It’s Warren Zevon’s birthday today. Warren was born here in Chicago back in 1947. It must have been a fascinating childhood, as his father, a Russian immigrant was a bookie. By the time he was 13, Zevon briefly studied classical music under the tutelage of Igor Stravinsky. By 16, he quit school and tried to make it in music. He wrote from songs for The Turtles and his first record was stillborn. After a stint as the musical director for The Everly Brothers, Zevon made lots of cool friends, like Lindsay Buckingham, Stevie Nicks and Jackson Browne. The Browne connection led to a record deal, and Zevon’s first two albums for Asylum Records (Warren Zevon and Excitable Boy) are classics. Zevon had one foot in Laurel Canyon and one foot in a hard bitten world of down and out people and headless CIA men. And this was all filtered through his dark sense of humor. Zevon had his one hit, “Werewolves of London” and a fascinating career where he crossed paths with so many top flight musicians. Diagnosed with terminal cancer, he made another great LP and spent an hour on the David Letterman show, in what was truly memorable television, before passing on. In honor of Zevon, please grab your iPod or MP3 player, hit shuffle and share the first 10 songs that come up.
Pansy Division – Obstacle Course (Absurd Pop Song Romance): Jon Ginoli, the leader of Pansy Division, cut his teeth in the Champaign, Illinois jangle rock band The Outnumbered. And this tune about a relationship that is at an impasse sounds like a beefier version of an Outnumbered song. While Pansy Division built its reputation on jokey songs with gay themes, they were just as adept at smart, observational tunes like this one.
Sukilove – White Boy Blues (Talking in the Dark): Not a blues tune from this Belgian pop band. More of a melodic folk rock song with Pascal Deweze showing off his vocal range.
Wiley – Immigration (Evolve Or Be Extinct): The grime star complains that customs officials presume that he is a drug smuggler, not a vacationer. The spare electronic backing and Wiley’s ardent rapping make this a solid tune.
Johnny Taylor – Who’s Making Love (Beg, Scream & Shout): A great slice of southern soul from Johnny Taylor. Sad to say, the first version I heard of this was by The Blues Brothers. That cover was alright, but the original is so awesome, with incredible work by the bass guitarist.
Beastie Boys – To All the Girls (Paul’s Boutique): The funky intro that precedes the amazing “Shake Your Rump” on the Beasties best album, and one of the all-time great hip-hop records.
Morphine – Gone For Good (Yes): An intimate acoustic number from Morphine. Mark Sandman shows a vulnerable side as he chronicles all that he has lost when his women ups and leaves him. A sad and beautiful tune.
10CC – Une Nuit a Paris (Part 1)/The Same Night In Paris (Part 2)(The Original Soundtrack): Epic art pop track. The band incorporates a few styles into this track, with a good use of sound effects and some clever arranging. This is a song that would have driven me up the wall when I was in college, but I’m now a sucker for these fey, arty tracks.
Parasites – You’re Gonna Miss Me (Retro-Pop Remasters): This Bay Area pop-punk band mix buoyant melodies with just the right amount of heaviness. Fans of the Descendents would dig this, methinks.
Mott The Hoople – I Wish I Was Your Mother (Mott): Around this time, almost anything Ian Hunter wrote turned to musical gold. This is one of his most captivating tunes, a song of utter devotion. It sounds like Bob Dylan meets Rod Stewart. Alejandro Escovedo does a pretty good version of this tune.
Arrested Development – Natural (3 Years, 5 Months & 2 Days in the Life of...): Arrested Development’s debut album hit #3 on the LP charts 21 years ago. Yeah, Speech could be a bit preachy, but the music on here still holds up, with an electronic take on Sly style funk. That being said, this is an alright tune, but not amongst the best on the album.