Pocket reference to half-rhyme

Woke up this morning — Solstice Day — to the distinctive sound of Tom Waits‘s voice singing his own “Ol ’55”, with the haunting chorus:

Now the sun’s coming up,
I’m riding with Lady Luck,
Freeway cars and trucks,
Stars beginning to fade,
And I lead the parade.

Words that seem to suggest all sorts of interpretive possibilities, but certainly begin with a kind of pocket reference guide to types of half-rhyme: the first three lines, rhyming up, luck, and trucks, illustrate feature rhyme (up vs. luck, with /p/ vs. /k/, two voiceless stops differing only in the feature of point of articulation and so “sounding alike”) and subsequence rhyme (luck vs. trucks, with /k/ vs. /ks/, the first being a subsequence of the second and so, again, “sounding alike”).

On the song:

“Ol’ ’55” is a song by American rock musician Tom Waits. It is the opening track and lead single from Waits’ debut studio album, Closing Time, released in March 1973 on Asylum Records. (link)

Here it is in a 1999 live performance by Waits:

and in a well-known cover version by the Eagles, on their 1974 album On the Border:

Waits is said to have found this cover by the Eagles “antiseptic”. Certainly its soaring tone is very different from Waits’s own growly spareness.

As for the interpretation of the lyrics, there is considerable dispute — ranging from a simple boy-and-girl narrative to a description of a funeral procession. I am not making this up.

(The Ol’ 55 in question is a 1955 car, a Buick Roadmaster or, as Waits suggests in the clip above, a Cadillac.)


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