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Music / Small Change

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And it's a battered old suitcase to a hotel someplace, and a wound that will never heal.

Small Change is the fourth studio album by Tom Waits. Released in 1976 through Asylum Records, it's best known for the audience favorites "Tom Traubert's Blues", "Step Right Up", "The Piano Has Been Drinking (Not Me)", "Invitation to the Blues", "Pasties And A G-String" and the title track. Waits' third album was an important turning point in his career, as he became more confident as an artist. Here we can seem him gradually change into the comically Guttural Growler he is most famous for today.


Side One
  1. "Tom Traubert's Blues (Four Sheets to the Wind in Copenhagen)" (6:39)
  2. "Step Right Up" (5:43)
  3. "Jitterbug Boy (Sharing A Curbstone with Chuck E. Weiss, Robert Marchese, Paul Body and the Mug and Artie) (3:44)
  4. "I Wish I Was in New Orleans (In the Ninth Ward)" (4:53)
  5. "The Piano has Been Drinking (Not Me) (An Evening with Pete King)" (3:40)

Side Two

  1. "Invitation to the Blues" (5:24)
  2. "Pasties and a G-String (At the Two O' Clock Club)" (2:32)
  3. "Bad Liver and a Broken Heart (In Lowell)" (4:50)
  4. "The One That Got Away" (4:07)
  5. "Small Change (Got Rained On With His Own 38)" (5:07)
  6. "I Can't Wait to Get Off Work (And See My Baby on Montgomery Avenue)" (3:l7)


  • Tom Waits: vocals, piano
  • Jim Hughart: bass
  • Ed Lustgarten: cello, orchestra manager string
  • Shelly Manne: drums
  • Lew Tabackin: tenor saxophone
  • Jerry Yester: arranger & conductor of string section.

Tropes And A G-String

  • Album Title Drop: "Small Change"
    Small Change got rained on with his own .38.
  • The Alcoholic:
    • "Bad Liver & A Broken Heart"
    And I don't have a drinking problem, except when I can't get a drink.
    • "The Piano Has Been Drinking (Not Me)".
  • Alliterative Name and Alliterative Title: "Tom Traubert's Blues".
  • Badass Boast: "Jitterbug Boy"
    I seen the Wabash Cannonball, buddy, I've done it all
    Because I slept with the lions and Marilyn Monroe
    Had breakfast in the eye of a hurricane
    Fought Rocky Marciano, played Minnesota Fats
    Burned hundred-dollar bills, I eaten Mulligan stew
    And got drunk with Louis Armstrong, what's that old song?
    I taught Mickey Mantle everything that he knows
  • Break Up Song: "Bad Liver & A Broken Heart".
    Well, I got a bad liver and a broken heart
    Yeah, I drunk me a river since you tore me apart
  • Call-Back and Continuity Nod: The title track of "Small Change" had been referenced on Waits' previous album The Heart of Saturday Night during the final song "The Ghosts of Saturday Night":
    And a solitary sailor
    Who spends the facts of his life like small change on strangers
    Paws his inside P-coat pocket for a welcome twenty-five cents.
  • Cradle of Loneliness: Much like Waits' earlier two albums he presents a world of lonely drunks, prostitutes, strippers and small-time losers.
  • Dreadful Musician: Alluded to during "Pasties and a G-String"
    And the band is awful and so are the tunes
  • Drowning My Sorrows: "Bad Liver and a Broken Heart", "The Piano Has Been Drinking", "Invitation To The Blues" all adress miserable alcoholics.
  • Drunken Song: "The Piano Has Been Drinking (Not Me)", "Bad Liver & Broken Heart", which has the line:
    And I don't have a drinking problem, except when I can't get a drink.
  • Either/Or Title: Most of the songs are titled this way - for instance, "Tom Traubert's Blues (Four Sheets To The Wind In Copenhagen)".
  • Face on the Cover: Tom Waits, backstage in a dressing room.
  • Gay Paree: "Pasties And A G-String":
    Wrinkles and Cherry and Twinkie and Pinkie and Fifi live from Gay Paree.
  • Greasy Spoon: "Invitation to the Blues" is set in a greasy spoon, and deals with the narrator's infatuation with a waitress there.
  • Guttural Growler: From this album on Waits started to evolve in the gravelly voiced singer he is today.
  • Have a Gay Old Time: "I Can't Wait To Get Off Work And See My Baby" is one of the more egregious examples, using "jerk off" to mean "slack off".
  • Heads or Tails?: "Jitterbug Boy".
    Flippin' this quarter trying to make up my mind
    And if it's heads I'll go to Tennessee, and tails I'll buy a drink
    If it lands on the edge I'll keep talking to you.
  • Hollywood Tone-Deaf: For "The Piano Has Been Drinking" Waits lapses into this with both his vocals and the instruments (including numerous missed piano cues), all done intentionally to give the idea that the singer is drunk.
  • Immediate Self-Contradiction: "Invitation To The Blues": nobody would want to be invited to the blues. Although in this case it's more 'knowing it'll suck and doing it anyway'.
  • Incredibly Lame Pun: "Jitterbug Boy"
    Well, I'm a jitterbug boy by the shoe-shine
    Resting on my laurels and my Hardy's too.
  • Lipstick Mark: "Step Right Up", the product being sold (whatever it is) "gets rid of unwanted lipstick on your collar."
  • Medicine Show: Waits plays a medicine show trickster during "Step Right Up".
  • Ms. Fanservice: The stripper on the album cover, who is wearing pasties and a g-string.
  • Murder Ballad: "Small Change" about a man who got shot.
  • New Sound Album: The atmosphere is similar to Waits' previous drunk pianist albums, but more playful in the vocal delivery. "Pasties And A G-String" has a very minimal musical arrangement that makes the song stand out between the other bar piano numbers.
  • Ode to Sobriety: "The Piano Has Been Drinking" is a comedic example.
  • The One That Got Away: One song is literally titled that way, although it's more about the life of the protagonist after the one that got away left.
  • Patter Song: "Step Right Up" is basically Waits ranting about the benefits of some miracle medicine.
  • Real Life Writes the Plot: "I Can't Wait to Get Off Work (And See My Baby on Montgomery Avenue)" is about Waits' first job at a pizza house in San Diego where he started to work at age 16. "Four Sheets to the Wind in Copenhagen" is about a meeting in Copenhagen, 1976, where he met Danish singer Mathilde Bondo and allegedly was the protagonist in the number itself. Tom Traubert was someone Waits knew who died in prison.
  • Shout-Out:
    And you feel just like Cagney, she looks like Rita Hayworth.
    • "Pasties And A G-String" namedrops Al Cohn and Chesty Morgan.
    • A Fistful of Dollars can't change the fact that Small Change got rained on with his own .38.
    • "I Can't Get Wait To Get Off Work" namedrops the song "Nice Work If You Can Get It".
    It's nice work if you can get it, now who the hell said it?
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: The songs were far more cynical than Waits' previous output. "Tom Traubert's Blues".
  • Snake Oil Salesman: He plays one in "Step Right Up" from Small Change cramming as many Advertising Tropes as possible into hawking a product.
  • Something Blues: "Tom Traubert's Blues" and "Invitation To The Blues". "Pasties and a G-String" also mentions "car keys blues".
  • Stock Sound Effects: At the start of "Small Change" Waits can be heard striking a match to light a cigarette.
  • Stylistic Suck: "The Piano Has Been Drinking" is played on an off-key piano while Tom sings in a ludicrous voice.
  • Suspiciously Specific Denial: At the end of "The Piano's Been Drinking" the entire song is revealed to be one.
  • Time Marches On: In the song "Tom Traubert's Blues" Waits sings: "And the maverick Chinaman", a word that nowadays would no longer be considered politically correct.
  • Too Dumb to Live: "The Piano Has Been Drinking":
    And the owner is a mental midget with the I.Q. of a lamp post.
  • Word Salad Lyrics: "The Piano Has Been Drinking" from Small Change, but then again the singer is drunk out of his mind, so no wonder.
  • You Can Leave Your Hat On: "Pasties and a G-String" is a rambunctious ode to burlesque strippers.
    Strip tease, prick tease, car keys blues
    And the porno floor show, live nude girls,
    Dreamy and creamy and brunette curls
    Chesty Morgan and Watermelon Rose
    Raise my rent and take off all your clothes
    With trench coats, magazines, a bottle full of rum,
    She's so good, make a dead man come