Tom Waits

Frank's Wild Years

Composed by Tom Waits

Song Review by

As surreal, violent, and needling as a classic beat poem, "Frank's Wild Years" is a seemingly improvised (but more likely carefully written to sound spontaneous) spoken word piece set to a rollicking Jimmy Smith-style Hammond organ that sounds like the background music in the sort of once-grand, now-dingy bar that the title character once frequented. In the opening line, Frank's wild years are behind him, but by the end of the prose poem, Frank has rebelled against the tidy conformity of his suburban life in the San Fernando Valley by burning down his house and escaping up the freeway to the sounds of a Top 40 station. In other hands, this would sound trite and pretentious, but Tom Waits delivers the tale with casual wit (he giggles, barely audibly, at the very end) and the same love of words and their rhythms as Ken Nordine or Lord Buckley. Although "Frank's Wild Years" doesn't even last two minutes, Waits became entranced enough with the character that he and wife Kathleen Brennan turned his story first into a play and then into a concept album.

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
Swordfishtrombones 1983 Island / Universal Distribution 1:50
Beautiful Maladies: The Island Years 1998 Island 1:51