What’s this excitable album called? Answer: ‘Excitable Boy‘ by Warren Zevon. Released today, back in 1978. This album was also produced by Waddy Wachtel and Jackson Browne. interestingly enough, this record was recorded in LA at a studio called The Sound Factory. There are five singles on this album, and if you ask me, each and every one of them are signature Zevon songs. Including the five singles, there are a total of nine songs. ‘Excitable Boy‘ was his highest peaking album on the Billboard 2oo at eight.
These five singles include, “Johnny Strikes Up The Band,” “Nighttime In The Switching Yard,” “Lawyer, Guns, and Money,” “Werewolves Of London,” and the title track “Excitable Boy.”
The first song on this album is “Johnny Strikes Up The Band.” It’s a steady paced song that starts out the album, with a nice guitar solo. This is a song about a man named Johnny who ‘strikes up the band’ so that he can make people happy with the music, and let them have a good time. To be honestly with you, everything about this song will bring your spirits up if you ask me. From the positive lyrics, to the catchy instrumentals, its a great song!
“Dry your eyes my little friend. Let me take you by the hand. Freddie get ready, rock steady, when Johnny strikes up the band. They’ll be rockin’ in the projects Walkin’ down along the strand Freddie, get ready, rock steady, When Johnny strikes up the band.”
Here you’re being told to get those tears out of your eye, Johnny is about to brighten up your day.
“When Johnny strikes up the band, when Johnny strikes up the band – guitar solo – (And Johnny is my main man) He’s the keeper of the keys, he’ll put your mind at ease, he’s guaranteed to please, back by popular demand. Look around my little friend. Jubilation in the land. Freddie get ready, rock steady, When Johnny strikes up the band.”
after the guitar solo, Wachtel who is on harmony, comes in with a fantastic line, “And Johnny is my main man.” You’re also being told that Johnny will be easing your mind, and whatever music strikes up will be pleasing to the ears.
All in all, this is a song will easily lift your spirits.
The next song, “Roland The Headless Thompson Gunner” slows down compared to “Johnny Strikes Up The Band,” and is about a Norwegian mercenary. americansongwriter.com mentions a quote from the liner notes of his compilation album ‘I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead (An Anthology),’ and it says, “In 1974 I ran off to Spain, and got a job in an Irish bar called the Dubliner, in Sitges, on the Costa Brava. The proprietor was a piratical ex-merc named David Lindell. He and I wrote this song at the bar one afternoon, over many jars.” It also goes on to mention how the character Roland, is skilled with his Thompson Gun, has a self-serving motive, and the unpleasant truth of his occupation as a mercenary.
In the second verse we find out that Roland is betrayed by another mercenary named Van Owen (Verse two Below).
“His comrades fought beside him. Van Owen and the rest. But of all the Thompson gunners, Roland was the best. So the CIA decided, they wanted Roland dead. That son-of-a-bitch Van Owen, Blew off Roland’s head.”
“(But time stands still for Roland ’til he evens up the score) They can still see his headless body Stalking through the night.” – As background vocalist, Jackson Browne comes in on “()”
After the unfortunate events of Roland losing his head, he is alive and well, and looking for revenge!
During the third verse, Roland gets his revenge! (Verse three below)
“Roland searched the continent, for the man who’d done him in. He found him in Mombasa, in a barroom drinking gin. Roland aimed his Thompson gun He didn’t say a word. But he blew Van Owen’s body From there to Johannesburg.”
“Patty Hearst, heard the burst, Of Roland’s Thompson gun, and bought it.”
As the song approaches its end, Roland lurks around still fighting. Then the final two lines in the song make reference to Patty Hearst, a woman who was once kidnapped by the Symbobionese Liberation Army, to only end up joining them. Which in this case is an example of Stockholm Syndrome.
Get excited because after we find out that Roland got his revenge on Van Owen, next is “Excitable Boy.” If this song’s intro doesn’t get you excited, then I don’t know what will! Now the irony of the song is that the lyrics are sort of oddball type lines. The song is essentially about a protagonist who does what he wants, and want he does is out of the ordinary. Then the protagonist takes a very ugly turn toward the end.
“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.”
“He took in the four A.M. show at the Clark Excitable boy, they all said And he bit the usherette’s leg in the dark Excitable boy, they all said.”
“He took little Suzie to the Junior Prom Excitable boy, they all said And he raped her and killed her, then he took her home Excitable boy, they all said.”
“After ten long years they let him out of the home Excitable boy, they all said And he dug up her grave and built a cage with her bones Excitable boy, they all said.”
With these four sets of lines from the song, he goes from rubbing a pot roast on his chest, biting an usherette’s led, killing his prom date, and then her grave is dug up?! Certainly an interesting song in terms of the lyrics.
Some interesting facts about this song are that Linda Ronstadt and Jennifer Warnes can be heard on harmony vocals. Also that there is an explanation for the line about digging up her grave. In the biography ‘I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead: The Dirty Life and Times of Warren Zevon,’ by Crystal Zevon, LeRoy Marinell (co-wrote “Excitable Boy”) explains where the line came from. singout.org mentions the quote which says, “We looked at each other, and that was it. Fifteen minutes later, that one was written. That bit about how he built a cage with her bones, the critics made all kinds of assumptions about the significance of the song, about how it was like Charlie Manson, who said, “Don’t let me out.”…Well, where that verse comes from is when I was a young boy in Illinois, around the schoolyard some kid would say, “Eat shit.” Your response would be, “What’ll I do with your bones?” And his response would be, “Build a cage for your mother.” It had nothing to do with any of this social significance. It was this goofy kid thing, and I told the story to Warren and he laughed and we put that in the song. But, you know, it also gave me a perspective as to what critics don’t know…it turns out they didn’t know nothin’ about what I was saying, so they probably don’t know nothin’ about what anybody else is saying either.”
The only song from this album that peaked on the Hot 100 is the one and only “Werewolves Of London.” If you listen to Zevon, you know this song off the top of your head, and honestly if you listen to 70s music you’ll know this song off the top of your head. Other than the lyrics, the best part of this song is the piano phrase. As the intro begins and you get introduced to the piano phrase, you’ll be in for a treat as it is played through the whole song! On the Hot 100, it peaked at 24. A really cool fact about “Werewolves Of London” is that Mick Fleetwood and John McVie of Fleetwood Mac were session musicians for this song. Phil Everly of The Everly Brothers, gave Zevon the idea to write a song called “Werewolves Of London,” and on waddywachtelinfo.com, Wachtel gives some incite on how the song came about.
You can basically say that this song is about a fictional Werewolf that is in London, and the lyrics are iconic, below will be all of the lyrics, and one example of the hook.
“I saw a werewolf with a Chinese menu in his hand, walking through the streets of Soho in the rain. He was looking for the place called Lee Ho Fook’s, gonna get a big dish of beef chow mein.”
Soho is located in the City Of Westminster, and there is indeed a place in London called “Lee Ho Fooks” that serves beef chow mein.
“If you hear him howling around your kitchen door You better not let him in Little old lady got mutilated late last night Werewolves of London again.”
Well…all I have to say about this is that I wouldn’t want to be the ‘Little Old Lady‘ in this situation.
“He’s the hairy-handed gent, who ran amuck in Kent. Lately he’s been overheard in Mayfair. You better stay away from him, He’ll rip your lungs out Jim. I’d like to meet his tailor.”
Kent is a country southeast of London, but then right away he makes his way back to London and shows up in Mayfair. The James and tailor is a reference to James Taylor, and at times during a live concert he would sing “And he’s looking for James Taylor.” These lyrics can also be found on his live album “Stand In The Fire.”
“Well I saw Lon Chaney walking with the Queen. Doing the Werewolves of London. I saw Lon Chaney, Jr.walking with the Queen. Doing the Werewolves of London. I saw a werewolf drinking a pina colada at Trader Vic’s, his hair was perfect.”
Lon Chaney was a silent horror film from 1927, and once again, in the live album “Stand In The Fire,” Zevon tweaks this verse by saying, “I saw Jackson Browne walking slow down the avenue. You know, his heart is perfect.”
“Aa-hooo! Werewolves of London! Aa-hooo! Werewolves of London!”
Last put not least, we have ourselves the chorus that really brings out the Werewolves in all of us.
‘Excitable’ Zevon performance of “Werewolves Of London,” live at Capitol Theatre in ’82 located in Passaic, New Jersey. Throughout the song he changes the chorus to “Werewolves of Jersey,” and at 3:37 minutes into the video he goes on to reference Ronald Reagan, Chuck Norris, and the song “Kung Fu Fighting” by Carol Douglas.
It is no accident that the next song is “Accidentally Like A Martyr.” Now if you haven’t noticed, Zevon is a fantastic song writer, and with “Accidentally Like A Martyr,” his unique songwriting skills certainly show. Here we have a heartbroken romantic ballad about loss. This is a type of song where you look at the lyrics in your own way, and interpret them however you feel, but at the end of the day, it’s about loss.
Below in order, we have the first verse, chorus, and then second verse. After the second verse, the chorus repeats twice until the instrumental outro.
“The phone don’t ring. no, no, and the sun refused to shine. Never thought I’d have to pay so dearly, for what was already mine. For such a long, long time.”
“We made mad love, shadow love, random love, and abandoned love. Accidentally like a martyr, the hurt gets worse and the heart gets harder.”
“The days slide by, should have done, Should have done, we all sigh. Never thought I’d ever be so lonely, after such a long long time. Time out of mind.”
The first verse shows that the protagonist is saying that they had something that was theirs and didn’t expect to loss, and now it’s gone. From a romantic perspective, the love in this relationship has been lost, and the protagonist is hoping for a phone call from the former partner, but isn’t getting it.
With the chorus, you see different stages of their physical relationship. ‘Mad love‘ shows passion in the relationship, then it goes to ‘shadow love,’ which may represent loving this person just by being around them. With ‘random love,’ the physical relationship becomes periodic. Lastly with ‘abandoned love,’ the relationship deteriorates to a point where they decide to end this relationship. In reference to the line”accidentally like a martyr, the hurt gets worse and the heart gets harder,” the protagonist believed there was love in the relationship, and just as a martyr does, the protagonist’s belief was taken away.
As we hit the second and final verse, the former partners are thinking about what they could have/should have done to maintain the relationship. They were together for so long that they aren’t used to being away from each other.
With a down-tempo throughout the song, it continues into the instrumental outro, which lasts around 52 seconds to make you sit there and wonder.
Clocking in at number six we have “Nighttime In The Switching Yard.” If you happen to be on a train right now reading this at night, then wow! How ironic! Now talk about a really funky bass groove, that’s exactly what this song has. The lyrics to this song are very simple, and as an over the song is simple in general. With the funky beats this song has, you easily go ahead and dance to it. A few lyrics to the song are below.
“Get it out on the mainline. Listen to the rhythm of the train, go by. Get it out on the mainline. Listen to the rhythm of the train, go by.”
“See that train, the midnight train runs both ways. See that train, the midnight train runs both ways. See that train, the midnight train runs both ways. See that train, the midnight train runs both ways.”
“Nighttime, in the switching yard. Nighttime in the switching yard, Nighttime in the switching yard. Nighttime in the switching yard.”
“Doot dat, doot dat, doot dada Doot dat, doot dat, doot dada Doot dat, doot dat, doot dada Doot dat, doot dat, doot dada Doot dat, doot dat, doot dada.”
The next song is “Veracruz,” and you could consider this a ‘history ballad.’ In 1914 under President Woodrow Wilson, the United States occupied Veracruz, Mexico during the Battle of Veracruz, which lasted seven months. The song is told through the viewpoint of a Mexican resident in Veracruz. This United States occupation of Veracruz was also around the time of the Mexican Revolution. Was trigered the occupation of Veracruz was a time when crew from the USS Dolphin were arrested after being arrested for landing in a restricted dock in Tampico, Mexico. Britannica.com and nytimes.com have articles that give you more incite on what happened during this occupation.
“I heard Woodrow Wilson’s guns I heard Maria crying Late last night I heard the news
That Veracruz was dying Veracruz was dying.”
Above is the first verse in “Veracruz.” from the viewpoint of the Mexican resident, you can tell that this United States occupation of Veracruz is not by any means something that the residents are in favor of.
“Someone called Maria’s name I swear it was my father’s voice Saying, If you stay you’ll all be slain You must leave now You have no choice Take the servants and ride west Keep the child close to your chest When the American troops withdraw Let Zapata take the rest.”
With the above being a portion of verse two, this resident stills struggles to survive, and keep him and his family safe.
With two left, the second to last song is “Tenderness On The Block.” Then we finish off with a little something called “Lawyers, Guns, and Money“…yes, that is in fact the title of the last song.
Along with Zevon, Browne co-wrote “Tenderness On The Block.” When you look at who provided the harmonies for this song, you’ll notice it says The Gentleman Boys. These Gentleman Boys consisted of Browne, Wachtel, JD Souther, Jorge Calderon, and Kenny Edwards.
These lyrics tell the story of parents being told to let his daughter have some freedom and go out to express her freedom, while potentially finding a man. Below are some lyrics from the song.
“Mama, where’s your pretty little girl tonight? Trying to run before she can walk, that’s right. She’s growing up, she has a young man waiting. She’s growing up, she has a young man waiting.”
“She was wide-eyed, now she’s street-wise To the lies and the jive talk But she’ll find true love And tenderness on the block.”
“Daddy, don’t you ask her when she’s coming in, and when she’s home don’t ask her where she’s been. She’s going out, she has a young man waiting. She’s going out, can’t keep her young man waiting.”
“She’ll be okay, let her have her day, Cause it’s a long way, it’s a long walk, But she’ll find true love, and tenderness on the block.”
“I know how much it hurts to see her go, She has a mind of her own, you know. She’s all grown up, she has a young man waiting.”
Zevon really brings out his creativity skills with lines such as “trying to run before she can walk,” “Daddy, dont you ask her when she’s coming in, and when she’s home don’t ask her where she’s been,” and “She was wide-eyed, now she’s street-wise to the lies, and the jive talk.” The lyrics I picked to show are in chronological order, so you’ll notice as the song progresses, the daughter continues to grow up.
Aside from all the lyrics talk, the melody to this song is something of fantastic!
Zevon performing “Tenderness On The Block” live in ’93. During a concert at Shoreline Amphitheatre in Mountain View, California.
Last but not least, we have that song with three interesting subjects, “Lawyers, Guns, and Money.” As it may not be a surprise so some, this song is uptempo. As I did with “Werewolves of London,” I will be showing all of the lyrics
“I went home with the waitress The way I always do How was I to know She was with the Russians, too?”
Just like that! The protagonist is off to a bad start, he brings a woman home only to find out she is a Russian spy!!
“I was gambling in Havana I took a little risk Send lawyers, guns and money Dad, get me out of this!”
As we get into the detail of the story, the protagonist took a huge risk and lost a lot of money gambling, and is now trying to use his Dad to get out of it. Essentially, this is most likely a rich kid that fell into this situation.
“I’m the innocent bystander Somehow I got stuck Between the rock and the hard place And I’m down on my luck And I’m down on my luck And I’m down on my luck.”
Now the protagonist claims he is innocent and just a bystander stuck in a bad situation.
“Now I’m hiding in Honduras I’m a desperate man Send lawyers, guns and money The shit has hit the fan.”
As he makes his way to hiding in Honduras, this may be a reference to William Snyder Porter, and a time he fled to Honduras in an attempt to evade his indictment in 1896, for embezzling bank funds. This story, and an overall bio of Porter can be read on biography.com.
“Send lawyers, guns and money Huh! Send lawyers, guns and money
Uhh! Send lawyers, guns and money Hyah! Send lawyers, guns and money Yeah!”
We don’t get much of a legitimate ending, but we do get left to wonder what happened. Did he get the money? Did he have good lawyers? Or did the guns get the best of him?
At the end of the day, Johnny will be striking up the Zevon masterpiece, “Excitable Boy.”