"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.
What becomes for 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.
What becomes for 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 become for the little boys,
Who run away from home?
The world just keeps gettin' bigger,
Once you get out on your own.
So here's to 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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19 Comments

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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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