365 Days of Song Recommendations: Jan 19
Rickie Lee Jones—The Last Chance Texaco
It pains me to accept it, but the truth is, some people still don’t really understand just how incredibly hip Rickie Lee Jones was upon arrival.
Admittedly, much of that hipness was eclipsed by the reputation of her romantic partner at the time, Tom Waits.
It’s true that Rickie Lee may not have done herself any favors by coming to our speakers with a style and sound that weren’t all that far afield from the finger-poppin’ hobo chic style that Waits was affecting to perfection during those years, but a deeper look into Jones’ debut makes very clear she was capable of something equally rich, and at times, quite different.
The Tom Waits of 1978 was a Waits where every ballad was on overdrive, loaded with triple helpings of the aggressively maudlin. Jones, on the other hand, dispensed a more elusive and mysterious kind of pathos.
She was also engaged in something delightfully subversive. Instead of calibrating to the “girl with a guitar” Joni Mitchell-isms of the era, she was busy turning the tables on her male counterparts by reshaping all their hackneyed tropes until they became—in her hands—reimagined poems of real beauty. The best example of this is, of course, The Last Chance Texaco.
If you’re ever wondered what a woman’s version of the archetypically melancholic male car song might sound like, this could be your answer. Rickie Lee goes for it at every opportunity—from the thrown rod-metaphors to the lonesome highway settings. But she does it all with such grace, style, poetry, and power, that the song becomes an unspoiled island unto its soulful self.
Ultimately, Rickie Lee was, and is, no female Waits, anymore than she’s a female Springsteen—Americana’s other favorite automobile poet—and stopping at those comparisons does her a disservice. Rickie Lee is nobody’s anything. She’s Rickie Lee Jones, and The Last Chance Texaco is one of the most haunting and beautiful songs I’ve ever heard, and if you haven’t heard it yet, I hope you listen to it today, because you will be changed.
The Last Chance Texaco
A long stretch of headlights
Bends into I-9
Tiptoe into truck stops
And sleepy diesel eyes
Volcanoes rumble in the taxi
And glow in the dark
Camels in the driver’s seat
A slow, easy mark
But you ran out of gas
Down the road a piece
Then the battery went dead
And now the cable won’t reach…
It’s your last chance
To check under the hood
She ain’t soundin’ too good,
Your last chance
To trust the man with the star
You’ve found the last chance Texaco
Well, he tried to be Standard
He tried to be Mobil
He tried living in a world
And in a shell
There was this block-busted blonde
He loved her — free parts and labor
But she broke down and died
And threw all the rods he gave her
But this one ain’t fuel-injected
Her plug’s disconnected
She gets scared and she stalls
She just needs a man, that’s all
It’s her last chance
Her timing’s all wrong
Her last chance
She can’t idle this long
Her last chance
Turn her over and go
Pullin’ out of the last chance Texaco
The last chance
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