To too many people, Warren Zevon is the dude who did Werewolves of London. That’s a great song, but I think it’s kind of unfairly seen as a novelty by a lot of people. Unfair, because Zevon was one of the greatest song writers in modern American music. Here’s the thing though, I say that, knowing that I’m even worse than people who write him of as a novelty one hit wonder. Because I will sing the praises of Warren Zevon as a great artists all day, but I haven’t listened to nearly enough of his music to backup my opinion.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m 100% positive that my opinion is correct. But it’s based on a handful of songs that have found their way onto my iPod over the years, as well as the opinions of musicians I love, and critics who have actually earned their lofty opinions. When it comes to my praise of Zevon, I believe I’m what you would call a poser. So now I’m giving my opinion at least a little substance, by listening the eponymous Warren Zevon.
Not everyone can get away with being a story telling song writer. It takes real talent to convey a fleshed out tale, filled with fully realised characters in three or four minutes. So when Zevon opens Frank and Jesse James with, “On a small Missouri farm, back when the west was young”, it’s the kind of lyric writing that could feel corny or overly simplistic. But when backed up by his sly look at the world, and an impeccable melody, it immediately draws you into this world and the fate of these people.
While I generally prefer Zevon rocking on a guitar, his tender piano noodlings might be the only kind of tender piano noodlings I can handle. In fine form on Hasten Down the Wind, the story of a more than likely doomed couple builds and builds in sound and passion, while never losing the quiet reflection at its core.
Poor Poor Pitiful Me is one of those Zevon songs that made its way onto my iPod years ago, and it’s one that has never been skipped in the years since. Zevon at his pop rock best musically, and dry, sarcastic best lyrically.
I don’t put a whole lot value in lyrics when it comes to what makes a song good or bad. Music and melody mean a whole lot more to me. But I increasingly find myself appreciating song writers who write less like poets, and more like novelists. The French Inhaler is a perfect example. Writing a phrase like, “How’re you going to make your way in the world when you weren’t cut out for working? When your fingers are slender and frail. How’re you going to get around in this sleazy bedroom town if you don’t put yourself up for sale?” is impressive enough. Working a phrase like that into a natural sounding melody is just amazing.
A relentless march kicks off the ride home on Warren Zevon with Sleep When I’m Dead. Its driving kick drum, staccato bass and almost chanted vocals lead into a surprisingly effective harmonica hook as Zevon tells his story of living one thrill at a time.
I know listening to one album top to bottom doesn’t all of a sudden make me a Warren Zevon expert. Or all of a sudden make me qualified to bang on about how great he is and how clueless other people are if they think he’s just the Werewolves of London dude. But I do know that listening to Warren Zevon makes me want to hear more Warren Zevon. And with a few more Zevon records under my belt, I’ll be more than happy to pompously bang on about how great he is and how clueless other people are if they think he’s just the Werewolves of London dude.