Lets go back to 1973 now and the release of Tom Waits' debut album, 'Closing Time'. This was a truely seminal album and is my favorite in Waits' back catalogue. Rarely sticking to one style, the album switches from genre to genre effortlessly - folk numbers include 'Old Shoes' and 'I Hope That I Don't Fall In Love With You', Jazz tracks 'Ice Cream Man' and my personal favorite, the ballad 'Martha.
The track opens with a discordant piano riff and the words 'Operator, number please', a line which instantly has the listener hooked to find out more. As the song unfolds the listener hears the dialogue between Waits, and a past love (Martha). The opening verse shows Tom's insecurities and reservation in getting back in contact with his past loves ('will she remember my old voice'). Perhaps worrying that he didn't mean as much to her as she did to him.
The chorus moves into a beautiful and smooth melody, playing off perfectly against the minor based progressions in the verses. The lyrics here change as well, reminiscing of the early romance the two shared (days of 'roses', 'poetry and prose') and living only for each other.
It feels from the rest of the song that Tom is fixed in a state of nostalgia. During the following verse we find out that she has a husband and kids, and with the line 'you know that I got married too' there is more of an indication has his marriage hasn't lasted. His life, unlike hers, seems not to have gone according to plan. He is at a point in life where nothing makes sense, and he wants to go back and remember a time when it did. The song ends with the character admitting his love for her but being reserved to the fact that it was 'never meant to be'. The song is an incredibly tragic love story; and once again, a moment of pure genius from Waits.
and we saved them for a rainy day.'