Meaning of “Ol’ 55” by Tom Waits

Written By Michael Miller

Michael is a music teacher and professional cellist. He loves uncovering the deeper meaning of popular songs.

“Ol’ 55” by Tom Waits is a nostalgic reflection on freedom, youth, and the bittersweet nature of time passing. Through the lens of a early morning drive, Waits captures a moment of pure contentment and the universal feeling of being fully alive. It’s about those fleeting moments of happiness that we often take for granted until they’re just memories. The song, rich with imagery of the dawn and the open road, symbolizes a journey—not just physically in his old ’55 Chevy but emotionally, through the landscapes of his life. Waits sends a message that resonates with anyone who’s ever experienced a moment so perfect that leaving it behind feels like a small heartbreak. It’s speculated that this song isn’t about a person but about capturing the essence of a feeling, a time in life that Waits wanted to hold onto a little longer.

If you’ve ever felt a moment slip through your fingers and wished you could live it all over again, “Ol’ 55” speaks directly to that sentiment. Dive deeper with us as we explore the layers beneath its simple journey.

“Ol’ 55” Lyrics Meaning

From the opening lines, Waits sets the scene of a journey that’s both literal and metaphorical. The act of driving his “ol’ 55” as the sun comes up serves as a backdrop for a deeper exploration of time and memory. The mention of “lickety-splitly” evokes a sense of rapid motion, not just of the car but of time itself, highlighting how quickly beautiful moments can pass by.

The repeated chorus, “Now the sun’s coming up, I’m riding with Lady Luck, Freeway, cars and trucks,” juxtaposes the freedom of the road with the inevitability of daybreak, suggesting that no matter how perfect a night might be, it must come to an end. The imagery of the sun rising and the stars fading as he leads the parade is poetic, symbolizing the transition from one phase of life to another, from darkness into light.

Waits’ reflection on wishing he’d stayed “a little longer” touches on a universally relatable feeling of not wanting to let go of a perfect moment. The phrase “Oh Lord, let me tell ya that the feeling’s getting stronger” indicates a growing awareness and appreciation for these fleeting experiences as one gets older.

The narrative of driving home in the early hours, “trucks all a-passing me, and the lights all are flashing,” creates a vivid picture of solitary contemplation amid the hustle and bustle of life moving around him. This solitude on the road serves as a metaphor for the journey through life, navigating between moments of connection and isolation.

As the song closes with the lines repeating the journey with his “ol’ 55,” feeling alive, and the sun’s final rise, it circles back to the theme of cycles—of nights turning into days, and of life’s moments coming full circle. The repeated reference to “Freeway, cars and trucks” underscores the constant motion of life, the ongoing journey, and the inevitable passage of time.

Why Was “Ol’ 55” Written?

Tom Waits wrote “Ol’ 55” at a crossroads in his life, during a time of reflection on the transient nature of youth and the moments that define us. The song is a poignant expression of Waits’ contemplation on the passage of time, the experiences that shape our journey, and the desire to hold onto moments of pure joy and freedom.

In crafting “Ol’ 55,” Waits tapped into a deeply personal vein, drawing from his own life experiences and emotions to create a narrative that resonates with listeners on a universal level. The song’s reflective nature and the wistful longing for a past moment reflect Waits’ state of mind—caught between the desire to move forward and the longing to linger in the memories of what once was.

Through “Ol’ 55,” Waits invites listeners to reflect on their own lives, on the moments that have slipped away, and on the beauty of those fleeting experiences that stay with us, long after they’re gone. It’s a reminder to cherish the journey, to live fully in the present, and to appreciate the simple joy of feeling truly alive.