Warren Zevon's classic single "Werewolves Of London"

WARREN ZEVON  “Werewolves Of London” b/w “Roland The Headless Thompson Gunner”  (Asylum Records #45472, April 1978)

A key feature in my hometown Sunday paper was a little syndicated column that published the lyrics and musical accompaniment to a current popular song.  I clipped it every week, even if it was a song I didn’t necessarily like (the ability to take requests always comes in handy, right?), and kept a little musical scrapbook.  One week in ’78, the featured tune was none other than THEE most badass song ever written, Warren Zevon’s “Werewolves Of London.”

See the video for Werewolves Of London by Warren Zevon

Zevon, who got his first big break in the music business playing piano behind The Everly Brothers, recalls the song’s origin in the liner notes to his 1995 anthology, I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead:  “Phil Everly said, “I’m making another solo album.  Why don’t you guys write a song for me — a dance song.  Call it, ‘Werewolves Of London.’ “  I was at LeRoy (Marinell)’s house a few days later, and he was playing that little V-IV-I figure when (guitarist) Waddy (Wachtel) walked in.  “What are you doing?” he asked, and we answered, “We’re doing the Werewolves Of London.”  Waddy said, “You mean, Ahhooo — those Werewolves Of London?””  And obviously, the rest is history.

I'll Sleep When I'm Dead  

Of course, from the perspective a young kid growing up on a steady diet of Dr. Madblood’s Movie, Forrest J. Ackerman’s Famous Monsters Of Filmland magazine and 3-D triple-features at The Suburban, nothing could be cooler than this 3-chord D/C/G stomper, with drums & bass provided by Fleetwood Mac’s rhythm section and lyrics like, “Little old lady got mutilated late last night.”  Anyone who could push a track like this into the Top 40 was my hero, and so Zevon remained until his untimely death from lung cancer in 2003.

The Jackson Browne-produced track spent 6 weeks in the Top 40, peaking at #21.  It has since become a ubiquitous classic, popping up in hit films and being either sampled or covered by nearly everyone under the sun.  And of course the rock and oldies stations still crank it up once in a while, most notably on Halloween. 

See Warren Zevon perform Roland The Headless Thompson Gunner

Again from Zevon himself:  “In 1974 I ran off to Spain and got a job in an Irish bar called the Dubliner, in Sitges, on the Costa Brava.  The proprietor was a piratical ex-merc named David Lindell.  He and I wrote this song at the bar one afternoon, over many jars.” 

Enjoy Every Sandwich  

Sucked into the Irvingesqe mythology of this B-side’s fictional title character, I borrowed my older brother’s copy of Excitable Boy to see what other great gems lay waiting.  I listened in amazement as the LP swung from the caustic title track (a meditation on rehab more disturbing than “Alice’s Restaurant”) to the broken-hearted sorrow of “Accidentally Like A Martyr,” hitting all points in between.  Zevon’s songs, sometimes built around narratives resembling miniature noir films, proved to be the kind that you could enjoy in the moment, and appreciate further as time passed.  A rare find in the pop world. 

Over the ensuing years, Zevon scored many points both high and low, and though he never managed “Werewolves…”-caliber chart success again, he left behind probably one of the most challenging, beautiful, and brutally honest song catalogs in American history.

NEXT WEEK:  Gee, El…Oh, are eye!  Eh?