It’s been so great listening to these 30 year old albums. In a Pick n Mix, iPod world it’s so good to spend a day on one artist. “Bad Luck Streak In Dancing School” was released in 1980 & there have been few LPs that I have more eagerly & impatiently anticipated. Even today you don’t hear much more than “Werewolves” on the radio. Warren was too odd for daytime & not odd enough for the more specialist radio shows. It was gonna be bought sight unseen because I was not gonna hear it on the radio. I was not disappointed. There are some great tracks but I think maybe he had used most of the songs from his early 70s stash. There is an element of re-hashing the themes of earlier songs.When I came to make my selection there are 2 tracks which really pick themselves. Both are classic Zevon cuts. I listened to this LP non-stop for months & these 2 songs are a part of my life.
I have to pick the LP version of “Play it All Night Long”. There are live tracks, covers by Jackson Browne & the Drive By Truckers, but the original captures so much of just how unique Zevon could be in his songwriting. A twisted, gonzo story of incest & illness, physical & mental, human & animal. The protagonist finding solace in that “dead band’s song” & alcohol, reducing country living to “sweat, piss, jizz & blood”. It’s not just the only song to include the word brucellosis. It is the lack of subtlety, the directness, the satire that Zevon could do better than anyone. Musically, like many of his songs, it doesn’t push as far as the lyrics. Those L.A. guys were just too laid back to get too wild. The two solos by David Lindley are fine examples of how he enhanced so many tunes around the L.A. scene.
Well…”Empty Handed Heart”. In 1981 I was past the break up of my marriage. Springsteen’s “Darkness on the Edge of Town” , a blue collar declaration of meeting the tribulations of life head on, had been a reference point for long enough. Just as I was moving forward then the soundtrack needed to change. Here comes Zevon with the perfect summation of the “heart jinxed condition” of having been in love & the possibility of it happening again. There were a number of songs he wrote about love or the absence thereof. Some of them are among the best you could ever hear. “Empty Handed Heart” is the best you can hear. “If after all is said and done, you only find one special one. Then I’ve thrown down diamonds in the sand”. OK , this pessimism, fatalism has never been articulated so succinctly…boy, the times I’ve gone back to look for those diamonds !
The descant, sung by Linda Ronstadt, about good times that will not happen again, is the perfect sweetener to Warren’s determined realism. A triumph.
There are a couple of other contenders from this LP. “Bill Lee” is an hilarious, minimal celebration of a bolshy baseball pitcher, not the only good sports song he wrote. Maybe there is a little more pessimism, maybe there is a little more realism. I’m gonna leave it at two selections because, even though 3 is the magic number, I’m getting too predictable with this 3 picks from each LP.
The copy I bought of “Bad Luck Streak” was, I think, a crappy pressing. The sound of the first few tracks sounded pretty muddy. I never took it back for exchange. I probably blamed the production. It did not really matter this was a worthy addition to the canon, a maturing of a great talent who was finding out what he did best.