Thirty-five years ago this month, after a five-year absence from recording, Warren Zevon released Sentimental hygiene, one of his most critically acclaimed albums. While the record and the six studio releases that followed before his death in 2003 ushered in a highly focused new stage in his career, Zevon’s early days provided him with his most recognizable songs. It’s a shame because his clean and sober period is filled with excellent material that reinforces his reputation as a master storyteller and musical craftsman. With that in mind, we present ten songs from the latter half of Zevon’s career that may not have the instant recognition factor of ‘Werewolves of London’ or ‘Lawyers, Guns and Money’, but are certainly deserving of praise. to be placed among these great songs.
“Detox Mansion” (1987)
Leave it to Zevon to include a sarcastic jab at celebrity rehabs on his “sober” debut album. Sentimental hygiene was a giant creative leap forward for the singer-songwriter, thanks in part to his healthy lifestyle, but also the solid musicianship that backs him up (including three-quarters of REM as a band). With a swaggering, guitar-heavy garage funk vibe, Zevon – with the help of co-writer and frequent collaborator Jorge Calderon – indulges in self-mockery and a sneaky little name-dropping: “I’m gone to Detox Mansion / Way down on Last Breath Farm / I raked the leaves with Liza / Me and Liz cleaned up the yard. The group is loud and scruffy, and Zevon seems positively revitalized. “Detox Mansion” is, among other things, an indication that Zevon still had plenty of good tricks up his sleeve and wasn’t about to run away from his messy past for lyrical inspiration. – Chris Ingalls
“Boom Boom Mancini” (1987)
There are many songs about boxers and boxing, ranging from the serious (“The Boxer” – Simon and Garfunkel) to the topical (“Hurricane” – Bob Dylan) to the funny (“I Think I Can Beat Mike Tyson” – DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince). My potentially hot take is that Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini’s Biography of Zevon is the best boxing song of them all. Lyrically, Zevon pulls no punches chronicling Mancini’s career from highs (the win over Arturo Frias) to lows (the fight against Duk Koo Kim that led to Kim’s death four days later).
Right from the opening lyrics, “Hurry home early – hurry on home / Boom Boom Mancini’s fight Bobby Chacon”, Zevon’s lyrics are detailed and evocative. Yet they are brought home through music, singing and playing. The REM guys provide rock-solid backing, while Zevon’s guitar and piano solos bring essential courage to the room. coaching. “Boom Boom Mancini” is a rarity: a boxing song that evokes “sweet science” in its music and lyrics. – Rich William
“Splendid Isolation” (1989)
Transversal city was Zevon’s “cyberpunk” album, on which the man worried about “Turbulence”, “Networking” and “Gridlock”, among others. Amid dystopian lyrics, intricate music, and plenty of guest stars, you’ll find “Splendid Isolation,” a mini folk-rock masterpiece, featuring Zevon on harmonica and Neil Young on harmony vocals. Zevon begins this mediation directly by noting, “I want to live all alone in the desert / I want to be like Georgia O’Keefe,” before succinctly stating, “I don’t need nobody.” Zevon then describes Michael Jackson being alone in Disneyland as Goofy leads him “through the world of self”, a description that resonates even more since Zevon and Jackson’s deaths. Like the character in Simon and Garfunkel’s “I Am a Rock,” it’s hard to say how reliable the narrator of “Splendid Isolation” is. Maybe that statement is just denial, but he certainly seems ready for a life of solitude. – Rich William
“Raspberry Beret” (1990)
People didn’t talk about what was on their bingo cards in 1990, but if they had, surely someone would have said, “Hearing the ‘Werewolves of London’ guy sing a Prince’s song with REM wasn’t on my 1990 bingo card.” Yet here we are, with Zevon and Berry/Buck/Mills in the collective guise of the Hindu gods of love who garage the song Prince’s playful erotic pop “Raspberry Beret”, with glorious results REM instrumentalists backed Zevon in the recording Sentimental hygiene and spent an evening at the end of the sessions blasting blues covers and “Raspberry Beret.”
It’s fun to hear Zevon tell Prince’s story of working part-time for Mr McGee at 5&10 and the girl who wore the titular beret and ‘if it was hot she wouldn’t wear much more “. Sadly, Zevon didn’t sing the verse about the couple going down to Old Man Johnson’s farm and asking the horses to wonder who they are, but other than that, this “Raspberry Beret” is awesome. I’m not sure Prince ever recognized this cover when the Hindu Love Gods album was quietly released, but the song made a few ripples at rock stations before fading into obscurity. There was brief talk of a Hindu Love Gods tour, mostly from Zevon’s management, but it was never planned. – Rich William
“Mr. Bad Example” (1991)
Zevon may have only been bested by Randy Newman when writing songs based on despicable characters and unreliable narrators. For the title track of his 1991 album, he pulled out all the stops with a typically wordy, multi-verse epic that tells the story of a horrible, manipulative person (told in the first person, of course). “I know the seven deadly sins very well,” he sings, “I keep a busy schedule / I try to fit them in.” As usual, his lyrics drop many references to unique places and practices, avoiding all sorts of clichés. “I got a part-time job at my dad’s rug shop / Laying strippers and housewives in spades / I loaded up their furniture and brought it to Spokane / And auctioned it all off the last divans of Naugahyde.” No one has written so hilariously about sociopaths as Warren. – Chris Ingalls
“Rottweiler Blues” (1995)
Composed mostly of home recordings, Mutineer is an album with some great songs that would probably have benefited from a full band sound. “Rottweiler Blues,” perhaps the most obscure track on this list, is a propulsive rocker that tells the story of a man who keeps his menacing dog as protection from a cruel and abusive world. “A Hundred Pounds of Hostile Persuasion / Sleeping on Florida’s Porch.” While Zevon has written many tender love songs, his dangerous side — influenced perhaps by his love of writers like Hunter S. Thompson and Norman Mailer — is generally a more entertaining listen. “If you come and call him, he’ll maim with intent to maim,” the refrain continues. “Don’t knock on my door if you don’t know my Rottweiler’s name.” – Chris Ingalls
The antithesis of “Rottweiler Blues”, the title song of Mutineer is a free and meditative track on which Zevon takes a moment to reflect on the relationship between him and his audience. “There is no place on board for the insincere / You are my witness / I am your mutineer,” muses Zevon. No typically Zevonian irony is detected, although a few years later, in the liner notes of the I’ll sleep when I’m dead compilation, Zevon pointedly observed, “I wanted this song as a gesture of appreciation and affection for my fans, none of whom bought the record.” Ouch. Nonetheless, Zevon performed “Mutineer” during his “Enjoy Every Sandwich” post-diagnosis appearance on David Letterman in late 2002. Around the same time, Bob Dylan performed the song at several gigs, in a movement that could very well have been a direct message of support on stage from one great songwriter to another. – Rich William
“I was in the house when the house burned down” (2000)
After another five-year hiatus from studio albums, Zevon released life will kill you, with a decidedly more organic sound than its somewhat over-processed predecessor. Produced by the acclaimed team of Paul Q. Kolderie and Sean Slade (Radiohead, Pixies, Uncle Tupelo), the album was a fresh and vital piece of work, containing some of the best songs of Zevon’s career. “I Was in the House When the House Burned Down” kicks off the record with a folksy explosion, thanks to a stripped-down arrangement of acoustic guitar, bass, drums and harmonica by Zevon. The song’s acoustic leanings match gospel-influenced religious imagery: “I was in the house when the house burned / I met the man with the thorny crown / I helped him carry his cross through the city.” Like the title Life will kill Y indicates, Zevon was always obsessed and amused by death, and crucifixions were no exception. – Chris Ingalls
“Sacrificial Lambs” (2002)
my turn is here was Zevon’s last album before his fatal cancer diagnosis, and as always, it’s full of macabre gallows humor (the “ride” in the title refers to a hearse). What makes “Sacrificial Lambs,” the opening track, so good is both the musical delivery and the lyrical content. Zevon refuses to go the way of his peers and produce nostalgic adult contemporary porridge; instead, it doubles up with a new heavy rock arrangement. Lyrically, it’s another weird and wild adventure, this time about genetic engineering (“We’ve solved the problems in your DNA / Sayonara, kid, have a nice day”) and filled with typically literary and non-literary references. rock. “Madame Blavansky and her friends / Changed lead to gold and back again / Krishnamurti said I’ll set you free / Write a check and make it to me.” With additional nods to Russell Crowe, Havez Assad, and Coptic monks, it’s no wonder Zevon hasn’t exactly set the pop charts on fire. – Chris Ingalls
“My Dirty Life and Times” (2003)
Sometime in 2002, Zevon began to suffer from shortness of breath and was diagnosed with mesothelioma. Given the ultimate deadline, Warren began recording what would be his final album, The wind. After its release less than a month before Zevon’s death in September 2003, much of the attention The wind received was for Zevon’s chilling cover of Dylan’s “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door,” which suited the man’s dark sense of humor, and for the album’s most heartbreaking, “Keep Me in Your Heart “.
The wind also includes “Disorder in the House,” a discordant rocker that features Bruce Springsteen playing rambling, highly satisfying guitar solos for those who want The Boss to just get dirty once in a while. But it’s “My Dirty Life and Times,” a plaintive country tune that sets the stage for the record, as Zevon notes he’s “relaxing” says life and times. Joining him on the track is a low-key but all-star cast that includes longtime Zevon associate Jorge Calderón, Ry Cooder, Don Henley, Billy Bob Thornton and Dwight Yoakam. – Rich William