increasingly plastic pop forced down our throats by gutless radio programmers every single day of our lives. Personally I love each period, Asylum, Island and the Anti label. And although the word is often overused, Waits is a genius - and utterly unique - beloved by both his fans and the industry for being so.

His Asylum albums were - if you like - his romantic troubadour period, a drunken Street bum with the heart of a poet and the itchy feet of Bukowski. He looked and sang the part too - greasy hair, freshly lit cigarette hanging out of his gob, wrecked clothes, a chronicler of the downtrodden and lost. But this was an artist whose songs were written with charm and real feeling for those on the outskirts - often touching and beautiful to a point where he could make you laugh with one song and cry with the next. But by "Heartattack & Vine", he had taken this persona it as far as it could go - hence the complete about face with his Island debut.

A little history for potential purchasers to explain why "Used Songs" is the best of scrappy bunch; the 1st compilation covering the Asylum Label period of his career appeared in 1981 and was called "Bounced Checks" - a single vinyl album containing a spattering of tracks and an unreleased live version of "The Piano Has Been Drinking" recorded in Dublin - a gig a friend of mine was privileged to be at. It's never been made available on CD to my knowledge. The second outing is "Asylum Years", a far better and more comprehensive 2LP set released on vinyl in 1984. Unfortunately, it's CD equivalent which came out two years later is a bit of a mish-mash - a single disc that lost 9 of the original 24 tracks and added 3 new ones not on the original double! This 14-track truncated CD carried the then relatively new words "digitally remastered" on the front cover and was sought after for that reason. The sound on that CD is good - if not spectacular - and is available to this day. It's also worth noting that there are 8 tracks on the "Asylum Years" 1986 remastered CD that aren't on "Used Songs" - they are "Diamonds On My Windshield", "Martha", "The Ghosts Of Saturday Night (After Hours At Napoleone's Pizza House)", "Grapefruit Moon", "Small Change (Got Rained On With His Own .38)", "Potter's Field", "Somewhere" (a superb cover of the famous Leonard Bernstein classic from "West Side Story") and "Ruby's Arms". Which brings us up to "Used Songs 1973-1980", his 3rd and best compilation covering that period.

Elektra/Rhino's set features 16 tracks Digitally Remastered in 2001 by tape experts BILL INGLOT and DAN HERSCH at DigiPrep - and the sound quality is full, clear and beautifully rendered. A real treat. "Used..." takes in songs from all 7 of his studio albums and one from the live double. Here's the layout and what track is from what album:

USED SONGS 1973 - 1980 (77:33 minutes):
1. Heartattack & Vine (on Heartattack And Vine", 1980)
2. Eggs & Sausage (In A Cadillac With Susan Michelson)
(on the live 2LP set "Nighthawks At The Diner", 1975)
3. A Sight For Sore Eyes ("Foreign Affairs", 1977)
4. Whistlin' Past The Graveyard (on "Blue Valentine", 1979)
5. Burma Shave (on "Foreign Affairs", 1977)
6. Step Right Up (on "Small Change", 1977)
7. Ol' 55 (on "Closing Time", 1973)
8. I Never Talk To Strangers
(on "Foreign Affairs", 1977) [duet with BETTE MIDLER]
9. Mr. Siegal (on "Heartattack And Vine", 1980)
10. Jersey Girl (on "Heartattack And Vine", 1980)
11. Christmas Card From A Hooker In Minneapolis
(on "Blue Valentine", 1979)
12. Blues Valentines (on "Blue Valentine", 1979)
13. (Looking For) The Heart Of Saturday Night
(on "The Heart Of Saturday Night", 1974)
14. Muriel (on "Foreign Affairs", 1977)
15. Wrong Side Of The Road (on "Blue Valentine", 1979)
16. Tom Traubert's Blues (Four Sheets To The Wind In Copenhagen)
(on "Heartattack And Vine", 1980)

Being a single disc there are some glaring omissions and odd choices, "I Hope That I Don't Fall In Love With You" from "Closing Time" is left off in favour of "Ol' 55". "Wrong Side Of The Road" is chosen instead of the beautifully evocative "Kentucky Avenue" or the fantastic "Romeo Is Bleeding", both from "Blue Valentine". "On The Nickel" from "Heartattack & Vine" isn't there either. And so on - you could bitch about choices for days. ("Ol' 55" first turned up on the 3rd EAGLES album "On The Border" and was probably most peoples first introduction to Waits - so its easy to see why it was chosen.) What is on here though, sounds fabulous.

Why is sound so important with this issue? Each of his Asylum albums are available on CD, but the earlier albums in particular are hissy and less that impressive sound-wise, because almost all of them came out in the initial vanguard of CD releases in the late Eighties - they weren't mastered well and have never been touched since. That's not the case with "Used Songs". The REMASTERING done by Rhino here makes all the difference. Right from the opening guitar and drum of "Heartattack & Vine", you're aware of the fantastic sound quality upgrade - it just pounds you. "Burma Shave", with just piano and vocals, is loud and beautifully clear. Then there's the delicacy of "Muriel" and "A Sight For Sore Eyes" and the hurting gargled-with-gravel vocals of "Tom Traubert's Blues" (his Waltzing Matilda song) - the sound on all of them is sweet and full, the saxophone and sassy rhythm section floating out of the speakers like some boozed-up turned-on jazz combo. It's thrilling, it really is! And lyrically, Waits has always been the equal of Joni or Bob - and way funnier. The booklet pictures the albums, there's a reproduction of a 1975 Jon Landau article from Rolling Stone, and a new liner note from Hal Willner - all tied off with a tasty card wrap, giving the whole package the class this release deserves.

Although it should have been a double, "Used" has the big advantage of its gorgeous sound and makes you pine for Extended Editions of each of his fantastic albums from that period. And on that point, when you think of the amount of lesser artists who have their entire catalogues released, remastered and pumped up with bonus tracks, and then you see someone of Waits' stature have no album from 1973 to 1993 in REMASTERED form by either WEA or Island on the market after 20 years of CD re-issues - it's just ridiculous and criminal. The same of course applies to Little Feat, Prince, Rickie Lee Jones, and Van Morrison. Come on Rhino and Universal - get their individual album catalogues remastered and get them out there - for God's sake!

In the near 20 years I've spent working in record shops and dealing with rare records, I've met some great artists and huge talents in the industry and enjoyed chin waging with them all - fame doesn't really faze me that way. But my love of Tom Waits is different. Tom is God incarnate. If Tom Waits actually turned up in our humble little shop, I'd be knobbled! I'd be too busy kissing the hem of his garment to actually speak to the man! An Irishman lost for words - yikes!

To sum up, "Used Songs" is a fantastic set, a superb introduction to the man & his music and frankly, a beacon of light in a landscape of increasingly dim musical pap. I picked it up in FOPP in London for 5 and it's available from over 60 on-line retailers for about the same price - including P&P!

Sure I'm biased, I adore the guy and his music, I do - but BUY THIS CD. If you love music, you need to hear this man's songs - it will be the best musical fiver you've ever spent...
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21 of 24 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A reasonably good compilation, 27 April 2002
By 
M. Brown (Cardiff United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Used Songs (1973-1980) (Audio CD)
For any hardcore Waits fan, compilations are always going to be slightly infuriating, because there will be quite a lot of understandable inclusions, but also some mystifying exclusions. That's true of this compilation, just as it was true of Beautiful Maladies, and before that, The Asylum Years. Even though the former was compiled by the genius himself, the exclusion of 'In The Neighbourhood' and 'Soldier's Things' was unfathomable (perhaps suggesting the artist should not put together compilations of his own work). Here we have the baffling exclusion of the best song Tom wrote during the Asylum period - 'Ruby's Arms', arguably the saddest love song ever written. But we do have some nice inclusions like Wrong Side Of The Road and Whistling Past The Graveyard from Blue Valentine, and the wonderful and very underrated 'Muriel' from Foreign Affairs, which contains one of the most brilliantly stylised Waits vocals ever (just the way he sings 'penny arcade' is vocal genius). One can only wonder at the inclusion of Mr Siegal, never a Waits classic, when they could have featured his great ballad On The Nickel instead. The fact is that Tom Waits fans have to compile their own tape of favourites, rather than purchase somebody else's idea of a Best of. The album finishes with Tom Traubert's Blues, which has always been a bit overrated, despite a lethal vocal from the man - the lyric doesn't work as well as some others. Overall, it's an adequate portrait of that period, and does have his classic diner song, Eggs and Sausages, which represents the mid seventies period well, but one is left wishing for a slightly different sequence of tracks. (You gotta have 'Somewhere' on it, right? His best ever vocal performance). Could have been better, could have been worse. 'Asylum Years' is a slightly better compilation of that period, probably.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Winners and losers, 10 Sep 2002
This review is from: Used Songs (1973-1980) (Audio CD)
The problem with compilations is that you win some and lose some all at the same time. While Waits' music is sometimes difficult and sometimes easy, none should be missed. If you only want one album this will do... but beware, if you listen to it more than once you'll end up buying everything - and humming it to yourself constantly!
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars music to open up the ears of your mind, 29 Dec 2001
By A Customer
This review is from: Used Songs (1973-1980) (Audio CD)
Once this music runs thru your head, you can't do anything else. It's as though the world stops to listen to that voice of velvet and gravel. Waites sounds about a thousand years old.In "Heartattack & Wine" the shiver of music comes from the saxes, echoing his broken voice & unbroken rhythms, that sound like the soul of all the railroad hoboes ever. "Blue Valentine" drenched in melancholy, singing the anniversary of the someone he used to be, lifts into little rises of tenderness, picked up by sad guitar notes & Crawford's wonderful solo. "Looking For The Heart of Saturday Night" brings a smoother voice, a vocal equivalent of an Edward Hopper painting, where the footsteps patter through the night-time pavements of the track with a wonderful inevitability.When he's whispering and growling to his piano in "Muriel",there are flights of notes from the sax that extends the voice and the emotions, and your heart wrenches. When he sings with Bette Midler "I Never Talk To Strangers" his voices lurches, to mimic a drunk on a subway, and her voice weaves thru. It's a witty song, and I suppose it wans't improvised, but it has the spontanaeity of two friends having such a good time, and hey - it's just a coincidence there were a couple of backing musicians alongside this conversation! Unbelievably, two such different voices swing together delightfully, and the final spoken comment has such gentle warmth. Urban bleakness vanishes from that track.
I had thought nothing would be better than "Bone Machine." I was wrong.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Tom Waits still sings the saddest songs ..., 5 Feb 2014
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This review is from: Used Songs (1973-1980) (Audio CD)
just as he always has. A simple collection, compared with his later work - but it is, in the Elizabethan sense of the word - truly 'lyrical'.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Good starter to Waits, 30 Aug 2013
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This review is from: Used Songs (1973-1980) (Audio CD)
if you have any interest in music especialy the recent Mumford and Sons / Jake Bugg types you can't fail to be interested in Tom Waits. If you look under Gravel Voiced in the dictionnary there will be a picture of this man!. Buy this and get educated to why he is as influential as Dylan.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Five star content... so why just four stars?, 30 Jun 2011
By 
Sebastian Palmer "sebuteo" (Cambridge, England) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (TOP 1000 REVIEWER)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Used Songs (1973-1980) (Audio CD)
All the material on this compilation is top drawer vintage Waits, and, as an introduction to his early years, thinking particularly of someone that might not know Waits at all, it's very good primer.

If I'd compiled it, I might've made some different choices, but it does do a decent job of representing the range and diversity of pre-Swordfishtrombones Waits; from his first, and rather softer and sweeter album - Closing Time is represented here by the single track, 'Ol' 55' - through to the more gritsy and gravelly, ditry electric blues of Heartattack And Vine, there are tracks from each studio album, ranging from the mellow (the title track of Blue Valentine, or Burma Shave from Foreign Affairs), to the more upbeat, like 'Step Right Up' from Small Change. By closing off the period covered in 1980 they miss the rather anachronistic One From The Heart OST, which is a shame I think, and had they gone for the straight decade then Swordfishtrombones would've been within the scope of the compilation, but perhaps there were licensing issues with those albums.

So, not only is the material all top notch, this compilation also does a good job in terms of being representative. Why only four stars?

Well, I guess it's simply that I love Waits' music so much that I find this slightly superfluous. I was bought a copy as a gift, and as a Waits completist I'm happy to own it. But seeing as there's nothing on it that isn't on the regular releases, it only rarely gets played. Sometimes it's nice to hear it, as a kind of edited highlights 'playlist' experience, albeit someone else's picks. Also, and here I'm being more picky, it's not as nicely put together in aesthetic terms as, say, The Asylum Years. That compilation would also score four out of five for me, for similar if slightly differing reasons.

If you don't yet know the joys of Tom Waits, then this is a good place to start. Or, if you love Waits, and want to get someone else hooked, then either this or The Asylum Years are potentially good gifts, particularly if you think the intended beneficiary is likely to be more of an 'early years' type Waits fan. Or if you know your Waits, but you just happen to really like the selections made here, it might appeal (but in these days of MP3 playlists, compiling one's own fro the original recordings is probably a preferable option).

Top notch music, and a good representative compilation, but the original albums can't be beaten. And ultimately that's why this can only be a four star affair.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars, 12 Aug 2014
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This review is from: Used Songs (1973-1980) (Audio CD)
for those new to this man's magic - a must have
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5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars, 19 July 2014
By 
John Pitcairn "JPP" (Kingseat) - See all my reviews
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Tom at the start of his career sheer genius
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars classic, 11 May 2013
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This review is from: Used Songs (1973-1980) (Audio CD)
if you like tom waits you will love this cd. some old some new, an eclectic collection covering many styles, a great selection.
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Used Songs (1973-1980) by Tom Waits (Audio CD - 2001)
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