By Barry Gilbert
Of the Post-Dispatch

August 24, 2003

There is good news and bad news regarding Zevon's catalog. The good is that all but two of his albums are available on CD. The bad is that the two are among his best, and one of them is out of print in all formats.

Here's some of what is available:

"Warren Zevon" (1976): His de facto debut contains standards: the Missouri outlaw tale of "Frank and Jesse James"; the signature "I'll Sleep When I'm Dead"; "Poor, Poor Pitiful Me" and "Hasten Down the Wind," hits for Linda Ronstadt; and the mesmerizing "Mohammed's Radio," "Carmelita" and "Desperados Under the Eaves." Think a more twisted "Hotel California."

"Excitable Boy" (1978): The legend - and his brush with megastardom - are made with the hit "Werewolves of London," but this album also includes the often-covered "Lawyers, Guns and Money"; the outrageous "Excitable Boy"; and David Letterman's favorite, "Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner."

"Sentimental Hygiene" (1988): Bob Dylan (harmonica), Neil Young (guitar), most of R.E.M. and a cast of dozens join Zevon for 10 tracks that don't quit. It features the punch of "Boom Boom Mancini" and the spit of "The Factory," and tales of Zevon and his demons, including "Bad Karma" and "Detox Mansion," with its delightful image of Zevon "rakin' leaves with Liza/Me and Liz clean up the yard."

"Life'll Kill Ya" (2000): Sardonic, ironic and iconic, Zevon returns to form with "I Was in the House When the House Burned Down," the title track, "Porcelain Monkey," "My (Expletive's Expletived) Up," and "Don't Let Us Get Sick."

Never available on CD:

"Stand in the Fire" (1981): One of the best live albums of the rock era, it's inexplicably unavailable except on a hard-to-find cassette. The amps and energy are cranked to 11 and kept there.

"The Envoy" (1982): "Roland" and "Jungle Work" (from 1980's "Bad Luck Streak in Dancing School") inspired fans to attend concerts dressed in camouflage fatigues. "The Envoy" inspired others to wear suits and fedoras. It's an album of uncompromising beauty and spirit.


"A Quiet Normal Life: The Best of Warren Zevon" (1986): A single disc of cuts from the previous four studio albums on Elektra and Asylum records. Strong but incomplete.

"I'll Sleep When I'm Dead (An Anthology)" (1996): A two-disc gold mine, containing all but one track from the previous collection, plus well-chosen songs from his work for the Virgin and Giant labels. If you have room for only one from Zevon, this is the one.

"Genius: The Best of Warren Zevon" (2002): One disc, many fewer tracks than "I'll Sleep" - and a lot less money - but a career retrospective over 21 songs.