Warren Zevon’s breakthrough third album, Excitable Boy, ended up taking more than nine months to complete in 1977, partly because producer Jackson Browne was often busy touring, but also because co-producer Waddy Wachtel was working on sessions for other musicians, and Zevon was sometimes AWOL from The Sound Factory in Los Angeles, off on drinking binges.
Listen to Excitable Boy here
When the album was finally released by Asylum Records, on 18 January 1978, it was worth the wait. Excitable Boy is a masterpiece of subversive, challenging songwriting, with offbeat lyrics set to memorable melodies from some of the best LA session musicians, including Bob Glaub, Lee Sklar, Russ Kunkel, Jeff Porcaro and Rick Marotta. The background singers included Browne, JD Souther, Jennifer Warnes, Linda Ronstadt, Kenny Edwards, Jorge Calderon and Karla Bonoff.
“Warren connected with the horror of our everyday lives”
The album opened with the upbeat Johnny Strikes Up the Band, before the decidedly downbeat Roland The Headless Thompson Gunner, which was about a Norwegian mercenary who fights for money in Africa, using the famous Thompson machine gun. Zevon composed the song in 1974, during a drinking session in an Irish bar on the Costa Brava.