In 1981, Warren Zevon told a reporter from Rolling Stone about the strange genesis of his first album: "In 1969, [producer] Kim Fowley called me up one day and asked very simply, 'Are you prepared to wear black leather and chains, f---- a lot of teenage girls and get rich?' I said yes." Zevon had been bouncing around the margins of the L.A. rock scene for several years as a songwriter and would-be pop star when Fowley (at that point best known as the man who wrote, sang, and produced "Alley Oop" by the Hollywood Argyles) offered him a record deal. While Zevon doubtless welcomed the opportunity (and the advance), that's not to say that Fowley was the right collaborator for him or that Zevon had an album's worth of good songs ready at the time. Wanted Dead or Alive is an odd, poorly focused, and frankly meandering set of tunes that sounds like blues-tinged folk-rock without suggesting the fire or caustic wit that would be Zevon's hallmarks when he broke through in the '70s. Zevon has said that Fowley politely bowed out of the sessions for Wanted Dead or Alive when it became obvious he wasn't teen idol material, but while the music generally doesn't have the gimmicky Hollywood sound that usually brands Fowley's work, it doesn't really sound like Warren Zevon, either. There are a few tunes that faintly anticipate the more interesting and intelligent work that was to come from Zevon, most notably the lovelorn "Tule's Blues," the Western tale "A Bullet for Ramona," and the bitter breakup number "She Quit Me," but for the most part Wanted Dead or Alive is a mildly embarrassing skeleton in Warren Zevon's closet, and only dedicated completists need concern themselves with it.
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AllMusic Review by Mark Deming