My Top 10 Favorite Warren Zevon songs

Contrary to what many of you may think, I do not listen only to Gilbert and Sullivan.  I occasionally listen to musical artists whose works were written as recently as this millennium, if you can imagine that.  One of my favorites is the late Warren Zevon. He was not a very nice person, to put it mildly, as I discovered from reading his ex-wife Crystal’s biography of him, I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead. But he wrote some great songs–here is a list of my ten favorites.

  1. Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner“. (1978, with David Lindell)  This tale mixes two of my favorite subjects: mercenaries and ghosts, and is coupled to a well-crafted narrative of war and betrayal.  The opening notes give me chills every time I hear them. It was fitting that it was the last song Zevon performed publicly, during his final appearance on the David Letterman show–I think it is his greatest.
  2. Mohammed’s Radio“. (1976)  I go back and forth on whether I prefer the studio version or the live version that appeared on Stand in the Fire.  The former has better lyrics, but the latter has better energy.  Either one is brilliant, however.
  3. Transverse City“. (1989, with Stefan Arngrim) This song is also the title of Zevon’s most unjustly neglected album. For the life of me, I don’t know why people didn’t like it. (Maybe the horrible cover art?) In any case this song is a very unsettling journey through a cyberpunk landscape.
  4. Mr. Bad Example” (1991, with Jorge Calderon) Again, this was also an album title, and this song was definitely the standout (though it’s a very fine album).  An amusing saga of outrageous misdeeds that probably didn’t seem quite so outrageous to the late Mr. Zevon himself.
  5. Ourselves to Know“. (2000)  This haunting song will creep into my mind at the oddest times.  I am not a religious person, but I do find the Crusades imagery the lyrics evoke to be curiously powerful.  Zevon at his most reflective.
  6. Hit Somebody! (The Hockey Song)“. (2002, with Mitch Albom) I played hockey as a kid–not very well, though. Like the enforcer hero of this song, I “wasn’t that good with a puck”.  It’s one of the few inspirational sports stories I don’t find tedious.
  7. Turbulence“. (1989) Another one from Transverse City.  I love his topical political songs, and this one also contains some very nice Russian singing.
  8. The Envoy“.  (1982) Note that this is the title track of what is by far Zevon’s worst album.  There are only about four songs that are not awful on it, and this is the only one that is really “good’.  I half suspect he made the whole album just to get this gem published.
  9. “Bad Karma“. (1987) This is a great song for when you are feeling down. It won’t make you feel better exactly, but it will kind of make you laugh.
  10. My Ride’s Here“. (2002, with Paul Muldoon) It sums up Zevon’s body of work perfectly; capturing both his witty, humorous side and his melancholy gloominess.  I suspect you don’t get the full effect of it unless you are pretty familiar with his other stuff going in.

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