“I find myself writing about violent subjects”
A dancing school, incidentally, was a 17th-century euphemism for a brothel, and the theme dominates the controversial album cover, with a photograph taken by Jimmy Wachtel, older brother of guitarist Waddy, who played on the album. The photograph shows a room full of leotard-wearing ballet dancers who are warming up, without paying any attention to Zevon, dressed in a suit and tie and standing by the window. The dancers included actress Kim Lankford, who starred in the TV hit Knot’s Landing. The back cover photograph shows a ballerina’s pointe shoes, along with an Uzi machine gun and bullet casings. “This woman’s group got up in arms that it was saying that we were going to mow down these ballerinas with a gun, and I had to go to Asylum Records to defend the album cover,” Jimmy Wachtel told Crystal Zevon for her book, I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead: The Dirty Life And Times Of Warren Zevon.
The more straightforward A Certain Girl, written by New Orleans great Allen Toussaint under the pen name Naomi Neville, had been a hit for Ernie K-Doe in 1961 and was later covered by The Yardbirds. Zevon’s zestful version featured Jackson Browne on backing vocals and Jorge Calderón, a musician who always added an intimate quality to his work with Zevon, on guitar. “Jorge is my oldest friend and closest collaborator,” Zevon commented. The track was released as a single and reached No.57 on the Billboard Hot 100.
Bruce Springsteen’s manager Jon Landau casually mentioned a long-forgotten 1972 Springsteen demo called Janey Needs A Shooter to Zevon, and though he misheard the name as “Jeannie”, Zevon loved the title so much that he repeatedly asked Springsteen about the song. “You like it so much, why don’t you write it?” replied the rock star. They eventually co-wrote the version that appears on Bad Luck Streak In Dancing School, and a performance of the song, at The Roxy, in Los Angeles, became a highlight of Zevon’s 1980 live album, Stand In The Fire.