What’s the first thing that pops in your mind when you think of the song Werewolves of London?
Is it aaahhhooooooo? Is there any substance behind this catchy 70s piano song?
We dived into the story behind Warren Zevon’s most famous track. Let’s check it out!
How Werewolves of London Came To Be
Warren Zevon was a solo recording artist. Although he tended to record with specific musicians more than others, his influences and collaborators came from near and far. One night in 1975, Zevon was hanging out with his wife Crystal, guitarist Waddy Wachtel, and singer Phil Everly.
Everly had just watched the movie Werewolf of London and told Zevon he should make a song out of it. The three musicians had some fun with the idea, spitting out verses and howling, aaahhhoooo!
Luckily, Crystal had the foresight to write it all down in real-time. When Zevon went to the studio the next day, he mentioned the ‘new song’ to producer Jackson Browne, who loved it.
Browne actually performed the song live on occasion. But Zevon did not take the piece seriously enough to record it until 1978.
By then, Waddy Wachtel was determined to make it into a great tune. Warren was not so convinced. As he put it, Werewolves was a dumb song for smart people. This would take some serious work.
As it turned out, Werewolves of London became one of the most challenging songs Wachtel ever worked on. They went through dozens of musicians to get the sound right.
At first, it felt too lightweight, and Zevon didn’t want it to be a joke. They wanted the heavy feel of any double-edged sword. They finally achieved the strength they were looking for with drummer Mick Fleetwood and bassist John McVie.
Finally, they nailed it, and the song was a hit. Some say it even gained notoriety with time. Werewolves of London grew in popularity after its use in the 1986 film, The Color Of Money. Since its release, artists ranging from David Bowie to Jimmy Buffet have covered the song.
About Warren Zevon
Warren Zevon’s life story is as unique and non-traditional as his songwriting. He was born in Chicago in 1947 with a Russian gangster father and a midwestern Mormon mother.
Zevon gravitated to music from an early age. He studied piano with composer Igor Stravinsky when his family moved to California. By the mid-60s, Warren Zevon lived in New York, making his way as a folk singer.
Although he worked a bit as a session musician, Zevon was treading water in The Big Apple. The singer returned to Los Angeles in 1975, where his years of hard work finally began to pay off.
Zevon mingled in the same LA scene as Stevie Nicks, Glenn Frey, and JD Souther. He was friends with writers like Hunter S Thompson and Stephen King. His songwriting became known by the known.
Warren Zevon’s eponymous second album, produced by Jackson Browne, was released in 1976. Featuring several famous musical personalities, such as Bonnie Raitt and Bobby Keys, the record was well-received by music critics. Zevon secured his place with mainstream consumers when Linda Ronstadt began to perform his work that same year.
Success is in the Eye of the Beholder
His breakthrough song was Werewolves of London, released in 1978 on the album, Excitable Boy. The song reached #21 on the Billboard Top 100 in May of 1978. Then, the album became certified platinum and was the peak point In Warren Zevon’s career.
Some might argue that there’s irony in the fact that Werewolves of London did so well. Zevon wasn’t particularly fond of the song and didn’t want it released as the album’s single. The song’s success was a complete surprise.
Zevon was in a sort of ‘hit song torment’ for years. Would this be all people remembered him for? But die-hard fans of Warren Zevon argue tooth-and-nail that he was more than a one-hit-wonder. And they’re right.
Zevon recorded 15 studio albums from 1969 to 2002. He also recorded and collaborated with an incredible roster of musicians, such as Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, and Joe Walsh. And the Recording Academy awarded him two Grammys after he died from cancer in 2003.
Zevon struggled with alcoholism throughout his life and used his inner struggles as fuel for his writing. Musicians, critics, and fans admire his songwriting for its animated character sketches and imaginative storylines. His subversive social satire and clever delivery of the written word bring aspiring songwriters to his work even now.
What’s the Meaning Behind the Werewolves of London Lyrics?
The lyrics to Werewolves of London seem silly and playful on the surface. They describe ridiculous imagery like I saw a werewolf with a Chinese menu in his hand.
Another great line is I saw a werewolf drinkin’ a piña colada at Trader Vic’s. His hair was perfect. If it suits you, you can stop here and keep the meaning simple.
But on a deeper level, a ‘Zevonic’ level, the lyrics are about something much more nefariously real. They describe a selfish, greedy hedonist.
A well-dressed man about town, with only one aim in life – pleasure at any expense. A little old lady got mutilated late last night. He’s the hairy-handed gent who ran amok in Kent. Zevon’s werewolf can be a metaphor for a philandering ladies’ man.
When Zevon first heard the idea for the song by his friend Everly, he loved the image of a fashionable British werewolf. It could serve that literary purpose he was so good at – double entendre. There’s plenty of room to make your own story out of it.
Let Loose with the Werewolves
Warren Zevon has been noted as one of the most intelligent songwriters of the 70s. His hit song, Werewolves of London, barely scratches the surface of his literary rock style. Love it or hate it, there’s much more to explore in Warren Zevon’s work.
Or, you can just surrender to the Werewolves of London. After all, he worked hard to bring it to us and it’s an excellent song to let loose to. AAAHHOOOO!