Sound — 8
Released in 1978, two years after his self-titled sort of re-debut, "Excitable Boy" is as close as Warren Zevon got to a breakthrough album. After 1969's commercial flop that was "Wanted Dead Or Alive" and 1976's "Warren Zevon", Warren was back in the studio recording what is considered by many of his fans as his best work. 1. "Johnny Strikes Up The Band" - To many, this was the first taste of Warren's piano based rock and roll he was known for. The upbeat opener on "Excitable Boy". I've heard this song be called a "Middle-Class Anthem", and I have to agree with that interpretation. The lyric about "They'll be rocking in the Projects" seems to be a line about the power of music. How music can bring a community together and override any negativity that may be rearing it's ugly head. 2. "Roland The Headless Thompson Gunner" - Roland, the fictional protagonist with an interesting afterlife. This is the first of two historically fictionalized songs on "Excitable Boy" (The second being "Veracruz"). This is a shining example of Warren's dark lyrical storytelling. A very piano driven tune, "Roland The Headless Thompson Gunner" tell the story of the titles namesake, a Norwegian soldier named Roland. "Of all the Thompson Gunners, Roland was the best." Later in the song, the story takes a tragic turn as "The CIA decided they wanted Roland dead, that son-of-a-b-tch Van Owen blew off Rolands head". In the end of the tale, Roland wanders around until eventually killing Van Owen in the same fashion as he was. This was one of the first Zevon songs I can remember hearing as a young'un, it's still one of my favorites. 3. "Excitable Boy" - Ah yes, the title track. This, again being a story in the form of song, is another quite upbeat sounding tune. The lyrics take a dark turn about halfway through it though. It tells the story of a mentally unstable young boy, only known during the song as "Excitable Boy". I believe this song is addressing the fact that some parents refuse to acknowledge a problem their child may have, hiding behind the phrase "boys will be boys". I say boys of course because of the dark twist in the third verse: "He took little Suzie to the Junior Prom, Excitable Boy they all said, Then he raped her and killed her then he took her home, Excitable Boy they all said". Again, this tune is very upbeat sounding, but dark at the same time, something Warren was great at. 4. "Werewolves Of London" - "Ahooooooh! Werewolves of London Ahooooooh!" Warren always used to say "If I didn't write Werewolves, I would've probably been a fairly popular folk singer". Despite the campy werewolf in the music video, this is probably the most recognized song Warren ever recorded (No thanks to Kid Rock sampling the piano riff). Besides being a lighthearted werewolf story, I've also heard a few different interpretations of this track's lyrics. I've heard that it's a song about homophobia or the London punk scene of the 70's. Either way, if any song by Warren Zevon could be considered a classic, this is probably it. 5. "Accidentally Like A Martyr" - It is a song about still being in love with someone that you know has moved on. It could also about being in a relationship, yet still not being happy because the person you love knows they could do so much better. This is the first song that sounds like a real downer on the album. A hard subject to put to words, Warren does so well. It's been said that Warren Zevon could say more in three minutes than some musicians could say in their entire career. 6. "Nighttime In The Switching Yard" - What better to follow up a piano song about depression than... Disco? According to Warren Zevon, yes, Disco. This is probably my least favorite song on the album, maybe even my least favorite Zevon song. I don't have a whole lot to say, this song is pretty out of element for Warren. I usually skip past it when it comes on. 7. "Veracruz" - The second of the two historically toned songs on "Excitable Boy". This one written about the United States Occupation of Veracruz, and the irresponsibility of American Troops in the Middle East. Again, I don't have much of an opinion on this song. 8. "Tenderness On The Block" - A song about parents having to come to grips with the fact that their baby is growing up and they can't stop it. No matter how old the person (in this case a daughter) is, the parents will always see her as a little child. The parents need to know that (despite how hard they try), the child is going to get hurt out in the world alone, but that is the point of living and growing, to learn capabilities and limits. This is a pretty upbeat song with a good message to it. 9. "Lawyers Guns & Money" - "Back in the late seventies, I was working on the album 'Excitable Boy' and I decided I needed a vacation. So I went to Kauai in the Hawaiian Islands. I wrote this song late one night on wet cocktail napkins after a long day of improbable and grotesque mischief. Obviously I survived all that, but I learned something from the experience. I never take vacations." Warren said this quote on a BBC Christmas special in which he played this song solo with an acoustic 12-String. This song is a fun song, guitar and piano driven, almost poking fun at Cold War paranoia.
Lyrics — 10
As always, Warren was a masterful songwriter, according to longtime friend and collaborator Jackson Browne: "He could mythologize and satirize all at once". He could tell an amazing story all within the course of a 3 and a half minute long song. The blend of piano, strings, and guitar have always mixed together perfectly with Warren's lyrics, and this classic album is no different. I enjoy how Warren could write a song that was dark, but the music could be lighthearted and fun to listen to (much like "Excitable Boy"). And as always, Warren Zevon never had the greatest voice in folk music or rock and roll. However his range has always impressed me. From his wolf howls in "Werewolves Of London" to the softer, gentler tone in "Accidentally Like A Martyr", his voice could handle any song he sang perfectly.
Overall Impression — 9
This album of course compares to Warren's other albums. His lyrics and his voice were so distinct, I can't think of anyone to really compare him to. The most impressive songs from the album would have to be "Roland The Headless Thompson Gunner", "Lawyers, Guns And Money", and the classic "Werewolves Of London". I love almost everything about the album except the very uncharacteristic "Nighttime In The Switching Yard"... That's probably the one thing about the CD I hate. If it were stolen or lost, well, I have it on my computer, but I'd definitely buy it again if I didn't. All in all, this is a great Zevon album, and what I would consider the perfect album to introduce someone into Warren Zevon with.