16 Shells From A Thirty-Ought-Six

Album: Swordfishtrombones (1983)

Songfacts®:

  • The imagery in this song is so surreal and strange that it's almost cartoonish. It's sung from the perspective of a character who captures a crow in a Washburn guitar and then bangs on the strings "Just to drive him crazy." The song's narrator also makes a ladder from a marimba (a mallet percussion instrument); beats a French horn into a small travel kettle, and blows "a hole in the sky 'bout the size of a kickdrum."
  • According to 1983 interviews, Waits wanted a sort of chain gang, work song feel to this track - which explains the metallic clangs and crashes.
  • At least six years before Swordfishtrombones was released, this song started as a lyric about a farmer who shoots sixteen shells into the belly of a scarecrow out of frustration during a drought. A "Thirty-Ought-Six" is a .30-06 Springfield rifle cartridge. (Source: "The Beat Goes On", a 1983 interview with Rock Bill magazine.)
  • Waits wanted this track to sound like a train; the low trombone and steady rhythm support this feel.

Comments: 1

  • Joe from SedonaThe metallic clang is the unmistakable “ping” of the empty clip being ejected from an M1 Garand. Sixteen shells is two full clips of eight (each), which is just enough to make an impression on you scarecrow.
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