Warren Zevon created songs that seemingly went unnoticed when they were first released.
Maybe that’s because his lyrics were full of imagery that was sometimes hard for people to grasp.
But then there are those great Zevon hits that are undeniable classics.
Let’s dive in and learn more about this unique singer-songwriter.
The Warren Zevon Story
Warren William Zevon’s story began on January 24, 1947, in Chicago, Illinois. His dad, a Jewish immigrant from Russia, was a professional gambler who handled bets for Los Angeles mobster Mickey Cohen. On the other hand, Warren’s mom was a Mormon of English descent.
When Warren was still fairly young, the Zevon family moved to Fresno, California. In his early teens, Warren learned to play the piano and guitar. One of his earliest musical influences was composer Igor Stravinsky, who he met through a mutual acquaintance. Stravinsky invited young Warren to his home and introduced him to classical music.
By the time he was 16, Warren had gained a new interest – folk music and rock and roll. Around this same time, his parents divorced. Warren decided to quit high school and made his way to New York City in hopes of becoming a pop star.
Zevon’s musical career had a bumpy start. His first album was a bust. And after a short stint as the pianist in the Everly Brothers’ band in the early 70s, Warren decided to head to Spain. There, he spent a summer songwriting and playing in small clubs.
Zevon returned to the US in 1975 and moved to Los Angeles. He became friends with singer Jackson Browne who was impressed with Zevon’s talent. Browne would eventually help Zevon land his first recording contract with Asylum Records. Jackson Browne also produced Warren’s self-titled first album for the label.
Beginning with that 1976 studio release, Zevon would find himself creating songs with other up-and-coming legends. Bonnie Raitt, Stevie Nicks, Lindsey Buckingham, Don Henley, and Glenn Frey appear on the Warren Zevon studio album.
An Exciting Turn for Zevon
Zevon’s next album, Excitable Boy, hit record stores in 1978 and included the hit Werewolves of London. The singer with deadpan humor began making a name for himself.
Throughout the 80s, Warren Zevon experienced a bit of a rollercoaster with his career. He continued pursuing a musical career through alcoholism, addiction treatment, and being dropped from Asylum Records.
But the 90s would prove to be a much better decade for the dry-witted singer-songwriter. Late-night talk show host, David Letterman, was a big fan of Warren Zevon and his songs. He regularly had Zevon appear as a musical guest or sometimes substitute for bandleader Paul Shaffer.
In 2002, Zevon released his eleventh album, My Ride’s Here, which he considered “a meditation on death.” Ironically and sadly, a few months later, Warren Zevon was diagnosed with mesothelioma, a severe form of lung cancer.
Zevon’s Final Days
Being told he only had a few months left to live, Zevon began recording his last album, The Wind, in Fall 2002. Bruce Springsteen, Jackson Browne, Tom Petty, Don Henley, and other legendary musicians joined Zevon on his final studio release.
Zevon released The Wind in August 2003. A few weeks later, on September 7, 2003, he passed away at 56. A few months after his death, Zevon posthumously won two Grammy Awards. One for Best Contemporary Folk Album (The Wind) and the other Best Rock Performance by a Duo for the song Disorder in the House with Bruce Springsteen.
During his 38-year musical career, Zevon’s 15 studio albums and quirky songs won the hearts of many music fans.
Let’s take a look at seven of Warren Zevon’s greatest songs.
About the Song: The lyrics of this song are pretty straightforward. The words may not be uplifting, but the Mexican-style music creating this ballad is soothing.
Carmelita hold me tighter
I think I’m sinking down
And I’m all strung out on heroin
On the outskirts of town
First Appearance: Canadian singer Murray McLauchlan first released this song on his 1972 self-titled album. Warren Zevon released his version in 1976, followed by Linda Ronstadt’s cover a year later.
#6 Accidentally Like a Martyr
About the Song: There’s no hiding the feeling of heartbreak in these lyrics. Most of Warren Zevon’s songs were about other troubling experiences in life, not necessarily problems in love. But this rare Zevon love song is a touching piece of music.
We made mad love
And abandoned love
Accidentally like a martyr
The hurt gets worse and the heart gets harder
First Appearance: This song appeared on Zevon’s third album, Excitable Boy, in 1978.
#5 Excitable Boy
About the Song: This rather catchy tune has some pretty wild lyrics. It’s hard to take any of it seriously with the doo wop-style backing vocals and upbeat instrumentation.
Well, he went down to dinner in his Sunday best
Excitable boy, they all said
And he rubbed the pot roast all over his chest
Excitable boy, they all said
First Appearance: This is the title track from Warren Zevon’s 1978 Excitable Boy album.
#4 Lawyers, Guns and Money
About the Song: This Warren Zevon song is an excellent example of his dry humor coming through in his lyrics. With Zevon’s descriptive words, it’s easy to picture the scene going down in a Cuban gambling hall.
I went home with the waitress, the way I always do
How was I to know, she was with the Russians, too?
I was gambling in Havana, I took a little risk
Send lawyers, guns and money, dad, get me out of this
First Appearance: This tune is another from Zevon’s Excitable Boy album from 1978.
#3 Poor Poor Pitiful Me
About the Song: Here’s another classic Zevon song that paints a dark picture but has really catchy music and a sing-along chorus. His humor may not catch on with everyone, but his fans seem to eat it up!
Well I met a girl in West Hollywood
Well I ain’t naming names
But she really worked me over good
She was just like Jesse James
First Appearance: The song appears on Warren Zevon’s 1976 self-titled second studio album.
#2 Keep Me in Your Heart
About the Song: Warren Zevon wrote this song after being diagnosed with mesothelioma. He knew his time was short. The lyrics are touching and hard to listen to without feeling a sense of loss. Keep Me in Your Heart was the last song he wrote before he died in 2003.
Hold me in your thoughts
Take me to your dreams
Touch me as I fall into view
When the winter comes
Keep the fires lit
And I will be right next to you
First Appearance: The song was released in 2003 on Zevon’s final album, The Wind.
#1 Werewolves of London
About the Song: Is there anyone who doesn’t know this song? There’s a reason this hit is in the #1 position on this list. Even if you don’t know all the words, you surely know the chorus!
The song began as a joke between Zevon and former bandmate Phil Everly of the Everly Brothers. Once the lyrics were written, Zevon’s friend, Jackson Browne, liked the tune so much that he included it in his own performances. The Grateful Dead also covered the song a few times for some Halloween night concerts.
He’s the hairy handed gent who ran amok in Kent
Lately he’s been overheard in Mayfair
You better stay away from him, he’ll rip your lungs out Jim
Huh, I’d like to meet his tailor
First Appearance: One more song from the classic 1978 Zevon album Excitable Boy.
Warren Zevon’s Life Was a Bumpy Ride
Zevon hit some hurdles throughout his career but hit his stride in the years before his death. What more great music could have come? The songs he gave us, though, match his quirkiness and depth.
We bet after listening to these great Warren Zevon songs, you’ll want to hear more from this eccentric singer. Pull him up on iTunes or Spotify for a bit, then let us know which of his tunes is your favorite. Can you pick out the other musical legends who added their touch to his songs?