Tom Waits: Little Drop Of Poison
So it’s 2004. My wife and I take our daughter to see Shrek II. And we come to the scene where the king sneaks off to this seedy dive to secretly buy a magic potion. The king walks in to the place, and there’s a song being played by a creature at the piano. Of course, he’s a product of CGI animation, so he looks however they want him to look. But I’d know that voice anywhere. I turn and whisper urgently to my wife, “OMG, that’s Tom Waits!” We check the end titles and sure enough, it is.
The surprise was finding Tom Waits in a children’s film. Waits actually started appearing in films, both as an actor and a songwriter, in 1978. In the film Paradise Alley, Waits contributed two songs to the soundtrack, and appeared as the character Mumbles. Very few people ever saw the film, (I never did), but when I found the reference, I remembered why. Paradise Alley was Sylvester Stallone’s ill-fated attempt to prove that he was a serious actor. Audiences could not accept him in this light, and the film died a quick commercial death.
But Tom Waits continued to appear in films, and continued to provide songs. He even wrote and performed, (with Crystal Gayle!), all of the songs in One From The Heart. To me, his most memorable acting turn was as Renfield in Dracula. And, along the way, he obviously made enough friends in Hollywood that somebody thought of him for Shrek II.
Tom Waits: Underground
The next year, 2005, saw another OMG moment, and Tom Waits second song in a kid’s film. The film was Robots. The writers imagined that robot hell would be the place where obsolete models go to be dismantled and melted down as scrap. They call it “the chop shop”, and the first time we see it, appropriately hellish music is playing. The song is Underground, by Tom Waits.
Unlike Shrek II, Robots did not use original songs. And Underground was left off of the soundtrack album. This one first appeared on Tom Waits album Swordfish Trombones. So I’m cheating a bit by including here. I offer it to complete the set of Tom Waits songs used in kid’s films to date.