Back in 1978, a relatively unknown ex-sideman for The Everly Brothers, released his second album for Asylum Records called Excitable Boy. His first and second albums, Wanted Dead or Alive, and Warren Zevon, although championed by Jackson Browne, went largely unnoticed, at least until Excitable Boy hit big and every one who had snagged a copy of the album that had “Werewolves of London” in its grooves also reached back to pick up a copy of Wanted Dead or Alive and his self-titled, and the deal was sealed. We became fans.
Jackson Browne had persuaded his own releasing label, Asylum Records, to take a chance on Warren Zevon. Browne was convinced of the man’s genius and ability to craft a song with something to say and a great way to hear it said. And although his debut was ignored by listeners, his Excitable Boy was not.
Excitable Boy delivered a rat-a-tat-tat barrage of songs like the Thompson gun he sang about belonging to one of his cast of characters in the album. From the opener, “Johnny Strikes up the Band,” to the album’s closer, “Lawyers, Guns and Money,” a tune about desperation, Zevon sang about life in the manic way that he did. In between, he recounted the tales of “Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner,” the strange boy in “Excitable Boy,” and those damn lively “Werewolves of London,” who drank pina coladas and looked for beef chow mein. They even had perfect hair. Warren Zevon.
On “Accidentally Like a Martyr,” he sang of broken love in a soft and touching manner, almost against the grain of the songs mentioned above. The fact that songs like this are on this album shows his many strengths. On “Tenderness on the Block,” he sings about the growth of a daughter and the faith and pain of relinquishing your grown child to that of another caretaker. For every father who has experienced this separation, Warren Zevon has eloquently summed it up to the point of tears and that tug at the heart.
Rhino revisits the brilliance of the Warren Zevon catalogue with well remastered classics, new notes, and bonus tracks, of which the subject of this review, Excitable Boy, has 4, all previously unissued. The first is “I Need a Truck,” a very short, outtake from the Excitable Boy sessions, essentially a vocal only cut. It is followed by an alternate version of “Werewolves of London,” an interesting, if somewhat unfinished version of the song. It brings guitar more into the mix…worth the listen. “Tule’s Blues,” an outtake from earlier sessions is noted as a Solo Piano version. “Tule’s Blues” was from his first album and its different version is found here. The album completes with the Strings Version of “Frozen Notes,” an outtake from the Excitable Boy sessions. All of these previously unreleased bonus cuts truly add to the value of this enduring album from one of our most intriguing artists.
This Rhino edition provides a 20-page booklet with lyrics, credits, photos, and an essay by Rolling Stone’s David Fricke.
Now go and enjoy your sandwich.