If it weren’t for Warren Zevon, I’d have almost nothing to sing at the Karaoke bar. Whether this is laudable or something he should be ashamed of is left as an exercise to the reader. But give me a drink or three, and a mic, and I’ll be happy to belt out most of the songs on Excitable Boy.
Sad to say, I didn’t really follow Zevon’s career until it was late in the game. I knew several tunes, but I didn’t dig into Zevon’s catalog until his collaboration with R.E.M. on the Hindu Love Gods in 1990. You just haven’t lived until you’ve heard Zevon belting out a bluesy take on Prince‘s “Raspberry Beret.” Come to think of it, I also owe Zevon and the Love Gods (in part) for actually paying closer attention to blues music.
Excitable Boy is Zevon’s third album, released in 1978, and features many of Zevon’s best-known songs. “Johnny Strikes Up the Band,” is a pleasant opener, mid-tempo pop with great harmonies and sets the mood for the album nicely.
Headless, but hummable
Things take a sharp, and surreal, left turn with my favorite Zevon tune “Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner.” Zevon’s voice is not what one might call classically trained or sophisticated, but its limitations are more than offset by Zevon’s choice of material, delivery, and attitude. This song has oddball timing, clunky piano, a ragged chorus, and irresistible story. It’s also a level 10 earworm. I defy you to listen to this and not get it stuck in your head. What can I say? I’m a sucker for songs about headless, vengeful undead.
The title track features a punchy tune, the obligatory 70s sax, and great backing vocals. Strikes me as commentary, a bit over the top, about letting “boys being boys” get off too easily. (See also XTC’s “No Thugs in Our House”.)
“Accidentally Like a Martyr” is a slower and more sorrowful piece. Zevon was pretty young to be writing about romantic regret so well.
Warren Zevon at his best
Pretty much every song on this album is a classic, even the obligatory dance tune “Night Time in the Switching Yard.” Yes, Zevon flirted a bit with disco. Not sure it ever actually got any traction in the discos of the day, but it’s right up there with “Another One Bites the Dust” and Pink Floyd’s disco riff on “Another Brick in the Wall.”
And, of course, there’s Zevon’s most easily recognized piece “Werewolves of London.” I have to wonder about anybody who doesn’t get a little pleasure at joining in the “aaooooo”s in the chorus. It’s worth noting that the music to this is plenty of fun as well. The bass is perfect, the guitar solo just perfectly suited to the piece – not too long, just enough to bring it home. This is, of course, my go-to if I happen to find myself at a Karaoke bar and in need of a tune to warble.
This is classic rock at its finest. If you haven’t had an introduction to Zevon, there’s no better place to start than here.