"On the Nickel" as written by and Tom Waits....
Sticks and stones will break my bones
But I always will be true
And when your mama is dead and gone
I'll sing this lullaby just for you
So what becomes of all the little boys
Who never comb their hair?
They're lined up all around the block
On The Nickel over there

So you better bring a bucket
There is a hole in the pail
If you don't get my letter
Then you'll know that I'm in jail
So what becomes of all the little boys
Who never say their prayers?
They're sleepin' like a baby
On The Nickel over there

If you chew tobacco, and wish upon a star
You'll find out where the scarecrows sit
Just like punchlines between the cars
I know a place where a royal flush
Can never beat a pair
And even Thomas Jefferson
Is On The Nickel over there

So ring around the rosie, you're sleepin' in the rain
And you're always late for supper
And man you let me down, let me down again
I thought I heard a mockingbird, Roosevelt knows where
You can skip the light with grady tuck
On the Nickel over there

So what becomes of all the little boys
Who run away from home?
The world just keeps gettin' bigger
Once you get out on your own
So what becomes of all the little boys
The sandman takes you where
You'll be sleepin' with a pillowman
On the Nickel over there

So let's climb up through that button hole
And fall right up the stairs
I'll show you where the short dogs grow
On the Nickel over there


Lyrics submitted by archmastermind, edited by Mellow_Harsher, durruti36

"On the Nickel" as written by Tom Waits

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On the Nickel song meanings
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  • 0
    General CommentTom Waits said this was a lullaby about the homeless on "the Nickel", or Fifth St, Los Angeles.

    my thoughts are along that vein. it's basically saying naughty boys grow up to live on the street. i don't believe the songwriter thinks this, as many of Tom Waits' songs tend to center around being 'down & out'.

    lullabies, taken for face value are atrocious (i.e. Rock-a-Bye Baby), and this is just the same. i picture a father singing this to his little boy just before bedtime, after the kid got into a fight at school and failed Math.

    it's a nice way of saying "Square your ass away, or you'll end up in the gutter."

    and what a better way to say it than this song?
    roger wilcoon May 14, 2002   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI think this song is lovely and sentimental. And I got the same message, kind of warning the little boys who never comb their hair.
    Ardnaxelaon May 18, 2002   Link
  • 0
    General CommentTo hear this song live, is amazing. The lyrics, the piano, and the voice that you can never forget. This is what good music is.
    sierpon October 15, 2002   Link
  • 0
    General Commentclass song alright, i only got heart attack and vine recently....and it's fuckin brilliant.
    this is one of the highlights of the album though
    badgeon August 22, 2005   Link
  • 0
    General Commentclass song alright, i only got heart attack and vine recently....and it's fuckin brilliant.
    this is one of the highlights of the album though
    badgeon August 22, 2005   Link
  • 0
    General Commentclass song alright, i only got heart attack and vine recently....and it's fuckin brilliant.
    this is one of the highlights of the album though
    badgeon August 22, 2005   Link
  • 0
    General Commenti always felt 'on the nickel' was a reference to bieng dead in the same vane as 'dead presidants' being a reference to dollars
    j.enslowon August 24, 2005   Link
  • 0
    General CommentThis song paints one hell of a picture. I think it shows the pure genius of Mr. Waits. Combining the hard streets with lines and verses written for children evoke stark images and a release of emotions. As with most geniuses, some of his stuff doesn't ring at all for me, then along comes a song like this that knocks me to my knees.
    Mudflapon January 19, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General Commentthat's so funny I've always thought about the Thomas Jefferson bit and hadn't related it to a coin. nice little irony of the face on a coin in the gutter. nice one enslow: it's amazing how so many comments on this site are just: wow yeah that's a cool song. I mean, c'mon, if you haven't got anything to say why bother?
    memorybabeon February 05, 2007   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI especially love the line "And i know a place where a royal flush can never beat a pair". To me, this means that The Nickel is a special sort of place where the normal rules don't apply - you may be a bum out in the real world, but on The Nickel, everyone's a champ.
    twainon May 07, 2008   Link

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