The Vinyl Project – Warren Zevon

Warren Zevon

Ted had three records by Warren Zevon and a number of other releases on CD.  A quick bit of research revealed to me that Zevon studied as a young teenager with Igor Stravinsky, and was the keyboardist for the Everly Brothers for a few years before breaking out on his own.  Some fun facts!  Also, he passed away on 9/7/2003, so it seems fitting to put up this blog post today.

Excitable Boy

Condition: record cover – good, vinyl – good

Record starts off slow with two boring Americana-ish songs that make me wonder what it is with guys and their obsession with the old wild west of gold mining times. Ted, as a huge Clint Eastwood western movies fan, must have loved that.  Next, the record kicks into the title track “Excitable Boy” followed up by “Werewolves of London”.  Both banner tracks.  Zevon has a particular type of cynical humor that could really go either way depending on your sensibilities.  But Ted dug it.  Especially the lyrics from “Excitable boy”.  It’s obvious to me that Ted found the simplicity of his piano playing appealing, and he also really liked the song writing style.  Much in line with Randy Newman (another favorite of his) in his obvious and predictably structured songs, Zevon adds a twist by incorporating interesting bridges that are unexpected.  I noticed this technique was peppered throughout the record.  A bit monotonous overall, the songs are relatively catchy.  None of the players are stepping all over each other, with each part coming through clearly. I’m sure that was another thing that appealed to Ted.  Keyboards are not buried in the mix, nor are they front and center like an Elton John song.

Side two starts out a little disco, and then returns to the reminiscing about gun slingers from the early 19th century again.  I am thinking that Warren was a big history buff?  If so, I’m a little more sympathetic to his waxing nostalgic about Woodrow Wilson.  “Lawyers Guns and Money” is definitely the best track on this side.

Bad Luck in Dancing School

Condition: record cover – poor, vinyl – good

I went into listening to this record, expecting more catchy tracks like on Excitable Boy.  Unfortunately, this just was not the case.  This record continues the monotonous vibe from the earlier record, but the songs are now decidedly lacking in unexpected hooks.  Really, the songs are just very repetitive.  A great example is the collaboration he did with Bruce Springsteen on “Jeannie Needs a Shooter”.  While I get that the lyrics are poetic and the story telling is adept, the structure of the song is just tedious.  But once again, the songs are well produced, not too busy and the players all really stand out acoustically.  Zevon is one dark mofo.  His themes are of betrayal and rage and heart break.  It’s clear he is writing from experience.  I am sure this is something that appealed to Ted, as he was never reluctant to embrace all aspects of the human condition as expressed through music.

Sentimental Hygiene

Condition: record cover – excellent, vinyl – excellent

Price $4.99 (highway robbery!)

I am thinking this record didn’t see a lot of action.  I can only imagine it is because the first and title track “Sentimental Hygiene” is really horrible.  Bad 1980s synthesizer sounds and more redundant riffs.  But, I will say, the record improves continually if you stick with it.  Later, on side one, “The Factory” with Bob Dylan is a real toe tapper.  On side two, “Bad Karma” is another song that is as catchy as the flu.  Once again, I’m underwhelmed by the musicality of the songs, but impressed by the lyrics.  I am sure that was what Ted liked too.

Overall, this guy is not my cup of tea.  It’s his voice.  This can make or break a band that on paper is really good but I just can’t connect to because of the vocals. Also, Zevon suffers from writing in his time as a victim of 1980s production values, in particular the bass sounds and later the synthesizer sounds.  Not many people could really make those production values work for them, outside of Prince, who I swear, if he was reincarnated today and started putting out records in 18 years, would use the same Yamaha DX-7 for his signature sound. But hey, that’s me being snarky and opinionated.  There will be other examples of this as I go through the collection.

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