“Little Drop of Poison” by Tom Waits

So, you like music. Chances are, you’re getting a little tired of your standbys, and even your favorite tracks are getting a bit stale. Well, you’re in luck! I’ll listen to just about anything, and I have…let’s call it “discerning” taste. This Is My Jam provides you with alternatives; stuff you may have never heard of before, and insight as to why it’s worth a listen.

“And she left in the fall; that’s her picture on the wall. She always had that little drop of poison…”

You know Tom Waits. You hear a song somewhere, and the singer sounds like he chain-smoked cheese graters for the better part of fifty years, and yet somehow it’s charming and pleasant and totally comprehensible. His voice is legendary, and his songs are classic. “Little Drop of Poison,” much to my surprise, is NOT one of his major hits. Like, it doesn’t even show up on his Wikipedia page. Seems odd to me, but it IS on his best selling album to date, Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers & Bastards., so that’s something. The lack of Oxford comma in that title bothers me so very much, but I’ll have to reserve that frustration for a different article.

I was considering exploring “Ace of Spades” by Motörhead today, but I had the weird notion that lead singer of Motörhead Lemmy (real name: Ian Kilmister, wtf) was just Tom Waits all hopped-up on Metal drugs, and while running a cross-comparison, I rediscovered “Little Drop of Poison.” I have always loved this song; the introduction alone grabs my attention and keeps me invested throughout the remainder. The song begins with a piano, played in such a way to convey danger, as though playing the soundtrack of a small city’s seedy underbelly, even if Waits’ vocalizations before the lyrics begin sound like someone let a Basset Hound with a sinus infection into the recording booth.

Everything about this song makes me feel transported to another world, where the colors are grayscale and it’s always 1 A.M. and the only places that exist are a smoky bar with a whiskey on the rocks waiting for you, and a streetlight just outside in that has a slight flicker in the drizzling rain; cool enough for a coat, but not so intense that you would need an umbrella. Perhaps you see a cat across the street, but it scampers away immediately. A train whistle blows miles away, but you’re here, stuck in this city, your best years and worst mistakes behind you. You light another cigarette, and head back into the bar, because that’s not a social taboo yet, and because you need another drink.

So, the song is evocative, is my point.


I feel like I’ve always known this song. It almost feels immortal; like the song has always been around and will continue to exist even after humanity nukes itself into the fossil record. Or gets Raptured, I guess; I’m not up on my Christian Eschatology. I prefer Pratchett, myself. Ever read Good Omens? Good stuff.

I did, however, remember this song upon watching Shrek 2. I really like that movie; it’s practically a story told through a series of music videos interspersed with dialogue. Remember that seedy bar in the movie? The Poison Apple, or something like that? There’s a scene where Captain Hook (of Peter Pan fame) sings “Little Drop of Poison,” and accompanies himself on the piano. I realize he’s an animated character, but one of his hands is a HOOK. That’s impressive. Let me see if I can find you a clip:

But yeah, I don’t think I’ve ever not been aware of this song. I doubt this is the first time YOU’VE heard it, either…but maybe this is the first time you’ll appreciate the whole thing.


Pathos! Except, not the weepy kind of pathos. This song is too cheerful to be melancholic, and too melancholic to be cheerful. The emotional overtones are of wist and acceptance of a life gone by. I imagine this song will only grow more and more poignant as we age, and the song remains the same. Use this song when looking backwards upon your life. If you drink alcohol, drink hard liquor with this; ideally whiskey or bourbon on the rocks, with maybe a Coke chaser…unless you’re REALLY feeling the melancholy. In that case, chase it with another whiskey. PROTIP: ALWAYS DRINK RESPONSIBLY. Give someone else your keys. Regardless, this is not a Red Bull Vodka kind of song. That is an ENTIRELY different kind of poison, and well-suited for an entirely different kind of song.

If you’re interested in ballroom dance, this could make a very interesting performance piece for a Tango. There are a few moments where the song itself steals a beat, so this is definitely more suited to a choreographed routine than regular social dancing.


If you want to purchase this song so you can have an mp3 on your computer/device so you can listen to it without using up your data plan, you can get it from iTunes by following this link:


Yeah. Despite the chorus of the song focusing on a girl who left the singer behind, this track doesn’t really give me the “Breakup Song” vibe. Maybe it’s the Tango rhythm, or the lovely banshee wail in the background, but this feels like the girl’s departure was just one of many anchors on this man’s soul, as he looks back upon the past few years. Great for wistfulness, but if you’re looking to soothe a broken heart through tears and anger, this won’t be Emo enough for you. Come back in a few years and remember this breakup, and then maybe it’ll work for your mood.

Previous Jam – “Blackout” by Breathe Carolina

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