Single Stories: Warren Zevon, “Werewolves of London”

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Today we celebrate the song with which the late, great Warren Zevon is generally best remembered, and we do so not because it was recorded today, not because it was released today, nor because it hit a chart high today. No, we celebrate it because, y’know, it’s the Halloween season, so we thought we’d make with the werewolves. (Makes sense, right?)

A songwriting collaboration between Zevon, Waddy Wachtel, and LeRoy Marinell, “Werewolves of London” made its debut on Zevon’s 1978 album EXCITABLE BOY, but its origins can be traced back to 1975, when Phil Everly – with whom Zevon had been touring – watched the 1935 film Werewolf of London on TV and told Zevon that he should take the title and run with it, envisioning that it could spawn some sort of song and dance craze. Wachtel responded to the suggestion by literally howling, and in short order – we’re talking about 15 minutes, apparently – he, Zevon, and LeRoy Marinell had penned the lyrics and music, at which point they promptly set the whole thing aside because it was impossible for any of them to take it seriously.

That situation changed eventually, but not right away. When Jackson Browne saw the lyrics, however, he decided to start playing the song in its his own concerts, and T-Bone Burnett also played it during the first leg of Bob Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue tour in the fall of ’75. As of ’76, however, Zevon still hadn’t fallen in love with “Werewolves of London” enough to put it on his self-titled album. In fact, even when he and Wachtel finally decided to give the song a shot for EXCITABLE BOY, it took a ton of takes – not to mention a variety of different configurations of musicians – to finally get a version that Zevon was happy with. Even then, though, Zevon wasn’t that happy, as evidenced by his annoyance when Elektra decided to release the song as the first single from EXCITABLE BOY.

Thankfully, it all worked out, at least from a commercial standpoint: “Werewolves of London” became Zevon’s first top-40 hit, climbing to #21 on the Billboard Hot 100.

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