Released in 1978, Excitable Boy was Zevon’s third album and it would also become his best selling release. It was on this release where he combined his often humorous lyrics and overall quirkiness with a California pop-rock sound complete with gorgeous harmonies, a formula which obviously worked well in appealing to a mass audience. The music on this album is a mix of up-tempo pop rockers and slightly mellower piano ballads, while it is the wonderful harmonies of the large array of backing vocalists on display including some of Los Angeles finest in the form of Linda Ronstadt and J.D. Souther that gives many of the tracks a laid-back California feel. Opening track “Johnny Strikes Up the Band” is a stomping guitar rocker, while title track “Excitable Boy” has a Beach Boys feel to it and features a storming sax solo and a section of female backing vocalists. Excitable Boy also notably contains Zevon’s most recognised song “Werewolves of London”, a song that went on to become a classic rock radio staple and which in recent years was sampled by Kid Rock in his smash hit “All Summer Long”. “Accidentally Like a Martyr” is a beautiful piano pop ballad in a similar style to the great singer-songwriters of the 70s period, while “Tenderness On The Block” features some of the most infectious harmonies on the album, harmonies that would give The Eagles a run for their money. This is definitely a standout track on the album and one my favorites, I guess I am just a sucker for good harmony vocals.
Excitable Boy gave Warren Zevon a larger audience and saw him crack the top 10 on Billboard, but he would struggle to capitalize in the long term on the openings this album gave him in terms of exposure. Although he would continue to retain his cult following in music circles and would earn the praise of people such as Dylan, Young, and Springsteen, commercial success would elude him throughout the rest of his career and he eventually died prematurely in 2003, age 56. Warren Zevon is to this day still in many ways a cult figure in music and you have either heard of him or you haven’t. The 70s California singer-songwriter period and the music that came out of it isn’t everyone’s cup of tea and people often view it cynically as a coked-up bland period for music where money ruled the roost. This might be the case in some instances, but this album Excitable Boy by a nerdy looking guy with a strange last name proved that there were exceptions and that in the end some of the music did sound good.