Label A&M PolyGram
Writer(s) Suzanne Vega
|Released April 1, 1987 (1987-04-01)|
Recorded 1986 (1986)–87 (87), Bearsville Sound Studios, RPM Sound Studios
"Tom's Diner" is a song written in 1982 by American singer and songwriter Suzanne Vega. It was first released as a track on the April 1987 issue of Fast Folk Musical Magazine. When first featured on one of her own studio albums, it appeared as the first track of her Solitude Standing album in 1987. It was later used as the basis for a remix by the British group DNA in 1990. The 1991 release Tom's Album includes the DNA version as well as cover versions by such artists as After One, Nikki D. and Bingo Hand Job (R.E.M. and Billy Bragg). It was also used as the background soundtrack for the opening scene of the 1993 film Untamed Heart.
Background and writing
The "Tom's Diner" of the song is Tom's Restaurant in New York City, a diner on the corner of Broadway and 112th Street. Singer and songwriter Suzanne Vega was reputedly a frequent patron of the eatery during the early 1980s when she was a student at nearby Barnard College. The mid-twentieth century diner would later become famous as a location for some exterior scenes in the popular 1990s television sitcom Seinfeld.
The song is written as a simple first person vignette of someone stopping at a diner for a cup of coffee. The song notes the newspaper as well as two women, one who enters the diner and one who stands outside in the rain. The ringing of bells at a nearby cathedral causes the singer to reminisce on an unnamed companion and a picnic previously. When the coffee is finished, it is time to leave the diner to catch a train.
Vega wrote the song based on a comment by her friend Brian Rose, a photographer, who mentioned that in his work, he sometimes felt as if "he saw his whole life through a pane of glass, and [...] like he was the witness to a lot of things, but was never really involved in them." She attempted to think and write in this fashion (including a male perspective) while sitting at Tom's Restaurant. The "bells of the cathedral" that she remarks hearing in the song are those of the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine, located one block to the east.
"Tom's Diner Day": The date of the composition
An article on Suzanne Vega's official Web site uses clues in the song to determine the exact date that Vega wrote it.
Vega herself said that she wrote the song sometime in 1982; Brian Rose has said that it was written sometime between mid-1981 and mid-1982. The lyrics of the song refer to a rainy morning, when she was at the diner on the corner, reading in her newspaper of "a story of an actor / who had died while he was drinking", and afterwards "turning to the horoscope / and looking for the funnies". Only two newspapers in New York City carried comic strips, or "funnies", in 1981 and 1982, and only one, the New York Post, featured a front-page story of the death of actor William Holden (star of films such as The Wild Bunch and Bridge on the River Kwai), whose body was discovered on Monday, November 16, 1981. He had died from a fall at his apartment, suffered after drinking excessively. The story in the Post concerning Holden's death was not carried until two days later on Wednesday, November 18, 1981, which is taken to be the exact date of the composition.
On that day in New York, however, the weather was not rainy, but overcast. Vega has acknowledged that "Tom's Diner" features a composite of events, and that the rain was from a morning she remembered being in the diner during the spring of 1982, after the initial events of the song.
At a concert in the Exhibition Hall of Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, on Friday, November 18, 2011, Vega performed "Tom's Diner" as the final song of her second set; Dublin-born guitarist Gerry Leonard accompanied her. Beforehand she explained to the audience that the day marked the 30th anniversary of the one on which she wrote the song. She also noted in a self-deprecating manner that the actor who had died while he was drinking was William Holden and that, despite his fame, she indeed had never heard of him until the morning when she read about his death.
Music and lyrics
Vega originally conceived "Tom's Diner" as a piece for voice and solo piano. Two versions feature on her album Solitude Standing; the album opens with an a cappella version, and closes with an instrumental version played on keyboards, with guitars lending support.
It has been suggested that Vega's layered singing was originally intended to be overlaid on top of the instrumental version, but that Vega and her producers ultimately preferred the effect of two separate versions of the tune. Vega's a cappella recording of the song is extremely sparse – no vocal effects are used except her singing voice – and clocks in at slightly over two minutes long. It was not released as a single; the song "Luka", which follows it on the album, was released as a successful single.
Vega opened her appearance at the Prince's Trust concert on June 20, 1986, with an a cappella rendition of "Tom's Diner" to confront stage fright, intending to walk off stage afterwards if it wasn't well received. It was, and she performed a full and equally well-received set.
During the 2006 Major League Baseball season, Cincinnati Reds player Ryan Freel used this song as his entrance song when he came to bat.
The "Mother of the MP3"
An article in the now defunct magazine Business 2.0 revealed that "Tom's Diner" was also used by Karlheinz Brandenburg to develop the audio compression scheme known as MP3 at what is now the Fraunhofer Society. He recalled: "I was ready to fine-tune my compression algorithm...somewhere down the corridor, a radio was playing 'Tom's Diner.' I was electrified. I knew it would be nearly impossible to compress this warm a cappella voice."
In a 2009 documentary about the history of the song by Swedish SVT, Brandenburg said: "I was finishing my PhD thesis, and then I was reading some hi-fi magazine and found that they had used this song to test loudspeakers. I said 'OK, let's test what this song does to my sound system, to MP3'. And the result was, at bit rates where everything else sounded quite nice, Suzanne Vega's voice sounded horrible."
Brandenburg adopted the song for testing purposes, listening to it again and again each time he refined the scheme, making sure it did not adversely affect the subtlety of Vega's voice. While the MP3 compression format is not specifically tuned to play the song "Tom's Diner" (an assortment of critically analyzed material was involved in the design of the codec over many years), among audio engineers this anecdote has earned Vega the informal title "The Mother of the MP3".
- "Tom's Diner"
- "Left of Center"
- "Tom's Diner" (live)
- "Luka" (live)
In 1990, two British record producers remixed "Tom's Diner", grafting her vocals onto a dance beat from Soul II Soul and turning her simple ad-libbed outro – "Da da da duh, doo da-doo doo" – into the song's driving hook. Without permission from Vega, her record label, or publisher, the duo released the remix on a limited basis for distribution to clubs as "Oh Suzanne" by "DNA featuring Suzanne Vega". Vega's record company of the time, A&M, decided to buy and release the remix rather than take DNA to court for copyright infringement. A&M struck the deal after consulting with Vega, who liked the interpretation, and DNA, who conducted the transaction through intermediaries without revealing their true identities. The remix became a much larger hit than Vega had with the song originally, peaking at number 2 on the UK Singles Chart and number 5 on the US Billboard Hot 100, and it became one of a handful of tracks to chart in the top 10 of both the Modern Rock Tracks (number 7) and Billboard R&B Tracks (number 10) charts. A music video was also made of this version.
The remix of the song is written in the key of F♯ minor in common time with a tempo of 99 beats per minute. Vega's vocals span from D3 to D4 in the song.
- "Tom's Diner" (7" A) – 3:47
- "Tom's Diner" by Suzanne Vega – 2:39
- "Tom's Diner" (a cappella) by Suzanne Vega – 2:08
- "Tom's Diner" (12" A) – 5:20
- "Tom's Diner" – 3:47
- "Tom's Diner" (a cappella) by Suzanne Vega – 2:08
- "Tom's Diner" (remix) – This version, containing a piano with a solo part, has never been released on CD or MP3 yet.
- "Tom's Diner" by Suzanne Vega
- "Tom's Diner" (a cappella) by Suzanne Vega
Giorgio Moroder version
Giorgio Moroder included a remake of "Tom's Diner" featuring Britney Spears on his album Déjà Vu, released June 12, 2015. Despite being a non-single track at that time, it became his best-selling digital song, debuting and peaking at number 38 on the Billboard Dance/Electronic Songs chart and number 14 on the Billboard Dance/Electronic Digital Songs chart, during the week of July 4, 2015. A single version was later released on October 9, 2015 with two new remixes included.
- "Tom's Diner"
- "Tom's Diner" (Leu Leu Land Remix)
- "Tom's Diner" (Hibell Remix)
The song spawned a number of hip hop, dance, and rock remixes and remakes from artists such as Peter Behrens (drummer from Trio) and Bingo Hand Job, a whimsical one-time collaboration between Billy Bragg and R.E.M. . It was also sampled in songs by Public Enemy, Nikki D, Twin Hype and Lil' Kim, among other hip hop acts.
In 1991, Vega, noting the huge number of remakes of the song, released Tom's Album, a compilation of different versions of the song, spanning a variety of musical genres, including a parody by Mark Jonathan Davis that worked in references to I Dream of Jeannie called "Jeannie's Diner," which Nick-at-Nite would use to promote its airings of the show. The album also featured another DNA remix of one of her songs, "Rusted Pipe." On the album's sleeve, Vega wrote: "A small song about eating breakfast became a song about accidental pregnancy (Daddy's Little Girl – Nikki D.) and the recent war in the Gulf (Waiting at the Border). One version incorporates forgotten bits of pop culture (Jeannie's Diner). All of them surprised me; a couple made me wince. I include them anyway."
In 2015, sound artist and composer Ryan Maguire released the track "moDernisT" (an anagram of "Tom's Diner") as a part of his project "The Ghost in the MP3". "moDernisT" is composed exclusively of the sounds deleted during MP3 compression from the song "Tom's Diner", known as the mother of the MP3. A detailed account of the techniques used to isolate the sounds deleted during MP3 compression, along with the conceptual motivation for the project, was published in the 2014 Proceedings of the International Computer Music Conference.
"Tom's Diner" lyrics were sampled (along with Vega's "Luka") by the hip-hop duo Felt on their song "Suzanne Vega" from their album Felt: A Tribute to Christina Ricci. The lyrics have also been sampled for B-Real's song "Don't Ya Dare Laugh", off his 2009 Smoke N Mirrors album.
Lil' Kim recorded her own version of the song called "Right Now" which is featured on her second album The Notorious K.I.M. released in 2000.
The song has also been re-invented posthumously by 2Pac, for his song "Dopefiend's Diner" on Best of 2Pac. More recently, hip-hop artist Drake has used the sample on a track titled "Juice". The track appeared on promotional mixtapes in 2009. Underground rapper Steve Spag (from Windsor, Ontario) released a remix titled "Racin' For Answers" and was the single off his March 2010 album Ready Or Not. Miami based hip-hop group Git Fresh also used it for their single "She Be Like". Rapper Yo Gotti used the beat in his song "Standing in the Kitchen". The underground hip-hop artist Logic used the beat in his song "Are You Ready" on his mixtape Young Sinatra.
In 2010, Dutch electronic duo Bingo Players released their track of the same name on Sneakerz Muzik. Their track was then remixed in 2016, released on Spinnin' and Hysteria Records, for their 10 Year Anniversary EP.
The scat chorus ("Do do do do, do do do do") of the song was sampled in "Weird Al" Yankovic's polka medley "Polka Your Eyes Out" and during the bridge of Danny!'s Not the One.
It is also sampled on "Centuries" by American rock band Fall Out Boy, released in 2014, and in "Keep Moving" by Adam Deacon & Bashy feat Paloma Faith. It was in the film 188.8.131.52 directed by Noel Clarke.
The song was sampled in Aaliyah's single "Hot Like Fire".
A sample was used throughout the song, "It's All Good (TO's Diner)" by Triangle Offense.
On July 28, 2012, Suzanne Vega and the Soul Rebels Brass Band shared the stage and performed "Tom's Diner" together at the inaugural 2012 Boston Summer Arts Weekend in Copley Square.
Portuguese singer David Carreira samples this song in his 2013 collaboration with Snoop Dogg "A Força Está Em Nós".
Timbaland sampled the song for the track "Nothing But a Number" from the Empire soundtrack (2015). It was performed by Yazz and Naomi Campbell.
It was also sampled by the Italian rapper Gemitaiz in the song "On the Corner" included in his mixtape Quello che vi consiglio Volume 4 released in 2013.
The horn samples featured in the DNA remix were borrowed from "Love is the Message" by MFSB.
Covers have also been recorded by:
The song has been sampled by: