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"Tom's Diner" is a song written in 1982 by American singer and songwriter Suzanne Vega. It was first released as a track on the January 1984 issue of Fast Folk Musical Magazine.[1] When first featured on one of her own studio albums, it appeared as the first track of her Solitude Standing album in 1987. It was later used as the basis for a remix by the British group DNA in 1990. This remix reached number 1 in Austria, Germany, Greece and Switzerland. The 1991 compilation Tom's Album includes the DNA version as well as cover versions by such artists as After One, Nikki D and Bingo Hand Job (R.E.M. and Billy Bragg).[2] It was also used as the background soundtrack for the opening scene of the 1993 film Untamed Heart.

"Tom's Diner"
Tom's diner.jpg
Single by Suzanne Vega
from the album Solitude Standing
ReleasedApril 1, 1987 (1987-04-01)
Recorded1986 (1986)–87 (87), Bearsville Sound Studios, RPM Sound Studios
GenreFolk rock
Songwriter(s)Suzanne Vega
Suzanne Vega singles chronology
"Tom's Diner"
"Solitude Standing"

Original versionEdit

Background and writingEdit

The "Tom's Diner" of the song is Tom's Restaurant in New York City,[3][4] a diner on the corner of Broadway and 112th Street. Singer and songwriter Suzanne Vega was reputedly a frequent patron of the eatery during the early 1980s when she was a student at nearby Barnard College.[5] The mid-twentieth century diner would later become famous as the location used for the exterior scenes of Monk's Café in the popular 1990s television sitcom Seinfeld.[5]

The song begins with the narrator stopping at a diner for a cup of coffee. The song mentions reading a newspaper as well as seeing two women, one who enters the diner and one who stands outside in the rain. The ringing of bells at a nearby cathedral causes the narrator to reminisce about an unnamed companion and a midnight picnic. At the end of the song, the narrator leaves the diner to catch the train after the coffee is finished.

Vega wrote the song based on a comment by her friend Brian Rose, a photographer, who mentioned that in his work, he sometimes felt as if "he saw his whole life through a pane of glass, and [...] like he was the witness to a lot of things, but was never really involved in them." She attempted to think and write in this fashion (including a male perspective[3]) while sitting at Tom's Restaurant. The "bells of the cathedral" that she remarks hearing in the song are those of the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine, located one block to the east.

"Tom's Diner Day": The date of the compositionEdit

An article on Suzanne Vega's official website[6][7] uses clues in the song to determine the exact date that Vega wrote it.

Vega herself said that she wrote the song sometime in 1982; Brian Rose has said that it was written sometime between mid-1981 and mid-1982. The lyrics of the song refer to a rainy morning, when she was at the diner on the corner, reading in her newspaper of "a story of an actor / who had died while he was drinking", and afterwards "turning to the horoscope / and looking for the funnies". Only two newspapers in New York City carried comic strips, or "funnies," in 1981 and 1982, and only one, the New York Post, featured a front-page story of the death of Oscar-winning actor William Holden, whose body was discovered on Monday, November 16, 1981. He had died from a fall at his apartment, suffered after drinking excessively. The story in the Post concerning Holden's death was not carried until two days later on Wednesday, November 18, 1981, which is taken[by whom?] to be the exact date of the composition.[citation needed]

On that day in New York, however, the weather was not rainy, but overcast. Vega has acknowledged that "Tom's Diner" features a composite of events, and that the rain was from a morning she remembered being in the diner during the spring of 1982, after the initial events of the song.

At a concert in the Exhibition Hall of Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, on Friday, November 18, 2011, Vega performed "Tom's Diner" as the final song of her second set; Dublin-born guitarist Gerry Leonard accompanied her. Beforehand she explained to the audience that the day marked the 30th anniversary of the one on which she wrote the song. She also noted in a self-deprecating manner that the actor who had died while he was drinking was William Holden and that, despite his fame, she indeed had never heard of him until the morning when she read about his death.

Music and lyricsEdit

Vega originally conceived "Tom's Diner" as a piece for voice and solo piano. Two versions feature on her album Solitude Standing; the album opens with an a cappella version, and closes with an instrumental version played on keyboards, with guitars lending support.

During the 2006 Major League Baseball season, Cincinnati Reds player Ryan Freel used this song as his entrance song when he came to bat.

The "Mother of the MP3"Edit

An article in the now defunct magazine Business 2.0 revealed that "Tom's Diner" was also used by Karlheinz Brandenburg to develop the audio compression scheme known as MP3 at what is now the Fraunhofer Society. He recalled: "I was ready to fine-tune my compression algorithm...somewhere down the corridor, a radio was playing 'Tom's Diner.' I was electrified. I knew it would be nearly impossible to compress this warm a cappella voice."[8]

In a 2009 documentary about the history of the song by Swedish SVT, Brandenburg said: "I was finishing my PhD thesis, and then I was reading some hi-fi magazine and found that they had used this song to test loudspeakers. I said 'OK, let's test what this song does to my sound system, to MP3'. And the result was, at bit rates where everything else sounded quite nice, Suzanne Vega's voice sounded horrible."[9]

Brandenburg adopted the song for testing purposes, listening to it again and again each time he refined the scheme, making sure it did not adversely affect the subtlety of Vega's voice. While the MP3 compression format is not specifically tuned to play the song "Tom's Diner" (an assortment of critically analyzed material was involved in the design of the codec over many years), among audio engineers this anecdote has earned Vega the informal title "The Mother of the MP3".[10]

Track listingsEdit

12" maxi
  1. "Tom's Diner"
  2. "Left of Center"
  3. "Tom's Diner" (live)
  4. "Luka" (live)


Chart (1989) Peak
Denmark (Tracklisten)[11] 24
Ireland (IRMA)[12] 26
Sweden (Sverigetopplistan)[13] 56
UK Singles (The Official Charts Company)[14] 58

DNA remixEdit

"Tom's Diner (DNA Remix)"
Artwork for European releases
Single by DNA featuring Suzanne Vega
ReleasedSeptember 18, 1990 (US)
  • A&M
  • PolyGram
  • Steve Addabbo
  • Lenny Kaye
  • Suzanne Vega
  • Steve Addabbo
  • Lenny Kaye
  • DNA
Suzanne Vega singles chronology
"Men in a War"
"Tom's Diner"
"In Liverpool"
Audio sample
Music video
"Tom's Diner" on YouTube


In 1990, two British record producers remixed "Tom's Diner", grafting Vega's vocals onto a dance beat from Soul II Soul ("Keep On Movin'") and turning her simple ad-libbed outro – "Da da da duh, doo da-doo doo" – into the song's driving hook. Without permission from Vega, her record label, or publisher, the duo released the remix on a limited basis for distribution to clubs as "Oh Suzanne" by "DNA featuring Suzanne Vega". Vega's record company of the time, A&M, decided to buy[citation needed] and release the remix rather than take DNA to court for copyright infringement. A&M struck the deal after consulting with Vega, who liked the interpretation,[15] and DNA, who conducted the transaction through intermediaries without revealing their true identities.[citation needed] The remix became a much larger hit than Vega had with the song originally, peaking at number 2 on the UK Singles Chart and number 5 on the US Billboard Hot 100, and it became one of a handful of tracks to chart in the top 10 of both the Modern Rock Tracks (number 7) and Billboard R&B/Hip-Hop Tracks (number 10) charts. The remix also reached number 1 in Austria, Germany, Greece and Switzerland. A music video was also made of this version.


The remix of the song is written in the key of F minor in common time with a tempo of 99 beats per minute.[16] Vega's vocals span from F3 to D4 in the song.[17]

It was certified Gold in Germany in 1990.[18]

Critical receptionEdit

Music & Media wrote about the song: "The lonely vocal part is perfectly complemented by the Steely Dan type horns and the grinding hip-hop beat. A fine version."[19]

Network 40 wrote: "The connection of Vega's sensuously soft voice and the unlikely rhythm (for her music, anyway) is startlingly vibrant, and its jazziness is an instant ear-catcher."[20]

Track listingsEdit

CD maxi
  1. "Tom's Diner" (7" A) – 3:47
  2. "Tom's Diner" by Suzanne Vega – 2:39
  3. "Tom's Diner" (a cappella) by Suzanne Vega – 2:08
  4. "Tom's Diner" (12" A) – 5:20
7" single
  1. "Tom's Diner" – 3:47
  2. "Tom's Diner" (a cappella) by Suzanne Vega – 2:08
12" maxi
  1. "Tom's Diner" (remix) – This version, containing a piano with a solo part, has never been released on CD or MP3 yet.
  2. "Tom's Diner" by Suzanne Vega
  3. "Tom's Diner" (a cappella) by Suzanne Vega
Cassette single
  1. "Tom's Diner" 7" version by Suzanne Vega (side 1)
  2. "Tom's Diner" 12" version by Suzanne Vega (side 2)

Charts and certificationsEdit

Giorgio Moroder versionEdit

"Tom's Diner"
Single by Giorgio Moroder featuring Britney Spears
from the album Déjà Vu
ReleasedOctober 9, 2015 (2015-10-09)
FormatDigital download
Songwriter(s)Suzanne Vega
Giorgio Moroder singles chronology
"Déjà Vu"
"Tom's Diner"
"Good for Me"
Britney Spears singles chronology
"Pretty Girls"
"Tom's Diner"
"Make Me..."
Music video
"Tom's Diner" (official lyric video) on YouTube

Giorgio Moroder included a remake of "Tom's Diner" featuring Britney Spears on his album Déjà Vu, released June 12, 2015.[56] Despite being a non-single track at that time, it became his best-selling digital song,[57] debuting and peaking at number 38 on the Billboard Dance/Electronic Songs chart[58] and number 14 on the Billboard Dance/Electronic Digital Songs chart, during the week of July 4, 2015.[59] A single version was later released on October 9, 2015 with two new remixes included.[60]

Track listingEdit

  1. "Tom's Diner"
  2. "Tom's Diner" (Leu Leu Land Remix)
  3. "Tom's Diner" (Hibell Remix)


Weekly charts
Charts (2015-17) Peak
CIS (Tophit)[61] 94
France (SNEP)[62] 146
Lebanon (Lebanese Top 20)[63] 11
Ukraine Airplay (Tophit)[64] 26
US Hot Dance/Electronic Songs (Billboard)[65] 38
Year-end charts
Charts (2018) Position
Ukraine Airplay (Tophit)[66] 149

Release historyEdit

Region Date Format Label Ref.
Worldwide October 9, 2015 Digital download
  • Giorgio Moroder Music LLC
  • RCA
Italy October 16, 2015 Contemporary hit radio [69]

Remakes and samplesEdit


The song spawned a number of hip hop, dance, and rock remixes and remakes from artists such as Peter Behrens (drummer from Trio) and Bingo Hand Job, a whimsical one-time collaboration between Billy Bragg and R.E.M.. It was also sampled in songs by Public Enemy, Nikki D, Twin Hype and Lil' Kim, among other hip hop acts.

In 1991, Vega, noting the huge number of remakes of the song, released Tom's Album, a compilation of different versions of the song, spanning a variety of musical genres, including a parody by Mark Jonathan Davis[70] that worked in references to I Dream of Jeannie called "Jeannie's Diner," which Nick-at-Nite would use to promote its airings of the show. The album also featured another DNA remix of one of her songs, "Rusted Pipe." On the album's sleeve, Vega wrote: "A small song about eating breakfast became a song about accidental pregnancy (Daddy's Little Girl – Nikki D.) and the recent war in the Gulf (Waiting at the Border). One version incorporates forgotten bits of pop culture (Jeannie's Diner). All of them surprised me; a couple made me wince. I include them anyway."[71]

In 2015, sound artist and composer Ryan Maguire[72] released the track "moDernisT"[73] (an anagram of "Tom's Diner") as a part of his project "The Ghost in the MP3".[74] "moDernisT" is composed exclusively of the sounds deleted during MP3 compression from the song "Tom's Diner", known as the mother of the MP3.[75] A detailed account of the techniques used to isolate the sounds deleted during MP3 compression, along with the conceptual motivation for the project, was published in the 2014 Proceedings of the International Computer Music Conference.[76]


The song is sampled on "Centuries" by American rock band Fall Out Boy, released in 2014.[77]


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  5. ^ a b Plassy, Charles (September 25, 1994). "The coffee's hot; Seinfeld's cafe's not". Santa Cruz Sentinel. Santa Cruz, CA. Cox News Service. Retrieved July 9, 2016 – via  
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External linksEdit