Foreign Affairs (Tom Waits album)

Foreign Affairs is a 1977 album by Tom Waits, released by Electra, his fifth album since his debut Closing Time in 1973. It was produced by Bones Howe, and featured Bette Midler singing a duet with Waits on "I Never Talk to Strangers".

Foreign Affairs
Foreign Affairs Tom Waits.jpg
Studio album by
ReleasedSeptember 13, 1977 (1977-09-13)[1]
RecordedJuly 28–August 15, 1977
ProducerBones Howe
Tom Waits chronology
Small Change
Foreign Affairs
Blue Valentine


Bones Howe, the album's producer, remembers the album's original concept and production approach thus:

[Waits] talked to me about doing this other material [...] He said, "I'm going to do the demos first, and then I'm gonna let you listen to them. Then we should talk about what it should be." I listened to the material and said, "It's like a black-and-white movie." That's where the cover came from. The whole idea that it was going to be a black-and-white movie. It's the way it seemed to me when we were putting it together. Whether or not it came out that way, I don't have any idea, because there's such metamorphosis when you're working on [records]. They change and change.[2]


Pictured on the cover with Waits is a Native American woman named Marsheila Cockrell, who worked at the box office of The Troubadour in Los Angeles. "She was a girl who was... not a girlfriend but she thought she was a girlfriend."[3]

For the album cover Waits wanted to convey the film-noir mood that coloured so many of the songs. Veteran Hollywood portraitist George Hurrell was hired to shoot Waits, both alone and in a clutch with a shadowy female whose ring-encrusted right hand clamped a passport to his chest. The back-cover shot of Tom was particularly good, casting him as a slicked-back hoodlum—half matinee idol, half hair-trigger psychopath. The inner sleeve depicted the soused singer clawing at the keys of his Tropicana upright.[3]

Critical receptionEdit

Retrospective professional reviews
Review scores
AllMusic     [4]
Christgau's Record GuideB[5]
The Rolling Stone Album Guide     [7]

Village Voice critic Robert Christgau gave a mixed review of Foreign Affairs. He appreciated the Bette Midler duet "I Never Talk to Strangers", "Jack & Neal"'s combination of poetry and jazz, the "mumbled monologue" of "Barber Shop", and the title track, which he described as "Anglophile", but lamented "Potter's Field" for its theatrical music and narrative following "a high-rolling nightstick". He critiqued the album further in Christgau's Record Guide: Rock Albums of the Seventies (1981):

With his genre sleaze and metaphorical melodrama, Waits is a downwardly mobile escapist who believes that Everyman is a wino and Everywoman an all-night waitress who turns tricks when things get rough. The problem isn't the subjects themselves, but that for all his self-conscious unpretentiousness he inflates them. Which I guess is all we can expect of a schoolteacher's son who's been searching for his own world since he was old enough to think.[5]

Track listingEdit

All tracks written by Tom Waits, except where noted.

Side one

1."Cinny's Waltz" (Instrumental) 2:17
2."Muriel" 3:33
3."I Never Talk to Strangers" 3:38
4."Medley: Jack & Neal/California, Here I Come""California, Here I Come" by Joseph Meyer, Al Jolson and Buddy De Sylva5:01
5."A Sight for Sore Eyes" 4:40

Side two

1."Potter's Field"Words: Waits - Music: Bob Alcivar8:40
2."Burma-Shave" 6:34
3."Barber Shop" 3:54
4."Foreign Affair" 3:46



  1. ^ "Releases". ANTI-. Retrieved March 6, 2018.
  2. ^ "Tom Waits Time line: 1976—1980". Retrieved 2007-01-18.
  3. ^ a b Hoskyns, Barney. Low Side of the Road: a life of Tom Waits pp. 189-91
  4. ^ AllMusic review
  5. ^ a b Christgau, Robert (1981). "Consumer Guide '70s: W". Christgau's Record Guide: Rock Albums of the Seventies. Ticknor & Fields. ISBN 089919026X. Retrieved March 21, 2019 – via
  6. ^ M. Deusner, Stephen (March 24, 2018). "Tom Waits: Foreign Affairs". Pitchfork. Retrieved March 24, 2018.
  7. ^ "Tom Waits: Album Guide". Rolling Stone. Archived from the original on September 19, 2011.