Better like this?
...Or better like this?
The right answer is the first one and here's why.
7. It's on Rain Dogs.
...and Rain Dogs is either the best or second-best Waits album of the 1980s. I know the classic critical opinion is that Rain Dogs is the dopest shit of the Reagan Era and I have nothing but love for it, but honestly, I kinda dig Franks Wild Years a tiny bit more. That being said, "Downtown Train" is a classic track on a classic record.
6. Authenticity, Pt. I.
Tom Waits IS a mad street poet, a junkie prophet, an alley-cat with a song to sing for the moon. Rod Stewart is a big blonde sex bomb. Don't get me wrong--Rod is one of England's national treasures. (OMFG, someone make THAT sequel RIGHT NOW! CALL NIC CAGE! National Treasure 3: The Treasure is Rod Stewart!!!) But there's just something off about him singing this urban paean of longing and loneliness.
5. It was originally released in 1985.
Hey! That's the year I was born! Nice! Rod Stewart's version was from 1989... when I was in Germany. So, ya know, guess I just wasn't around for it.
4. Authenticity, Pt. II.
"Downtown trains are full with all them Brooklyn girls"? What does Rod know about Brooklyn girls!? (What does ANYONE know about Brooklyn girls...)
3. It's more desperate and gritty.
The Waits version keeps its instrumentation true to its content. The Stewart version is all synthy and sheeny and jingly. It's still a great pop song, but it just can't compare to the gristle and grind of Waits. This isn't a song about a guy who gets the girl. He's never even actually talked to this girl. He's homeless and he sees her every night and he loves her and he will never have her. That's a beautiful story, right there. Rod Stewart gets to get the girl. Have you friggin' seen the video for "Hot Legs"? Trust me, he gets the girl. For this song to work, you need to believe that the singer doesn't get the girl.
2. Not only is it a great song, it's a phenomenal video.
1. It's Tom Fucking Waits.
I mean, really.