Tom Waits...anyone?

i caught tom waits on PBS' Austin City Limits last night and really enjoyed the show and Waits' original sound. I'm not too familiar with his work, can anyone recommend a good album to start with?

for more accessible album, try "Heart of Saturday Night" my personal favorite.
Closing Time.
used songs.
"Heart of Saturday Night" is probably the most accessible album, as Pehare has stated above, though it might not be the most typical. The live, "Nighthawks at the Diner" is my favorite for long car trips.

"Used Songs," "Beautiful Maladies," or another of the composite albums might be a good place to start, as you'll get a feeling for the spectrum of Waits' work.

Also fairly accessible are "Blue Valentine," "Small Change,"and "Closing Time."

If you like his harder-edged stuff, "Swordfishtrombones," "Mule Variations," or "Rain Dogs" are a good listen. If you want to hear him go over the top, try "Bone Machine," or "The Black Rider."

His two newer albums, "Alice," and "Blood Money," are also a middling easy listen. There are others as well that i haven't mentioned.

My personal favorites: "Small Change," "Mule Variations," "Rain Dogs," and "The Black Rider," in no particular order (and subject to change at the drop of a stylus).
The obvious choice - though not so obvious that it has already been suggested - is "Anthology of Tom Waits" on Electra/Asylum. A nice chronicle of the early years, it's a great place to start. For high amusement factor try a soundtrack that he recorded with Crystal Gayle (yes Crystal Gayle), "One From The Heart". So out of character that you don't know if you should laugh or cry, a delicious record. My favorite Waits album is the jarring, angular "Swordfishtrombones".
I wish he would keep 'waiting.'
I confirm that Blue Valentine is a great accessible recording to listen to, but I find that Frank's Wild Years is wonderfully done project, it was a performance piece in the chicago area, and although there may be many songs that are hard to listen to at least half the disc is easily listenable.

Also closing time is a good disc to listen to with one light on, at a light glow, while indulging on a glass of wine, or two.
Another vote for Nighthawks at the Diner:) Guess what was playing on the stereo (at 3am) when I chose my moniker?
Been a big fan of TW since the late 70's. Guess I'm the opposite end of the spectrum from Nrchy. Indeed he is not for everyone, but who is then? I love most of his work. Actually the more accessible ones folks have reccomended here are probably my least favorite, though I'd agree that they are indeed more accessible to average tastes than his later work. I didn't see the Austin City Limits show but wish I had. I'd imagine that if it was a recent show he would likely be playing plenty of stuff from his two newest releases, "Blood Money" and "Alice", both of which are great and neither falling into the kind same category of 'accessible' that folks are recommending above. If it is the case that he was playing mostly tunes from recent works, you might be dissappointed if you go out and get all his early stuff. My favorite albums are those when he began to collaborate with his wife Kathleen Brennan. 'Swordfishtrombone', 'Raindogs' and 'Bone Machine' are all wonderful, imaginative and richly textured albums. Swordfishtrombone is a great album to enjoy soundstage on (wide and deep and full of nuance). He continues to collaborate with his wife right up to the most recent albums which are also great. He's also a pretty darn good actor, though the parts he plays he mostly seems to be playing himself (Rumblefish, At Play in the Fields of the Lord, Mystery Train, Down by Law, Ironweed and a pretty over the top performance in a small roll in the 1992 version of Dracula ...among several other films). If you want to see him more as his hilarious, street-wise self try to find the short film by John Lurie (of The Lounge Lizards) called "Fishing with John" in which he documents his fishing trips with some of his friends, among them Tom Waits. He also did a very funny concert video titled "Big Time" which is out of print as far as I know, but worth looking for. He puts on a great show. I wish I could have seen him perform live but it is a pretty rare occurance. A few years ago when he came back to Seattle and performed here at The Moore it was the first time in eight years he'd returned. The tickets sold out in under ten minutes which was some kind of record as I recall hearing on the news.

I guess a good tact would be to get one of the many compilation albums that a few folks have recommended. These collections only cover various periods of his career. There are six different compilation albums I know of and each is a different mix. They are:

Asylum Years
The Early Years
The Early Years Volume 2
Beautiful Maladies
Used Songs

I'd agree with Abysmillard that Beautiful Maladies and Used Songs would be an excellent place to start and are my favorites among the compilations.

His "official(?)" website may tell you more if you want to check it out here

thanks for the responses everyone - definitely some good places to start...

for those who are interested, i've posted a link to the austin city limits homepage that provides info on tom waits' performance...apparently, it was from 1979
If that was the play list on the Austin City Limits link, you may want to know that those songs were mostly off three albums:

Small Change
Foreign Affairs
Blue Valentine

The compilation album "Used Songs" covers that period nicely.

coltrane and waits - doesn't get any better
Now what was the album that they did together called?

Blue Valentine Trane?
I just love "nighthawks at the diner".
Doncha love the "Weather Report"?

Tw is a great songwriter/storyteller but I prefer his earlier work with Bones Howe. "Small Change" is an absolute classic.
How much for your Blue Valentrane? I'll take it.
I recently discovered Tom, I bought Alice then Blood money
then I bought Beautiful Maladies which projected me into his early stuff.I would not recomend Black Rider.
Try :
Mule Variations
Bone Machine
Swordfish Trombone
Blue Valentine
The heart of Saturday Night ( listening to this right now)
closing time
The Early Years Vol 1&2(demo recording in 71') Awsome!!!!!!!!! some never released songs and raw versions of some of his best!
Tom is great! don't know why it took other artists to redo his work to get radio play (Eagles , Rod Stewart I think)Anyway he is a no brainer if your looking for some new music to get into .Lots there to enjoy, 30+ albums.
sreno, from top to bottom, is that the order you would recommend tom waits to a newbie?! you dove hard core into this guy pretty quickly! i would suggest easing someone in with Blue valentine or heart of a sat night. and i agree, the early years stuff is great, raw and the sign of a budding genius. i would also put swordfishtrombone before mule variations and bone machine. good lord man, we dont want to scare people away from our guy.

anyone who 'gets' waits starting with the recordings you did has my respect...and fear.
I must confess that a few years ago I felt as Nrchy seems to feel. However, this year my brother made me listen to Alice, and I cannot believe how good it is! Needless to say, I am now a believer... and I now own both Alice and Blood Money. Now I'm trying to figure out where to go next... should Swordfishtrombone be next? Anyway, great thread on an amazing artist!
If you like Alice and BloodMoney then make the leap over to Bone Machine...go for the gristle!! Get into the real marbled meat of Waits. May be too chewy for beginners, but in a similar vein as the two new ones. Don't get me wrong, Swordfishtrombone is one of my favorites, just not in the same vein as Alice and Blood Money. Also try Mule Variations!

Bone Machine - scary good stuff, way out on the edge.

"And the earth died screaming
While I lay dreaming of you"

...Gotta love it, Waits is just brilliant with language. I tend to love the more wicked and cutting wit:

'Cause there's nothin' strange
About an axe with bloodstains in the barn

There's always some killin'
You got to do around the farm

-Murder in the Red Barn / Bone Machine

I'll tell you one thing
He's not building a playhouse for
The children ....

-What's he Building? / Muel Variations

Never could stand that dog.

Frank's Wild Years / Swordfishtrombones

More great Waits quotes (on a broader spectrum) are here (click on "Famous and Infamous Quotes").