Rain Dogs

Rain Dogs is the ninth studio album by American singer-songwriter Tom Waits, released in September 1985 on Island Records.[1] A loose concept album about "the urban dispossessed" of New York City, Rain Dogs is generally considered the middle album of a trilogy that includes Swordfishtrombones and Franks Wild Years.[2]

Rain Dogs
Tom Waits - Rain Dogs.png
Studio album by
ReleasedSeptember 30, 1985
RecordedRCA Studios
GenreExperimental rock
ProducerTom Waits
Tom Waits chronology
Rain Dogs
Franks Wild Years

The album, which includes appearances by guitarists Keith Richards and Marc Ribot, is noted for its broad spectrum of musical styles and genres, described by Arion Berger in a 2002 review in Rolling Stone as merging "outsider influences - socialist decadence by way of Kurt Weill, pre-rock integrity from old dirty blues, the elegiac melancholy of New Orleans funeral - into a singularly idiosyncratic American style."[3]

The album peaked at number 29 on the UK charts[4] and number 188 on the US Billboard Top 200. In 1989, it was ranked number 21 on the Rolling Stone list of the "100 greatest albums of the 1980s." In 2012, the album was ranked number 399 on the magazine's list of "The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time",[5] and at number 357 in 2020.[6]

Composition and recordingEdit

Waits wrote the majority of the album in a two-month stint in the fall of 1984 in a basement room at the corner of Washington and Horatio Streets in Manhattan. According to Waits, it was, "kind of a rough area, Lower Manhattan between Canal and 14th Street, just about a block from the river ... It was a good place for me to work. Very quiet, except for the water coming through the pipes every now and then. Sort of like being in a vault."[7]

In preparation for the album, Waits recorded street sounds and other ambient noises on a cassette recorder to get the sound of the city that would be the album's subject matter.[8]

A wide range of instruments was employed to achieve the album's sound, including marimba, accordion, double bass, trombone, and banjo. The album is notable for its organic sound, and the natural means by which it was achieved. Waits, discussing his mistrust of 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.'"[9]

Waits also stated that "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."[10]

Rain Dogs was the first time that Waits worked with guitarist Marc Ribot,[11] who was impressed by Waits' unusual studio presence. Ribot said, "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.'"[12] Ribot also recalls how the band would not rehearse the songs before going to record; 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."[12]

The album marks the first time Waits recorded with guitarist Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones.[13] Waits said, "There was something in there that I thought he 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."[14]

According to Barney Hoskyns, the album's general theme of "the urban dispossessed" was inspired in part by Martin Bell's 1984 documentary Streetwise, to which Waits had been asked to contribute music.[15]


Though it has been remarked that the man on the cover bears a striking resemblance to Waits, the photograph is actually 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 1960s. The man and woman depicted on the cover are called Rose and Lilly.

Critical receptionEdit

Professional ratings
Review scores
AllMusic     [16]
Chicago Sun-Times    [17]
Encyclopedia of Popular Music     [18]
Mojo     [19]
Q     [20]
Rolling Stone     [21]
The Rolling Stone Album Guide     [22]
Uncut     [24]
The Village VoiceB+[25]

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. AllMusic critic William Ruhlmann wrote, "Rain Dogs can't surprise as Swordfishtrombones had." Nevertheless, Ruhlman further commented that "much of the music matches the earlier album, and there is so much of it that that is enough to qualify Rain Dogs as one of Waits' better albums."[16] Music critic Robert Christgau stated that Waits "worked out a unique and identifiable lounge-lizard sound that suits his status as the poet of America's non-nine-to-fivers."[25]

In his 1985 review for Rolling Stone, Anthony Decurtis gave the album a mixed review, writing: "Rain Dogs insists on nosing its way around the barrooms and back alleys Waits has so often visited before."[26] However, in a more recent review in 2002, Rolling Stone critic Arion Berger praised the album, describing the music as "bony and menacingly beautiful." Berger also observed that "it's quirky near-pop, the all-pro instrumentation pushing Waits' not-so-melodic but surprisingly flexible vocals out front, where his own peculiar freak flag, his big heart and his romantic optimism gloriously fly."[27]

At year's end, Rain Dogs was ranked number 1 among the "Albums of the Year" for 1985 by NME.[28] In later assessments, Pitchfork listed Rain Dogs as 8th best album of the 1980s,[29] and Slant Magazine listed the album at number 14 on its list of "Best Albums of the 1980s".[30] Rolling Stone listed it as number 21 on its list of "100 Best Albums of the Eighties,"[31] as well as listing the album at 399 and 357 in its 2012 and 2020 updates respectively of The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.[5][6] The album was also included in the book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die.[32]

In 2000 it was voted number 299 in Colin Larkin's All Time Top 1000 Albums.[33]

Track listingEdit

All songs written and composed by Tom Waits except where noted.

Side one

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, Waits2:32
9."Time" 3:55

Side two

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
Total length:53:46


All personnel credits adapted from the album's liner notes.[34]

Chart positionsEdit


Region Certification Certified units/sales
Canada (Music Canada)[43] Gold 50,000^
United Kingdom (BPI)[44] Gold 100,000^
United States (RIAA)[45] Gold 500,000^

^ Shipments figures based on certification alone.


  • Hoskyns, Barney (2009). Lowside of the Road. (London: Faber and Faber)
  1. ^ Paul Maher (August 1, 2011). Tom Waits on Tom Waits: Interviews and Encounters. Chicago Review Press. p. 151. ISBN 9781569769270. Retrieved July 3, 2012.
  2. ^ "Amazon Rain Dogs review".
  3. ^ Arion Berger (October 17, 2002). "Tom Waits: Rain Dogs". rollingstone.com. Archived from the original on November 16, 2002.
  4. ^ "Official Albums Chart Top 100: 20 October 1985 – 26 October 1985". OfficialCharts.com.
  5. ^ a b "500 Greatest Albums of All Time". Rolling Stone. May 31, 2012. Retrieved August 6, 2019.
  6. ^ a b Rolling Stone (September 22, 2020). "The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time". Rolling Stone. Retrieved June 29, 2021.
  7. ^ Hoskyns 2009, pp. 307–308
  8. ^ Hoskyns 2009, p. 308
  9. ^ "The Sultan Of Sleaze: In Interview with YOU Magazine". Tom Waits Library. 1985. Archived from the original on November 11, 2007.
  10. ^ "The 100 Greatest Albums of the 1980s," Rolling Stone issue 565, November 16, 1989.
  11. ^ Jay S. Jacobs (May 28, 2006). Wild Years: The Music And Myth of Tom Waits. ECW Press. p. 138. ISBN 9781554902613. Retrieved July 3, 2012.
  12. ^ a b "Comments and anecdotes On Waits". Tom Waits Library. Archived from the original on December 24, 2011.
  13. ^ Waits later contributed vocals and piano to the Rolling Stones album Dirty Work, and Richards later contributed vocals and guitar to the track "That Feel" on Waits' 1992 album Bone Machine, as well as several tracks on 2012's Bad as Me.
  14. ^ "Big Black Mariah lyrics". Tom Waits Library. Archived from the original on January 1, 2012.
  15. ^ Hoskyns 2009, pp. 308–309
  16. ^ a b Ruhlmann, William. "Rain Dogs – Tom Waits". AllMusic. Retrieved February 6, 2015.
  17. ^ McLeese, Don (January 19, 1987). "Alums regroup for Old Town benefit". Chicago Sun-Times. Archived from the original on November 21, 2018. Retrieved July 8, 2017.
  18. ^ Larkin, Colin (2011). The Encyclopedia of Popular Music (5th concise ed.). Omnibus Press. ISBN 978-0-85712-595-8.
  19. ^ "Tom Waits: Rain Dogs". Mojo (200): 77. July 2010.
  20. ^ "Tom Waits: Rain Dogs". Q (73): 101. October 1992.
  21. ^ Berger, Arion (October 17, 2002). "Tom Waits: Rain Dogs". Rolling Stone. Archived from the original on October 1, 2007. Retrieved August 30, 2016.
  22. ^ 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.
  23. ^ Collis, Andrew (March 1993). "Tom Waits: Rain Dogs/Swordfishtrombones". Select (33): 82.
  24. ^ "What Is He Building in There..?". Uncut (175): 52–53. December 2011.
  25. ^ a b Christgau, Robert (December 3, 1985). "Christgau's Consumer Guide". The Village Voice. Retrieved February 6, 2015.
  26. ^ Decurtis, Anthony (November 21, 1985). "Tom Waits – Rain Dogs". Rolling Stone. Retrieved February 6, 2015.
  27. ^ Berger, Arion (October 2002). "Tom Waits – Rain Dogs". Rolling Stone. 907.
  28. ^ "Albums and Tracks of the Year". NME. 2018. Retrieved August 30, 2018.
  29. ^ Dahlen, Chris (November 20, 2002). "Top 100 Albums of the 1980s". Pitchfork. Retrieved February 6, 2015.
  30. ^ "The 100 Best Albums of the 1980s". Slant Magazine. March 5, 2012. Retrieved February 6, 2015.
  31. ^ "100 Best Albums of the Eighties". Rolling Stone. November 16, 1989. Retrieved February 6, 2015.
  32. ^ Robert Dimery; Michael Lydon (February 7, 2006). 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die: Revised and Updated Edition. Universe. ISBN 0-7893-1371-5.
  33. ^ Colin Larkin (2000). All Time Top 1000 Albums (3rd ed.). Virgin Books. p. 125. ISBN 0-7535-0493-6.
  34. ^ Rain Dogs (LP). Tom Waits. Island Records. 1985. 207 085-620.CS1 maint: others in cite AV media (notes) (link)
  35. ^ Kent, David (1993). Australian Chart Book 1970–1992 (illustrated ed.). St Ives, N.S.W.: Australian Chart Book. p. 331. ISBN 0-646-11917-6.
  36. ^ "Tom Waits – Rain Dogs". dutchcharts.nl. Hung Medien. Retrieved July 26, 2012.
  37. ^ "Tom Waits – Rain Dogs". norwegiancharts.com. Hung Medien. Retrieved July 26, 2012.
  38. ^ "Tom Waits – Rain Dogs". swedishcharts.com. Hung Medien. Retrieved July 26, 2012.
  39. ^ "Tom Waits | Artist | Official Charts". The Official Charts Company. Retrieved July 26, 2012.
  40. ^ Rain Dogs – Tom Waits: Awards at AllMusic. Retrieved July 26, 2012.
  41. ^ "Tom Waits – Rain Dogs". austriancharts.at. Hung Medien. Retrieved July 26, 2012.
  42. ^ "Tom Waits – Rain Dogs". charts.nz. Hung Medien. Retrieved July 26, 2012.
  43. ^ "Canadian album certifications – Tom Waits – Rain Dogs". Music Canada. Retrieved July 26, 2012.
  44. ^ "British album certifications – Tom Waits – Raindogs". British Phonographic Industry. Retrieved June 13, 2020.Select albums in the Format field. Select Gold in the Certification field. Type Raindogs in the "Search BPI Awards" field and then press Enter.
  45. ^ "American album certifications – Tom Waits – Rain Dogs". Recording Industry Association of America. Retrieved June 13, 2020.

External linksEdit