Nighthawks at the Diner

Nighthawks at the Diner is the third studio album by singer and songwriter Tom Waits, released on October 21, 1975 on Asylum Records.[1] It was recorded over four sessions in July in the Los Angeles Record Plant studio in front of a small invited audience set up to recreate the atmosphere of a jazz club.[2] The album peaked at 164 on the Billboard 200,[3] the highest place Waits had held at the time, and is currently certified silver by the BPI.[4] It has received critical acclaim for its successful mood-setting, capturing of the jazz-club atmosphere[5] and characterization.[6]

Nighthawks at the Diner
Nighthawks At The Diner.jpg
Studio album by
ReleasedOctober 21, 1975 (1975-10-21)
RecordedJuly 30–31, 1975
VenueRecord Plant Studios, Los Angeles
GenreSpoken word, jazz, singer-songwriter
ProducerBones Howe
Tom Waits chronology
The Heart of Saturday Night
Nighthawks at the Diner
Small Change


The title was inspired by Edward Hopper's 1942 painting Nighthawks. The album's working title had been "Nighthawk Postcards from Easy Street," but was shortened to Nighthawks at the Diner, which is the opening line to "Eggs and Sausage (In a Cadillac with Susan Michelson)". The cover, designed by Cal Schenkel, is also inspired by the painting.


The album was recorded at Record Plant Los Angeles on July 30 and 31, 1975.[a] Waits opens the album by calling the venue Raphael's Silver Cloud Lounge.[8] Bones Howe, the album's producer, on the recording of the album:

"We did it as a live recording, which was unusual for an artist so new [...] Herb Cohen and I both had a sense that we needed to bring out the jazz in Waits more clearly. Tom was a great performer on stage [...] So we started talking about where we could do an album that would have a live feel to it. We thought about clubs, but the well-known ones like The Troubadour were toilets in those days. Then I remembered that Barbra Streisand had made a record at the old Record Plant Studios, when they were on 3rd Street near Cahuenga Boulevard [...] There was a room there that she got an entire orchestra into. Back in those days they would just roll the consoles around to where they needed them. So Herb and I said let's see if we can put tables and chairs in there and get an audience in and record a show."[9]

Howe was mostly responsible for organizing the band for the "live show", and creating the right atmosphere for the record.

"I got Michael Melvoin on piano, and he was one of the greatest jazz arrangers ever; I had Jim Hughart on bass, Bill Goodwin on drums and Pete Christlieb on sax. It was a totally jazz rhythm section. Herb gave out tickets to all his friends, we set up a bar, put potato chips on the tables and we had a sell-out, two nights, two shows a night, July 30 and 31, 1975. I remember that the opening act was a stripper. Her name was Dewana and her husband was a taxi driver. So for her the band played bump-and-grind music – and there's no jazz player who has never played a strip joint, so they knew exactly what to do. But it put the room in exactly the right mood. Then Waits came out and sang "Emotional Weather Report." Then he turned around to face the band and read the classified section of the paper while they played. It was like Allen Ginsberg with a really, really good band."[9]

Dewana was an old-time burlesque queen whom Tom had met on one of his jaunts to the Hollywood underworld.[10] Jim Hughart, who played upright bass on the recordings recalled the experience of preparing for and recording the album:

"Preparing for this thing, we had to memorize all this stuff, 'cause Waits had nothing on paper. So ultimately, we spent four or five days in a rehearsal studio going over this stuff. And that was drudgery. But when we did actually get it all prepared and go and record, that was the fastest two days of recording I've ever spent in my life. It was so fun. Some of the tunes were not what you'd call jazz tunes, but for the most part that was like a jazz record. This was a jazz band. Bill Goodwin was a drummer who was associated with Phil Woods for years. Pete Christlieb is one of the best jazz tenor players who ever lived. And my old friend, Mike Melvoin, played piano. There's a good reason why it was accepted as a jazz record."[9]

During the track "Nighthawk Postcards (From Easy Street)", Waits ad-libs lines from "That's Life", a hit for Frank Sinatra.


Professional ratings
Review scores
AllMusic     [5]
Christgau's Record GuideB[11]
Classic Rock8/10[12]
Mojo     [13]
The Rolling Stone Album Guide     [15]
Uncut     [16]

Nighthawks at the Diner charted on the Billboard 200, where it peaked at 164.[3] This was the highest position he had ever held at the time. His next album, Small Change, would be his highest charting with Asylum Records, with whom he would eventually part company in 1981. Nighthawks is currently certified Silver by the BPI.[4]

The album has been generally well received by critics, and is considered by some to be the best album of his early career.[17] It is included in the book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die.[17] In its accompanying chapter in the book, Peter Watts stated that "although it could be dismissed as an entertaining conceit, the fake nightclub atmosphere of Nighthawks... possibly captures the appeal of early Waits even better than the two impressive albums that preceded it."[17] AllMusic reviewer Mark Deming wrote: "You could call it overdone, but then, this kind of material made its impact through an accumulation of miscellaneous detail, and who's to say how much is too much?". He positively noted Waits' addition of comedy and acting into the set.[5] On November 18, 2010, Rhapsody named it the album of the day, with staff writer Nate Cavalieri noting that "Waits' meticulous persona is remarkable."[8]

Track listingEdit

All tracks are written by Tom Waits, except where noted.

Side one
1."(Opening Intro)"2:58
2."Emotional Weather Report"3:47
4."On a Foggy Night"3:48
6."Eggs and Sausage (In a Cadillac with Susan Michelson)"4:19
Side two
2."Better Off Without a Wife"3:59
3."Nighthawk Postcards (From Easy Street)"11:30
Side three
1."(Intro)" 0:55
2."Warm Beer and Cold Women" 5:21
3."(Intro)" 0:47
4."Putnam County" 7:35
5."Spare Parts I (A Nocturnal Emission)"Waits, Chuck E. Weiss6:25
Side four
1."Nobody" 2:51
2."(Intro)" 0:40
3."Big Joe and Phantom 309"Tommy Faile6:29
4."Spare Parts II and Closing" 5:13



Chart (1975) Peak
US Billboard 200[3] 164


Region Certification Certified units/sales
United Kingdom (BPI)[4] Silver 60,000^

^ Shipments figures based on certification alone.


  1. ^ The album's liner notes also credit Wally Heider Recording, Hollywood.[7]


  1. ^ "Releases". Anti-. p. 1. Archived from the original on March 8, 2018. Retrieved March 6, 2018.
  2. ^ Hoskyns, Barney (2011). Lowside of the Road: A Life of Tom Waits. Faber and Faber. p. 132. ISBN 9780571261246.
  3. ^ a b c "Tom Waits – Awards". AllMusic. Archived from the original on July 12, 2012. Retrieved June 18, 2012.
  4. ^ a b c "British album certifications – Tom Waits – Nighthawks at the Diner". British Phonographic Industry. Retrieved October 10, 2020.Select albums in the Format field. Select Silver in the Certification field. Type Nighthawks at the Diner in the "Search BPI Awards" field and then press Enter.
  5. ^ a b c Deming, Mark. "Nighthawks at the Diner – Tom Waits". AllMusic. Retrieved October 10, 2020.
  6. ^ Janovitz, Bill. "Warm Beer and Cold Women – Tom Waits". AllMusic. Retrieved June 18, 2012.
  7. ^ Nighthawks at the Diner at Discogs
  8. ^ a b Cavalieri, Nate (November 18, 2010). "Tom Waits, Nighthawks at the Diner". Rhapsody. Archived from the original on December 11, 2011. Retrieved April 17, 2012.
  9. ^ a b c "Comments and anecdotes On Waits". Tom Waits Library. Archived from the original on December 24, 2011. Retrieved January 22, 2008.
  10. ^ "The RMF Loves Tom Waits – Nighthawks At The Diner" Archived February 22, 2012, at the Wayback Machine Real Music Forum Archived April 29, 2009, at the Wayback Machine
  11. ^ Christgau, Robert (1981). "W". Christgau's Record Guide: Rock Albums of the Seventies. Ticknor and Fields. ISBN 0-89919-026-X. Retrieved March 21, 2019 – via
  12. ^ Johnston, Emma (May 2018). "Tom Waits: Reissues". Classic Rock. No. 248. p. 98.
  13. ^ "Tom Waits: Nighthawks at the Diner". Mojo. No. 200. July 2010. p. 76.
  14. ^ Deusner, Stephen M. (March 24, 2018). "Tom Waits: The Asylum Era". Pitchfork. Retrieved March 24, 2018.
  15. ^ Coleman, Mark; Scoppa, Bud (2004). "Tom Waits". In Brackett, Nathan; Hoard, Christian (eds.). The New Rolling Stone Album Guide (4th ed.). Simon & Schuster. pp. 854–55. ISBN 0-7432-0169-8.
  16. ^ Gill, Andy (December 2011). "What Is He Building in There..?". Uncut. No. 175. pp. 52–53.
  17. ^ a b c Watts, Peter (2009). "Tom Waits: Nighthawks at the Diner". In Dimery, Robert (ed.). 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die. Octopus Publishing Group. p. 345. ISBN 9781844036240.

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