Suzanne Vega wrote the song Tom’s Diner in 1982, and it was first released as a recording in the January 1984 issue of Fast Folk Musical Magazine. It was initially released as a single in Europe only in 1987. This was following the success of her single Luka. It was originally featured on her second studio album Solitude Standing. But did the group DNA have permission to remix Tom’s Diner?
Without the approval of Suzanne Vega or her label, the group DNA remixed the hit version of “Tom’s Diner” and distributed it to clubs. When Vega heard the remix, she recommended the label to acquire it and release it instead of threatening the group with a copyright lawsuit.
The Making of Tom’s Diner
Tom’s Restaurant, a mid-century restaurant on the junction of Broadway and 112th Street in New York City, is the actual diner being talked about in the song. Suzanne Vega, a singer, and songwriter who attended nearby Barnard College in the early 1980s is said to have been a regular patron.
The diner later gained fame for its appearance in the iconic 1990s television series Seinfeld as the outside of Monk’s Café.
The song starts with the narrator stopping for a cup of coffee at a diner. Reading a newspaper is mentioned in the song, as is seeing two women, one who enters the diner and the other who stands outside in the rain. The narrator is reminded of an anonymous friend and a midnight picnic when the bells of a neighboring cathedral chime. After the coffee is completed, the narrator departs the diner to catch the train at the end of the song.
Vega was inspired to write the song after hearing a comment from her photographer friend Brian Rose, who said that he sometimes felt like he viewed his whole life through a pane of glass, and like he was the witness to a lot of things but was never actually involved in them while working.
While sitting at Tom’s Restaurant, she sought to think and write in this manner by adding a male perspective. The bells of the cathedral Vega mentions in the song are those of St. John the Divine Cathedral, which is one block to the east. (Source: The Rusted Pipe Website)
The Remakes of Tom’s Diner
The song was sampled in songs by Public Enemy, Nikki D, 2Pac, Twin Hype, Yo Gotti, and Lil’ Kim, among other hip hop groups.
In 1991, Vega produced Tom’s Album, a collection of several renditions of the song covering a variety of musical genres, including a spoof by Mark Jonathan Davis called Jeannie’s Diner, which Nick-at-Nite would use to promote its airings of I Dream of Jeannie. Another DNA remix of one of her tracks, Rusted Pipe, was also included on the CD.
Ryan Maguire, a sound artist, and composer released the tune moDernisT, which was a play on the words Tom’s Diner as part of his project The Ghost in the MP3 in 2015. The moDernisT is made entirely of noises that were lost during MP3 compression from the song Tom’s Diner, dubbed the mother of all MP3s. (Source: Mark Jonathan Davis)