Friday, October 25, 2013

Asylum Records: Mohammed's Radio

One of the more misunderstood songsmiths of our generation was the late Warren Zevon. A very prolific songwriter that received the accolades of most musicians, but is sadly remembered by many Americans for one tune and one tune only: “Werewolves of London.”

While that single charted at #21 in 1978 and was one that even I purchased, it was not Zevon’s only composition. Those with a little more musical knowledge realize that he also penned Linda Ronstadt’s eventual hit “Poor Poor Pitiful Me,” as well as other compositions she recorded.

Zevon needs to be remembered for far more – and those who ventured far beyond the confines of Top 40 radio know of “Excitable Boy,” “Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner,” “Lawyers Guns and Money,” “The Envoy,” “Leave my Monkey Alone,” “Keep Me in Your Heart for a While,” and today’s Friday Flipside – “Mohammed’s Radio.”


Just to set the record straight, this song is not about the prophet of Islam. It is about a man who happened to also be named Mohammed and who runs what appears to be a pirate radio station that plays rock ‘n roll all night long – although knowing Zevon, that’s only superficial explanation and likely the song has some deeper meaning that escapes me.

“Mohammed’s Radio” was the flipside to Zevon’s first single on Asylum Records, “Hasten Down the Wind.” Neither side charted; but, both appeared on his second LP – the self-titled album that was released by Asylum in 1976. This LP was produced by Jackson Browne who has also performed “Mohammed’s Radio” both as a solo work and as a duet with Zevon.


Linda Ronstadt’s Flipside


There was a lot of (musical) incest with Asylum Records. We’ve seen this so far this week. Graham Nash, who dated Joni Mitchell and was managed by Geffen but was not on his label, produced Judee Sill’s debut single. Nash and David Crosby sang backup on Jackson Browne’s “Doctor My Eyes.”

Crosby was a member of (The) Byrds for the reunion album on Asylum. Numerous others were guest stars on Zevon’s first Asylum LP including Jackson Browne, Glenn Frey and Don Henley of the Eagles, J.D. Souther, and Waddy Wachtel of Linda Ronstadt’s band.


Ronstadt probably covered more Zevon compositions than any other single artist. And yes Alice, she recorded “Mohammed’s Radio.” It too was a flipside. The “A” side was a cover of Elvis Costello’s “Alison” that failed to chart on the Top 40, but made it #30 on the Adult Contemporary charts. Not a stellar performance, but I always liked her version even if Elvis Costello didn’t – he garnered some royalties and this should have pleased him, but you know these temperamental artists.

Zevon performed his original in the key of “G”; however, Linda Ronstadt kicked it up a fourth to “C” to match her vocal range. See, you do learn some new things on this blog.





5 comments:

  1. "...his second LP – the self-titled album that was released by Asylum in 1976." An extremely fine album. "Carmelita," "Desperados Under The Eaves," "French Inhaler" and more

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  2. Great blog. I stumbled upon it today when I was Googling "Mohammed's Radio." I'm a big Zevon fan and considering his life, particularly when the song was written, I'm convinced that the song is about some kind of drug. Namely, Mohammed's radio is the drug. Think about the lyrics: "I heard somebody singing sweet and soulful, on the radio, Mohammed's radio." The person doing the listening is "on" the radio. He's on the drug, and it's conceivable that someone would be up all night "listening" to Mohammed's Radio. The drug makes him want to rock and roll all night long. Mohammed's radio is an escape from the annoyances of everyday life (the price of gasoline, work, the sheriff, etc.). Many drugs come from the Middle East, where most people are Muslim. That could be how he came up with "Mohammed's radio" as the name. Heroin, perhaps? Hashish? Marijuana? It's a theory, but the lyrics and Zevon's own devotion to drugs make it viable.

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  3. Who sang back-up on Warren's "MR"..?

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  4. Stevie Nicks and Lindsay Buckingham' Just about every great musician in California played on his stuff at one time or other

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