Ranking the Best 5 Songs on Warren Zevon’s Classic 1978 Album ‘Excitable Boy’

Warren Zevon‘s self-titled 1976 album wasn’t technically his debut, but it might as well have been for how ideally it introduced his singular talent to the world. That meant that a lot of expectations were heaped upon the follow-up Excitable Boy in 1978. And Zevon rose brilliantly to that occasion with another classic.

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Many of Zevon’s most well-known and best-loved songs are on this record. But there are still a few gems flying a bit beneath the surface as well. What are the top five on Excitable Boy? Read on to find out what we think.

5. “Tenderness on the Block”

Jackson Browne co-produced Excitable Boy and also co-wrote this mid-tempo number. When you listen to it, it sounds very much of a character with songs of Browne’s like “Boulevard” or “Somebody’s Baby.” “Tenderness on the Block” looks with a mixture of admiration and concern at a young girl who is trying to find love in a loveless town. Luckily, this protagonist seems to be able to discern the winners from the losers among her suitors, although that doesn’t stop her hapless parents from losing their minds over the prospect.

4. “Excitable Boy”

We get that the character at the heart of this somewhat bizarre number isn’t exactly a sympathetic one. But there’s something brash about how Zevon is willing to take a detailed look at this guy, and how he seems to be a menace for no particularly good reason other than he just is. To put such chirpy music behind it all, including Jim Horn’s stuttering saxophone solo and cooing female backing vocals, is a bold move. Even Randy Newman, the king of writing for unsavory characters, probably would have tipped his cap to the brazenness of “Excitable Boy.”

3. “Werewolves of London”

There are many hardcore Zevon fans who dislike “Werewolves of London” for the sole reason it’s the one song the average fan knows, yet it only represents a sliver of what he could do as an artist. But if you can take that context away, it’s still an impressive piece of writing and a fantastic performance from Zevon and his session vets, including the Fleetwood Mac rhythm section of John McVie and Mick Fleetwood. Yes, it’s overplayed (especially when most of the rest of his catalog is underplayed), but this track is still a blast even after countless listens.

2. “Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner”

Excitable Boy is full of songs that are hard to imagine being pulled off by any other writer or performer. “Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner” emanated from a chance encounter with an actual mercenary named David Lindell. Zevon, who was never picky about his writing partners having actual musical experience, enlisted him to help author this violent tale of double-crossing and supernatural revenge. The elegiac music goes a long way to softening the bite of the lyrics. Nobody ever wrote about society’s underbelly as relatably as Zevon.

1. “Lawyers, Guns and Money”

This track seems to grow more relevant with each passing day. Just as he seemed to sympathize with those who others would spurn, Zevon would gleefully take aim at those in society who came on as respectable but might be hiding their true nature. The character at the heart of this song, much like Zevon himself, freely indulges his self-destructive tendencies. But this guy has the resources to pull himself out of the fire without ever getting burned. The acidic humor of the lyrics dovetails beautifully with the crunching potency of the music.

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