Tom Waits wrote this and was the first to record it. He released it on his 1985 album Rain Dogs, which is one of his most popular and critically acclaimed sets. This song, however, was often derided as one of his more conciliatory efforts. The British music magazine Sounds called it a "conformist AOR song."
Waits, however, has never set out to write a hit song. With a little polish and a nod to the trends of the day, he could have been more commercially viable, but that's not what he was after. Waits stayed out of the spotlight and gave only sporadic interviews. He rarely talks specifics when it comes to songs, but he summed up this one when he said, "Everybody's on their own road, and I don't know where it’s going."
Stewart's manager had him record this as a last-minute addition to Storyteller, a greatest hits album of Stewart's work from 1964-1990. It ended up being a big hit.
Stewart told The Guardian, April 19, 2013, that when he hears the right song, he looks for the way to make it a Rod Stewart song. "For instance," he explained, "I'm sure Tom Waits wouldn't mind me saying this - Tom's 'Downtown Train,' I realized there was a melody there in the chorus, and it's beautiful, but he barely gets up and barely gets down to the lower notes, so I took it to the extreme. That was a case where I brought the chorus alive and there have been a couple like that."
Stewart wasn't the first to hear the potential in this song and take it into the Hot 100. Patty Smyth, best known as lead singer of the band Scandal, released her cover in 1987 which went to #95.
Waits has never had a Hot 100 hit as an artist, and this is his only song to crack the tally as a songwriter. In 2008, his song "Falling Down" made #121 when it was recorded by Scarlett Johansson. Other popular covers of Waits' songs include "Tom Traubert's Blues" by Rod Stewart, "Jersey Girl" by Bruce Springsteen, and "Ol' 55" by the Eagles.
Seventhmist from 7th HeavenAvoid Tom Waits' rendition of ANYTHING. His voice makes ears bleed.
Jorg from Utrecht, NetherlandsThis song was produced by Trevor Horn. Just like This old heart of mine.
Camille from Toronto, OhThis is the only version I ever heard; I like it. Just a nice song.
Rob from Farmingdale, NyI agree with David H: Patti Smyth's version is terrific, always my favorite and utterly forgotten. It was little heard to begin with. I heard it once and it stuck with me all years. Never heard Tom Waits version (talented songwriter and wonderful lyricist but unlistenable voice and too depressing) and Rod's is Rod-great but just Rod. Patti Smyth's version is fantastic, a great cover!
Camille from Toronto, OhNice song, the video was good, too.
Nick from Brisbane, AustraliaI LOVE the Tom Waits version, spare and heartfelt. The man's voice is shot to hell, but he knows how to sing a song.
Kenny from Clydebank, ScotlandRod the Mod has a great voice and his Jack the Lad image belies an amazing talent. He can pen a good song when he wants to, and his cover versions are often, like this one, better than the originals. Over the past few years, Rod and Elton John have come back into prominence; funny how we suddenly start playing their records again. Call it nostalgia, call it a dearth of new talent, call it what you will, Rod rocks and he's a patriotic Scot to boot (no pun on his love of football intended.) WHO'S THAT KNOCKING ON MY DOOR.... IT'S GOTTA BE A QUARTER TO FOUR.... Hot legs is another dynamite song.
Ethan from Portland, OrAvoid Tom Waits' version at all costs. Simply turgid. No passion whatsoever. At least Rod injects some feeling into it . . . to great effect, might I add.
Bill from Sellersville, PaAnyone ever hear the group "Eveyrthing But The Girl" rendition of this song? It's wonderful.
Anita from Nyc, NyTom Waits is a musical genius. So sad he doesn't even merit REAL inclusion in SONGFACTS -- just as a footnote to a very POOR cover and a marvelous song! On a fantastic album, "Rain Dogs." (editor's note: We usually list the songs under whatever artist had the best-known version.)
David from Haskell, NjPatty Smyth covered this song, IMNBO, much better then RS and TW. Its on the album Never Enough which the Hooters helped out with. Some really good songs on it too. Rod's storyteller anthology is a great collection. If you buy only one set of music, this would be a good one to buy.
Mark from Akron, OhBob Seger had recorded this song and played it for Rod. Rod liked the song and got his version of the song out before Seger's. Which supposedly angered Seger.