For the Sake of the Song: The Drive-By Truckers “Play It All Night Long”

For the Sake of the song... Wearren Zevon

I’ve just finished reading Steven Hyden’s new book: ‘There Was Nothing You Could Do: Bruce Springsteen’s “Born In The USA” and the End of the Heartland’, a book highly recommended by Patterson Hood. Steven Hyden also wrote a wonderful feature back in 2018 called, ‘His Shit’s Fucked Up: The Complicated Legacy of Warren Zevon’. Hyden’s book does not mention Zevon but my musings led to this eleventh hour song choice.

Back in 1973 Springsteen wrote a demo track called ‘Janey Needs a Shooter’. It was included in a few live sets at the time and a recording was made, but a version didn’t appear on record until ‘Letter to You’ in 2020. This story might be true. Sometime mid-seventies, Jon Landau mentioned the song title in passing while speaking to Warren Zevon. He supposedly tried on several occasions to coerce Springsteen into playing the song. Tired of Zevon’s persistence, Springsteen told Warren to go and write the song himself. The title was enough for Zevon to imagine a country and western tale of an outlaw wooing the sheriff’s daughter. Not what Springsteen’s ‘Janey Needs a Shooter’ was about. Having misheard the song title, Zevon rushed over to Springsteen’s house with a verse to ‘Jeannie Needs a Shooter’. Springsteen listened to Zevon play what he’d written and then asked where the rest of the song was. The reason why Springsteen has a songwriting credit on  ‘Jeannie Needs a Shooter’

‘Jeannie Needs a Shooter’ is the second track on the B side of Zevon’s fourth album, the wonderfully named: ‘Bad Luck Streak in Dancing School ‘(1980). The album includes contributions from Jackson Browne, Linda Ronstadt, Don Henley and Glenn Frey no less. Friendship bridges he was soon to burn. After a brief sombre, stringed interlude, the final track on side A is:  ‘Play it All Night Long’

I was totally blown away in 2009 by The Drive-By Truckers’ version of this song. Recorded in the winter of 2004 while the band worked on ‘The Dirty South’, it was intended to become a B-side for any proposed singles. It finally made it onto ‘The Fine Print’. It could be argued that this period was the Drive-By Truckers’ finest. Songs were often tracked live in the studio. This sounds like one of those tracks, the band playing for fun and just for the hell of it. There’s that delicious step-down tuning and a defiance in Patterson’s voice, especially when he mashes in another Zevon song called ‘Ain’t That Pretty at All’

“And I’ve been around the world/ And it ain’t that pretty at all/ So I’m gonna throw myself against the wall/ I’m gonna throw myself against the wall/ Cause I’d rather feel bad/ I’d rather feel bad/ Than not feel anything at all”. 

Hyden’s book is about Springsteen’s transformation into a noble musical behemoth. In comparison, in terms of the commercial mainstream, he described Zevon as a nonentity. “I noticed recently that I tend to drink way too much when I listen to Warren Zevon. I’m most attracted to the non-virtuous Zevon, the indestructible lunatic who was never noble, earnest, or recognized by the Grammys”.

But The Drive-By Truckers are fans. On their version of  ‘Play it All Night Long’, Zevon’s ironic humour and satiric lines are somehow elevated. Not just because the Truckers have a lasting affinity to that dead band’s song… not that flag or the undercurrent. Being from Alabama, they know if you’re poor, “The Name of the game is to be hit and hit back”. Hyden wrote that: “loving Warren Zevon remains a lonely pursuit. Or, should I say, an interest that one chooses to pursue alone… because his songs recognize something true and deep inside your heart that you don’t feel comfortable sharing with most people”.

I’ll share The Drive-By Truckers’ magnificent version. Patterson Hood has had more of an influence on me than I think. If you’ve got a few minutes and the neighbours are out, turn your speakers up full blast and… “enjoy every sandwich”.

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