"I just got the bad news - Warren Zevon has inoperable lung cancer.This seems like a good time to reconsider his output over the years, particularly this opening shot. He had recorded before, but in later years mentioned that earliest effort as having been withdrawn at his request because of "a sudden attack of taste". Let us therefore, as per the man's request, begin here.Just what was the Excitable Boy up to in 1976? For openers, of course, he wasn't the Excitable Boy yet - that came with his next album, which exploded onto the radio with "Werewolves of London" and made him a star. In 1976 he was, to all appearances, just another singer-songwriter discovered by Jackson Browne and contracted to Asylum Records. Dig a little deeper, though, and you learn he really wasn't anything of the sort.He was into imagery from film noir and old westerns. He liked black humor and firearms. He wrote songs that could just as easily have been novels or movies, given a few more details, and they were a lot tougher-minded than anything the rest of the Asylum roster came up with. He had a stoner's long hair, but he dressed in suits and ties onstage, and although we didn't learn about it until later his drug of choice was alcohol. He had played piano for the latter-day Everly Brothers, and he blended his rock with country and classical themes.On his first Asylum album he combined all those elements into eleven songs from all over the map, and then he ordered them in such a way that they told a story. That's what makes the title of this album so intriguing - there's nothing new about a musician naming his first album after himself, but in this case the songs follow the life of a young man from a rootless background, presumably named "Warren Zevon" (not the real Warren Zevon, of course), as he tries to find a home.This fictional "Warren Zevon" has a mother from the South, probably Missouri ("Frank and Jesse James"). She marries a traveling gambler against her parents' advice ("Mama Couldn't Be Persuaded") and eventually settles with her young son in California. The boy, having grown up on the road, seeks security in his first serious relationship ("Backs Turned Looking Down the Path"), but learns to his dismay that he has chosen a girl who refuses to be tied down ("Hasten Down the Wind"). He throws himself into a series of casual affairs, but finds them painful and demeaning. Although he tries to laugh off his dismay ("Poor Poor Pitiful Me"), he comes to realize that he's only making himself feel worse ("The French Inhaler"). He moves to a smaller town, apparently on one side or the other of the Mexican border, hoping to find sense of belonging. Unfortunately, the local poverty and oppression make any sort of friendship impossible there except through the distant sounds of music ("Mohammed's Radio"). Disillusioned, he falls back into his old hell-raising habits ("I'll Sleep When I'm Dead") and gets hooked on heroin. He moves back to Los Angeles with a new girlfriend ("Carmelita"), but the drug becomes more important to him than she ("Join Me in L.A."). When she leaves him, he finally finds the strength to kick, but this leaves him alone in a cheap motel, staring at the sea and wondering what sort of future he can possibly build ("Desperados Under the Eaves").I have no idea whether or not the real Warren Zevon intended this as a concept album (probably not) but it works that way, particularly because of his unmistakable voice - that deep, powerful but strangely insecure instrument that wept through his ballads and clowned through his jokes until he learned about head tones a few years after this. In addition to his singing, of course, is his undeniable talent for songwriting and for the piano. Hints of mariachi, heavy metal, pre-Civil War pop and baroque instrumentals float all over this disc, culminating in, of all things, a sea chantey in the final fadeout.Zevon's talent is so widespread, in fact, that it occasionally runs away with him here. A few of these songs drift a little, with no clear structure - for pop tunes, they are impossible to hum. This is a minor quibble, though, especially considering what happened to Zevon after "Werewolves of London" hit and he had to fight the tendency to give us a whole series of novelty tunes. Remarkably, he resisted the urge - he dried out, concentrated on his serious work, and even (most miraculously) kept his sense of humor. That's what makes this news of his illness so sad - it's just not fair that a man who's conquered so much of himself should now have to fight his own body.On the evidence of his first mature record, though, he'll be okay. Win or lose, "Warren Zevon" is the work of a man who likes a good fight. I wish him luck, and if he should God forbid lose this battle, St. Peter had better put on the gloves and raise his guard.Benshlomo says, The real fighters are never defeated."
Equalled, perhaps, but never outdone
John Stodder | livin' just enough | 01/24/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Warren Zevon's first album is his most brilliant and musically tasty. There is nothing like that ending, the "air conditioner hum" heard by the Desperados Under the Eaves. The simple imagery of "Frank and Jesse James." The lived-in "French Inhaler." Plus the proto-versions of the later Linda Ronstadt hits "Poor Poor Pitiful Me" and "Hasten Down the Wind." He got famous with his next one, "Excitable Boy," but if you like Zevon, this is the one you need."
Blossoming Under the Eaves
Tim Brough | Springfield, PA United States | 09/18/2003
(4 out of 5 stars)
"When Warren Zevon got the chance to make his first real album, he was more than prepared. He had a couple misfires ("Wanted Dead Or Alive" and the Lyme and Cybelle sessions) that you can easily pass up, but like John Mellencamp, he learned from the experience and came back strong. Although the associations with Jackson Browne and Linda Ronstadt drew in many first (including me), "Warren Zevon" had less to do with the whole Southern California scene and more to do with great western novels and hard-boiled film noir detective stories. "Frank And Jessie James" put that notion to the fore immediately, as the heroes' exploits are chronicled in a very literary manner. (It is also a precursor to the more outlandish "Roland The Headless Thompson Gunner.") There was less of the dreamy romanticism of Jackson or the Eagles and a much tougher edge to a ballad like "Carmalita" and her wretched loser of a heroin addict boyfriend, and a heck of a lot more genuine pain to "Hasten Down The Wind." Even sweeteners like the Beach Boys chiming in at the end of "Desperados Under The Eaves" couldn't take away from the rapier wit of the writing.Warren's ironic sense of humor surfaces most clearly on "Poor Poor Pitiful Me." Complete with Lindsay Buckingham's exuberant background vocal and a hall of fame lyric that rhymed "gender" with a "Waring blender." Lest we not forget the racy final verse - the one Linda left off the hit version - and Warren's admonishment at the song's end to "never mind!" rather than describe the experience. There were enough endearing moments of such contradictory genius that I remember being floored when I first bought this album in the seventies, and being in high anticipation of his next."
Warren Zevon's Return!
Brent Evans | Rockhampton, Australia | 07/11/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Seven years had passed since Warren Zevon's weird debut album, WANTED DEAD OR ALIVE.In that time,Zevon had played backup piano for the Everly Brothers and had steadily honed his songwriting material to a razor sharp edge.By the time of WARREN ZEVON,he had an abundance of material that most songwriters would kill for.However,unlike most songwriters(apart from Randy Newman and Tom Lehrer)Zevon had a distinct bent for the sardonic and the black humored.WARREN ZEVON is a perfect example of the anti-Californian and reality anchored songwriting that became Zevon's trademark.This would have been a perfect debut album if not for WANTED.FRANK AND JESSE JAMES - A straightforward telling of the legend of Frank and Jesse James.Would've been perfect for inclusion on the soundtrack of the film THE LONG RIDERS.The piano intro would reemerge later on the last track.MAMA COULDN'T BE PERSUADED - Mama falls in love with and marries a gambler,against her parents wishes.Gambler later deserts wife ,leaving her with a baby son.Familiar tale told with with a touch of sly humor.Good chunky guitar and harmonies on the chorus.BACKS TURNED LOOKING DOWN THE PATH - Warren and his love are walking forward into the future,not looking back at all they've left behind.A jaunty(if bordering on slight)song.HASTEN DOWN THE WIND - A dying love affair where freedom and choice are used as weapons.The first of Warren Zevon's truly unique love songs.Later,a hit for Linda Ronstadt,whose version pales before this one. POOR PITIFUL ME - A man who is loved by so many young women,that he is driven to despair.Some guys have all the luck!Good ironic rocker that was also covered by Linda Ronstadt and Terri Clark."She took me back to the Hyatt house and . . . I don't wanna talk about it.HAH!"THE FRENCH INHALER - The tragic story of a starlet who ends up becoming a prostitute,as told by one of her lover/clients who treats her bad as well.Sad harmony vocals inhance the lyrical picture.MOHAMMED'S RADIO - A third world community influenced by the sounds of a radio;both generals and peasants are dependant on it. Later covered by (you guessed it!)Lina Ronstadt.I'LL SLEEP WHEN I'M DEAD - A country boy who lives on all cylinders,but there are signs of damage and impending breakdown. Guitar driven rocker with mock Spanish being shouted all the way throughout.CARMELITA - A doomed but spellbinding love affair of two desperate drug addicts.Zevon's gift of placing his songs directly in a specific location is in evidence here.Flamenco guitar gives this track a Mexican feel.JOIN ME IN LA - Zevon invites us to taste the pleasures of California's party central,LA.Good slice of white funk.DESPERADOS UNDER THE EAVES - The piano intro to FRANK and JESSE JAMES is back as an orchestral arrangement.A sad,cynical look at the Californian lifestyle,with this immortal couplet:"And if California slides into the ocean like the mystics and satistics say it will,I predict this motel will be standing until I pay my bill"!Harmonies by the the Beach Boys' Carl Wilson uplifts the song into the stratosphere;and is a perfect way to end this memorable album ."
A must-have mini trip to the heart of a city out of control
Brent Evans | 12/08/1998
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Warren Zevon is most connected to Los Angeles, where his career started and has remained. Sure, nobody's heard of him, but nobody had ever heard of Janet Jackson before 1986, either. So, putting thoughts of one hit wonder aside, this is the real beginning. The themes of urban madness that feature so prominently on his hit album "Excitable Boy" are just as strong and well defined on such songs as "I'll Sleep When I'm Dead" and the slightly mellower "Join Me in LA". A debt to his friends the Everly Brothers is on the countrified rollicker "Frank and Jesse James", while a more personal note is set aside for "Mama Counldn't Be Persuaded". But the power of this album is in the ballads. "Desperadoes Under the Eaves" and "Hasten Down the Wind" are second to none sentiments of despair and love, alternately. His rusty voice and unusual brand of humor make this album a worthwhile listening experience."