Tag Archives: Warren Zevon

Life’ll Kill Ya

It was on another long car trip this week that I slipped some Warren Zevon into the player, this time Genius, the collection issued in 2002. I knew every song, of course, and sang along loudly as I navigated the car through The Berkshires at night, my warble interrupted only by the occasional smack of a huge bug against the windshield and fenders. (I don’t know what flies around there at night, but I’m sure glad I wasn’t driving a convertible.)

Of course, no single disc could contain Zevon’s genius, and is the case with most veteran artists, seeing a show or listening to a collection always leaves you wanting more. So when I got home, I made a beeline for this one.

I really, really miss Warren Zevon. I can only imagine what he’d be writing about these days.

From Consumable Online, February 2000…

Some see the glass as half-empty, while others see the glass as half-full. Warren Zevon sees the glass as broken – some of the contents spilled all over his pants, and the rest rolling around on the floor.

With superb backing from longtime ace Jorge Calderon and drummer Winston Watson, Zevon continues to avoid the “big sound” for a more stripped down folk’n’roll approach. Naturally, focus then shifts to voice and words, where Zevon is king. “I can saw a woman in two/ but you won’t want to look in the box when I do,” he says in the Springsteen-ish “For My Next Trick I’ll Need A Volunteer,” which features Chuck Prophet on guitar. Taking the theme of “life sucks, then you die” to a new level, he explores the frailty of human existence and the quest for some sort of spiritual affirmation…which of course he’s skeptical about. And, just for good measure, some songs about S&M and the self-inflicted demise of Elvis Presley.

Having suffered the slings and arrows of a professional musician, Zevon’s weather-beaten attitude could be self-righteous or pastoral. Instead, underneath the surface of the crusty observer, you know he’s got it figured out; life’s too short to let the posturing and bullshit cramp our style.

You know I hate it when you put your hand inside my head/ and switch all my priorities around,” he says in “I’ll Slow You Down,” a tale as applicable to religious uncertainty as it is to relationship angst. Maybe we can settle for a simple “don’t let us get sick/don’t let us get old/don’t let us get stupid, alright?” Even the record’s lone cover, Steve Winwood’s “Back In The High Life Again” at first seems an odd choice, but in the context of these takes on the inevitable, it’s an ironic inclusion.

You can dream the American Dream,” Zevon says, “but you sleep with the lights on/and wake up with a scream.” Acerbic and clever as ever, Warren Zevon remains a unique treasure among American songwriters.

Listen to clips and purchase here.

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T.G.I.F. – Ten 2010 Bridesmaids

Putting together a “best of” list is hard for me, because there’s so much out there to enjoy every year and many albums appeal to me in different ways. Lists are subjective, of course (despite what Rolling Stone may insist) and try as I might I can’t put six pounds of stuff into a five pound bag. So while I consider the Top Ten an honor, the near misses – Bridesmaids, as I’ve been calling them – are no slouches either.

To beat the tired drum again, anyone who is claiming that there is no great music being made simply isn’t trying hard enough to find it. I’m out there beating the bushes constantly and I can’t keep up with it; certainly even a cursory attempt to widen one’s horizons would be richly rewarded (there’s a bunch of links at right for starters). And as always I welcome the emails from readers that start “have you heard…” as they often open new doors for me as well.

So this week, in no particular order, let me present Ten 2010 Bridesmaids – albums that didn’t make the Top Ten but weren’t far off. When I post the full “best of” lists in January these will certainly be there, so give a listen and be rewarded! (Amazon links included – many on sale right now!)

And on this TGIF Friday I’m especially thankful.

01) Peter Wolf – Midnight Souveniers…Like fine wine, Wolf just gets better and better with age. A far cry from his kinetic J. Geils frontman image, Pete has quietly entered the small plateau of artists perpetuating organic, honest music for the ages. A musical archivist flexing his talents.

02) Smash Palace – 7…If the cover art’s nod to Revolver doesn’t tip you off, let me. Smash Palace is in the upper tier of powerpop bands with traces of Cheap Trick, The Beatles, Tom Petty and Badfinger in its mix but a fresh and original sound. Solid songwriting, incredible vocals, songs that are pure ear candy. Radio’s loss; your gain.

03) Paul Thorn – Pimps and Preachers…”If I could be a tear/rolling down your cheek/and died on your lips/my life would be complete”. Holy shit. I’m new to Thorn’s world, but this is a gritty brew of John Hiatt, Warren Zevon, Bob Seger and Alejandro Escovedo. I am on board now.

04) The Master Plan – Maximum Respect…You were so sure that you didn’t get a record from The Del Lords, The Fleshtones or The Dictators in 2010. Well, you were wrong! The collaborative side project is back for a second album and as you might expect, it kicks ass! If “BBQ” doesn’t get you hopping, you are a zombie.

05) Teenage Fanclub – Shadows…Back after a five-year break and sounding like it was a day. Fannies know what to expect, for the uninitiated, think a sophisticated pop blend of XTC, Big Star and some classic California sunny pop (Beach Boys, CSN). A little subdued for some, I prefer to call it atmospheric.

06) New Pornographers – Together…The phrase “greater than the sum of its parts” sets the bar very high when talking about this collaborative unit, but damned if I don’t find every one of their albums irresistible. Any band that can make whistling as cool as a snapping snare drum is okay by me.

07) Graham Parker – Imaginary Television…Another guy who just defies the calendar and continues to pump out great songs; he’s a better singer, songwriter and guitar player now than in his popular prime. Also be sure to pick up his live set with The Figgs.

08) Deadstring Brothers – Sao Paulo…Imagine the Gram Parsons / Keith Richards sessions in the Stones’ golden era were invaded by Ronnie Wood from The Faces. Wine flowed. Tape rolled. Absolute gospel – rock – country blues bliss.

09) The Hold Steady – Heaven Is Whenever…Just missed…I thought the personnel change would impair their urgency and their passion but they are as good as ever. The first five songs are absolutely perfect and the album would be worth it if it ended there.

10) Nick Curran – Reform School Girl…I wasn’t a follower of Curran but damned if he isn’t channeling Little Richard, Phil Spector, Fats Domino, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins and The Sonics on this album. This is a party whittled down and stuffed in a jewel case; besides – how can you not buy an album with a title like this one?

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T.G.I.F. – Ten Rousing Rockers

It’s involuntary, almost Pavlovian.

You’re somewhere – anywhere – and that song comes on. You find yourself smiling no matter what the discussion is about…the hips start to shake a little bit…the air guitar is sitting there in the case ready to go. And sure enough, whether you’re bellowing out your car window or softly singing the words under your breath in the store, you’re all in. If you’re in a lively pub, you join in with several other people you don’t even know, as all inhibitions disappear and you bond in the most common language this planet has…music.

I thought about this the other day when I was howling out the car window with Warren Zevon as “Werewolves of London” was blasting out of the speakers. Some songs just…resonate. They don’t have to be very lyrical (“Hang On Sloopy” isn’t exactly Shakespeare); in fact you might not even understand a word you’re saying (“Louie Louie“). But the best ones are usually a song that was massively popular but also resonates with some feeling of angst – lost love, alienation, rebellion.

Lots of people sing along with the final chorus  of “Hey Jude“, but not with as much passion as they will when”What’s So Funny ‘Bout Peace Love And Understanding” or  “Rockin In The Free World” comes on the jukebox (at least not where I hang out!)…and if the song was a monster when you were in your prime bar-trolling years, so much the better.

So here are Ten Rousing Rockers will release your inner teenager and break the ice in any social situation as you raise your glass, throw your arm around a stranger and share a moment. And since it’s Friday, why not start right this minute? Life’s too short to wait for five o’clock.

01)Brown Sugar” (The Rolling Stones) I said yeah..yeah..yeah…whooooo!

02)Born To Run” (Bruce Springsteen) Tramps like us, baby we were born to run.

03)Love Shack” (The B-52s). I got me a car as big as a whale!

04)Rock and Roll All Night” (KISS) And party every day!

05)Maggie May” (Rod Stewart) Maggie, I wish I never seen your face!

06)You Shook Me All Night Long” (AC/DC) She was a fast machine, she kept…what clean?

07)Sweet Home Alabama” (Lynyrd Skynyrd) Southern Man don’t need you around anyhow.

08)We Gotta Get Outta This Place” (The Animals) If it’s the last thing we ever do!

09)Love Stinks” (J. Geils Band) And so it goes ’til the day you die.

10)Wild Thing” (The Troggs) You make everything…groovy.

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Blast From The Past: John Hiatt

I’ve been a John Hiatt fan ever since I saw the cover of Slug Line in a record store in 1979. The oddball facial expression on the cover – gaunt, haunted, intense – was only outdone by the song titles. “Sharon’s Got A Drug Store”, “The Negroes Were Dancing”, “The Night That Kenny Died”…how could I not put this on the turntable?  The beauty of working in a record store was the ability to move from piqued interest to playing it on the store sound system in under thirty seconds).

What happened next was, to pinch a line from Casablanca, “the beginning of a beautiful friendship“. I’ve remained a fan thirty years and counting, have seen him in concert dozens of times both solo and with his various bands, and have had his wonderful songs help me celebrate and ponder and grieve and reflect. Although (unlike most fans) I prefer the early albums, the ones whose songs he doesn’t play anymore, there isn’t a record he’s released that I don’t enjoy and savor at some level, and having a tune of his pop out of the speakers always brings a smile to my face.

I’m sure I’ll write a lot more about Mr. Hiatt over time, but I just wanted to set the stage for this first recollection, because only after knowing what he had been through to get there can one appreciate why Hiatt chose to release a record like this at the time.

Here’s my original 1997 review from Consumable Online:

John Hiatt’s life has taken him down some dark roads, the results of which have been captured in many powerful and emotional songs. The earnest pain in such classics as “Have A Little Faith In Me” can only come from that deep well, Hiatt salving his wounds in song and allowing us to voyeuristically share his bared soul. His long and mostly under appreciated career has seen him progress from Midwestern folkie to New Wave “angry young man” (many at the time foresaw him as the American answer to Elvis Costello) acoustic troubadour and everything in between. Even long time die hard fans knew that no matter how good each successive record was, radio didn’t have time for people like John Hiatt, and hoped that the label would somehow give him another shot at the brass ring.

1987 and Bring The Family changed all that, a bonafide bottom-of-the-ninth game winning home run for Hiatt. Newly remarried and finally sober, BTF combined the anguish of a tortured past with the joy of a man finding peace within himself and struck a chord with everyone. His voice had evolved into a unique bluesy timbre; his guitar playing more assured and strident, his songs capturing slices of life we take for granted yet can’t seem to put into words. The world was let in on this great secret that only his fans and peers knew about – John Hiatt was one hell of a songwriter. Subsequent records sealed the deal.

With Little Head, a relaxed and confident Hiatt has probably released his most comfortable – dare I say “fun“? – record, and ironically is suffering a critical backlash because it isn’t stuffed with angst-ridden masterpieces. Imagine the irony of toiling for twenty plus years, finally getting the respect and credibility you deserve, and then having your own “high bar” used against you! As if there aren’t great songs here…check out the lyrics of “Graduated” or the sweetness of “Far As We Go” and “Runaway” and name three people who could write like that. Didn’t think so.

Those surprised by the bawdy humor of the title track must not know Hiatt very well; “Since His Penis Came Between Us” was a staple of his live shows for years. Okay, so it isn’t poetry – so what?

Video: “Since His Penis Came Between Us”

No, there isn’t a “She Loves The Jerk” or “Angel Eyes” or “Faith” on Little Head, but they would seem out-of-place if they were. This record gives a whole new meaning to the phrase “greasy”; thick with Memphis soul and lathered with funk. Hiatt drops numerous audio tips of his cap to the 1970’s, from the Barry White-ish intro to “After All This Time” to the send-Zevon-a-dollar rip of “Werewolves Of London” in “Sure Pinocchio”. All those Spinners and Del-Fonics and War records John heard on the radio have come back out years later in “My Sweet Girl” and “Woman Sawed In Half”.

Dave Immergluck’s mastery of the stringed instrument supports this stylish mix with a sonic potpourri; cat-like moans, fat greasy gee-tars and lilting mandolins among the stew’s best features. “Pirate Radio” is a radio hit that never will be for self-explanatory reasons; ditto “Sure Pinocchio” and its horn-powered killer refrain. But Hiatt fans are used to savoring his best moments away from the airwaves, and thankfully there are enough fans to allow him to indulge his muse. This is Capitol’s first shot at marketing John, a marriage he seems to feel positive about because they want to promote his career, not just his record. We’ll see – Hiatt seems to last two to three records at each label, but each time he leaves there’s a bidding war. He’s gone through a few bands also, but seems to have settled on a musical soul mate in Davey Faragher, bassist and co-producer.

Little Head is the sound of John Hiatt enjoying this moment in his life, cruising down the road in that big-ass pink Cadillac, smiling and waving and hoping you can wave back. Let this one grow on you and reap the rewards.

The official John Hiatt website

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Werewolves of London Again

 

Dum-dum…dum-dum…dum-dum-dum-dum. 

Eight notes. Eight notes that were so laughingly simple that the creators almost didn’t make it into a song, let alone release it, and yet thirty years later it’s the signature song for one of the greatest songwriters of the last quarter century and an instant crowd motivating anthem. 

And someone who has never touched a keyboard can figure out how to play the melody in…ohh…thirty seconds. And someone who has ony heard the song once – once – instantly remembers it for life. 

And if that doesn’t define a hit record, catching lightning in a bottle, not only grabbing the brass ring but sticking your head in it and yelling ah-whooooo at the top of your lungs? Well…then nothing does. 

The late great Warren Zevon wrote far better songs, and I’m sure there were nights where playing “Werewolves of London” and having it get the biggest cheer was not unlike Loudon Wainwright III having to pull “Dead Skunk” out of the bag for twenty years until he had enough of a genuine cult following to risk leaving it by the wayside. 

Not that the song wasn’t filled with charm and wit. Who else would toss off alliteration like “little old lady got mutilated late last night” as an aside just for those who would appreciate the skill? But as I heard the song today for what probably was the billionth time, that wasn’t what I yelled out of the car window at the top of my lungs. 

Nope. I yelled “ah whooooo, Werewolves of London….ah whoooooo

Of course, the master did it best. God damn, I miss you, Warren Zevon

Hearing this song today made me realize how it still knocks me out and no matter what I’m doing, it makes me stop and pay attention. This Friday’s TGIF will feature ten other songs that make you snap out of a coma and start singing along…if not engage in significantly worse behavior. 

Yeah, I mean you

His hair was perfect...

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New Album! Deadbeat Poets


If I hadn’t already been familiar with how good The Deadbeat Poets are, I’m not certain that kicking off an album with a song title like “Elvin Dabney, Professional Thief” would have hooked me. Not that “The Postmodern Razor Wire Showdown” would have drawn me in either. So don’t let that dissuade you, either – Circus Town is another great release on the heels of Notes From The Underground.

I often think of different artists when I listen to their music, but not in a copycat way. Hell, my first exposure to them still knocks my socks off; “The Truth About Flying Saucers” sounds like Warren Zevon fronting The Del Lords after three rounds of Red Bull. (Full version on their MySpace page – link at bottom)

 “People These Days” takes The Kinks’ “You Really Got Me” and flips it on its head; “At Least It Worked Out For You” is fiery and rambunctious, like The Wildhearts or vintage Stiff Records acts. “The Staircase Stomp” might recall The Jam or The Motors. There’s a wealth of sharp hooks and snappy choruses – this is meant to be played loud and sung along to.

Of course, with band members having tenures in bands as widespread as Blue Ash and Stiv Bators, one would expect a myriad of influences to creep in. “Sunglass City” sounds like a song The Beatles might have covered during their Cavern Club era, or perhaps an obscure Kinks b-side. Jangly twelve-string guitars add a Byrdsian essence to “I Thought I Knew You”, which (like “Madras Man”) could pass as easily as a late 70’s Searchers cut as it could a contemporary country-pop tune.

It rocks, it swings, and it’s funny, and hitting the replay button is a no-brainer. Sure, it starts out like gangbusters and eases to a slower finish, but so does my car and my metabolism. And if that’s the only nit you have to pick, I have two words for you: shuffle play.

One of my favorites of 2010 so far. Go get it!

The Deadbeat Poets on MySpace

Pop Detective Records site

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T.G.I.F. – Ten Radio Records

Happy Radio Day!

Well, that’s if you believe that Popov invented the concept instead of Marconi or Tesla. (And if everyone believed that, would we have had a band named Popov instead of these guys? Would Marconi not have played the mamba?

Celebrate the day anyway – it is Friday, after all – and blast some music out your car window. You might also want to celebrate by seeing films like American Hot Wax and The Boat That Rocked, a/k/a Pirate Radio.

Here are ten radio-related songs to get you started…

Joe Jackson:  “On The Radio”   Not the best song on I’m A Man, but that’s how strong the early Joe Jackson albums were (and how tight the band is).

Bruce Springsteen:  “Radio Nowhere”  I like Bruce’s social conscience, and I can appreciate the whole Woody Guthrie thing and his passion for the roots of music. But sometimes I just like a great Bruce single, and this is one.

Rush:  “Spirit of the Radio”  I was never a big Rush fan, mostly because Geddy Lee’s voice is like chalk on a blackboard to me. But when he shuts up and the band jams…wow.

Warren Zevon:  “Mohammed’s Radio”   Great live version (with Jackson Browne). God, I miss this man.

The Doors:  “WASP (Texas Radio and the Big Beat)”  I know a lot of people hate The Doors and think Jim Morrison was an overrated ponce, but I think L.A. Woman was a phenomenal album; an indication of what might have been.

Everclear:  “AM Radio”  One can argue that many of Art’s songs sound like they’re built on the same rhythm and chord progression, but you can’t knock his ability to combine humor and pathos. Great video, too.

Hedwig and the Angry Inch:  “Midnight Radio”   If you have not seen this film, you need to run to the store and get the DVD. John Cameron Mitchell’s performance is amazing, and thanks to Steven Trask, this is arguably the best rock and roll soundtrack ever. That’s right…ever. The original cast recording from the play is as good or better than the film soundtrack, but get both.

R.E.M.:  “Radio Free Europe”   The song that started it all for them, and one listen brings back that era in a flash, when these guys sounded so different from everybody else.

John Hiatt:  “Radio Girl”  The video sadly cuts off at the end, but I’m thankful even this much exists. John doesn’t play songs from Slug Line and Two Bit Monsters anymore, and that’s our loss.

Elvis Costello:  “Radio Radio”   Elvis Costello hit the ground with an astounding one-two-three punch of albums, and I wish I had a good rip of his initial SNL appearance when he played this song. But this nod and wink to that event with the Beastie Boys is pretty damned cool.

And your bonus trackJonathan Richman’sRoad Runner“. Priceless!

Got my radio ON!

Tim Russert would have been sixty today. RIP, buddy.

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