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Enjoy Every Sandwich – Warren Zevon and his Werewolves of London

28 Sep

In yesterday’s post, Aaron mentioned Warren Zevon and included an embedded video of Zevon’s most well known song, “Werewolves of London.” The sardonic and hilarious song was released on Zevon’s breakout album Excitable Boy in 1978 and it reached the #21 spot on the American Top 40 charts in mid-1978. “Werewolves of London” was Zevon’s only appearance on the chart, but let’s ignore popularity charts and just discuss the wonder that was Warren Zevon and the utmost joy that others will always have when they listen to “Werewolves of London” and any of his other lyrical masterpieces.

Zevon’s grasp on lyrics was strikingly apt and vivid. David Letterman, who was Zevon’s good friend before Zevon died of cancer in 2003, described his music as “evocative,” and I think that is a good adjective to use. Zevon’s folk was not classic, but edgy. His lyrics were unconventional and enjoyably morose. He also had the ability to turn off the playful and upbeat hits and bathe listeners with soft melody and heartbreaking lyrics. The man truly had it all and his talent is often overlooked. And it is a shame that Zevon had a life-long aversion to doctors. He died at the young age of 56.

“Enjoy every sandwich” comes from Zevon’s last appearance on Letterman. Like I mentioned, he developed a close relationship with Letterman and band-leader Paul Shaffer. So much so, that Zevon would often fill in for Shaffer when Shaffer was unable to perform during the show. On Zevon’s last appearance on Letterman, when his sure-death prognosis was already known, Letterman asked him if he knew more about life and death now that he practically knew that death was an immediate certainty. Zevon said, “enjoy every sandwich,” a simple, but profound response that fit his character well. Zevon was Letterman’s only guest for the full hour and he performed several songs. The day after Zevon’s death (months later), Letterman annouced the sad news to the national audience:

I’ve written about Zevon before on this blog. The Wind, the last album he recorded prior to his death, is a tour de force. Zevon performances are invigorating and “Keep me in your Heart” is a tear-jerker. But, since I have already written about those songs before, I want to feature “Werewolves of London,” a song that has a “surprising fact.”

The song has been covered SEVERAL times, but that is not the surprising fact. Accompanying Zevon on the song is bassist John McVie and drummer Mick Fleetwood of Fleetwood Mac fame. I always thought that was an interesting tidbit of knowledge. To finish off this Zevon post, I am going to include a cover of “Werewolves of London.” Take it away Adam Sandler:

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You’re Love Keeps Lifting Me Higher and Slower and Slower – Jackie Wilson, Soul Music’s Cool Uncle

31 May

It is common knowledge that Aretha Franklin is the Queen of Soul. Otis Redding is usually crowned as her king. And James Brown gets the laudatory title as the Godfather of the genre. But where does Mr. Excitement fit in? Jackie Wilson was as instrumental in the soul transformation as James Brown. He brought stage gyrations to the R&B scene and helped expand the genre of soul. While Ray Charles is often cited as its creator, Jackie Wilson certainly does not get enough credit for a performer who inspired Michael Jackson and Elvis Presley! If James Brown is soul’s Godfather than Jackie Wilson is definitely soul’s cool uncle.

The Master of Cool

Wilson hit major chart success with his 1958 R&B song “Lonely Teardrops,” a song that implemented doo-wop techniques and, because of Wilson’s powerful voice, neared on soul. His on-stage movements were crowd pleasers. “Lonely Teardrops” was written by a team of songwriters led by pre-Motown Berry Gordy who used the money from the song’s success to help create Motown, a record label that would become part of the definition of the soul genre. And there you go, a surprising fact about a popular song!

But wait. That just sparked my interest in perhaps Wilson’s best known song, “Higher and Higher,” which was released nine years after “Lonely Teardrops.” Wilson, then a true master in the field of soul, recorded this song with Motown Records’ house band The Funk Brothers. Well, he didn’t actually record it with the band. That is where the surprising fact reveals itself. Producer Carl Davis brought the Funk Brothers’ backing track to New York City for Wilson to record his vocal. After hearing the track, Wilson originally sang this upbeat classic as a soul ballad. Davis’ response?

“I said that’s totally wrong. You have to jump and go with the percussion. If he didn’t want to sing it that way, I would put my voice on the record and sell millions.”

It only took Wilson one more take to record the song the way Davis intended it to be heard. And it sold a lot of copies.

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