Warren Zevon

I got the new Zevon CD and was pleased to see that it was #1 at Amazon and comfortably in the Top 20 overall. I wasn’t surprised, though, to see that he died soon after its release. Charles Shultz died when the last Peanuts appeared, and he didn’t even have the sense of graveyard irony that Zevon had.

The reviews are right: The Wind isn’t Zevon’s best work, and it might not be such a remarkable CD if not for the circumstances. But the two are inseparable. Only one or two of the songs would appear on a best-of list (I’m a fan of My Dirty Life and Times), but it’s still an extraordinary, life-affirming piece of work.

But instead of picking through this CD, I’ll honor the guy with a look at my favorite Zevon songs:

  • Lawyers, Guns and Money: Probably his best tale of misdeeds and consequences.
  • Play It All Night Long: A gloomy yet vivid portrait of rural life that includes the classic line Sweet Home Alabama / Play that dead band’s song. Also one of the better-recorded songs, with an odd meter and instrumentation that freed him from the occasionally bland arrangements of his SoCal cronies.
  • Reconsider Me: His ballads were sometimes a bit too country for me, but this one is brilliant. The lyrics are straightforward without being too cliched, and the melody is gorgeous.
  • Detox Mansion: Like many of the songs on Sentimental Hygiene (1987, senior year of high school), this was recorded with R.E.M.’s Peter Buck, Mike Mills and Bill Berry, who were more energetic than some of his other collaborators. The gleeful romp through rehab is, like many of his best songs, a classic case of turning tragedy into comedy.
  • Hit Somebody (The Hockey Song): A lot of reviewers panned his penultimate album My Ride’s Here. From what I’ve heard, I disagree. MacGillicuddy’s Reeks is an amusing song mixing an Irish lilt with Yuppie romance. Then there’s this song, co-written with sports columnist Mitch Albom and featuring a background yell from David Letterman, that pays tribute to a reluctant hockey goon from rural Canada.

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