Tom Waits is up there with Bob Dylan as an artist whose work is seen by some as best appreciated through other people’s interpretations of his material. But the level of critical acclaim achieved by Waits over the years is downright staggering nonetheless - as was the case when "Ol' 55," the debut single from Tom’s 1973 debut album, Closing Time, first appeared on the scene.
Penned by Waits and produced by Jerry Yester, “Ol’ 55” was presumably written about the 1955 Cadillac owned by Waits, but some have argued that the song itself is really more about escapism, as in taking a ride back through the mists of time and remembering the good old days. While it wasn’t a chart hit, it nonetheless made the rounds, resulting in numerous covers over the years, including versions by Iain Matthews, Richie Havens, Sarah McLachlan, Sass Jordan, and Shelby Lynne and Allison Moorer, among others.
The following year, the Eagles recorded a cover of “Ol’ 55” for their album On the Border, and while Waits has undoubtedly enjoyed the resulting songwriting royalties, he was not afraid to admit in an interview with radio station WAMU in 1975 that he wasn’t a big fan of their take on the track. “I frankly was not that particularly crazy about their rendition of it,” said Waits. “The song is about five years old, it’s one of the first songs I wrote, so I felt like it was kind of flattering that somebody wanted to do your song, but at the same time I thought their version was a little antiseptic.”
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