It wasn’t a concept album, although it just as well could’ve been. 11 songs about the dark, seedy underbelly of Los Angeles and its inhabitants make up this eponymous album by Warren Zevon, his first release for a major label (although he released his first album, 1969’s Wanted Dead Or Alive prior to this). Not only does the album recall California lyrically, but the sidemen and guest vocalists read like a who’s who of the music scene in that area: Jackson Browne, Lindsey Buckingham, Don Henley and Glenn Frey, Bonnie Raitt and Carl Wilson just to name a few.
The album starts off with “Frank And Jesse James”, a song about the various exploits the two brothers ran into and setting up the scene for the rest of the album. “Poor Poor Pitiful Me” notes on Zevon’s wild lifestyle with a keen sense of irony. “The French Inhaler” tells the tale of a woman down on her luck while waiting for that one big break in Hollywood. “Mohammed’s Radio” talks about the impact music can have when there’s nothing else to turn to, with lyrics that eerily hit home even today (“You work all day/you still can’t pay/the price of gasoline and meat/alas, their lives are incomplete”).
The album closes with “Desperados Under The Eaves”, a stark look at the hopelessness that pervaded throughout the rest of the album. Here, Zevon delivers his immortal refrain: “And if California slides into the ocean/like the mystics and statistics say it will/then I predict this motel will be standing/until I pay my bill”. But while multiple harmonies sing “Look away down Gower Avenue…”, one feels that there may be a glimmer of hope, no matter how small, still left to discover in this forlorn urban landscape.
Although not well received upon release (it barely scratched the Top 200), Warren Zevon has since become known as one of Zevon’s finest outings as a songwriter. All the songs here are tightly written with nary a clunker or throwaway, containing copious amounts of Zevon’s trademark wit and humor. It remains catchy without being “radio-friendly”, and set the stage for his career as one of the best songwriters of his day. This album should not be missed.
- Frank And Jesse James (4:33)
- Mama Couldn’t Be Persuaded (2:53)
- Backs Turned Looking Down The Path (2:27)
- Hasten Down The Wind (2:58)
- Poor Poor Pitiful Me (3:04)
- The French Inhaler (3:44)
- Mohammed’s Radio (3:40)
- I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead (2:56)
- Carmelita (3:32)
- Join Me In L.A. (3:13)
- Desperados Under The Eaves (4:45)
Released by: Asylum
Release date: 1976
Total running time: 37:45