"Werewolves of London" is a rock song performed by American singer-songwriter Warren Zevon. It was composed by Zevon, LeRoy Marinell and Waddy Wachtel and was included on Excitable Boy (1978), Zevon's third solo album. The track featured Fleetwood Mac's Mick Fleetwood and John McVie on drums and bass respectively. The single was released by Asylum Records and was a top 40 US hit, reaching No. 21 on the Billboard Hot 100 that May.
|"Werewolves of London"|
|Single by Warren Zevon|
|from the album Excitable Boy|
|B-side||"Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner"|
|Released||January 18, 1978|
|Songwriter(s)||LeRoy Marinell, Waddy Wachtel, Warren Zevon|
|Producer(s)||Jackson Browne, Waddy Wachtel|
|Warren Zevon singles chronology|
The song began as a joke by Phil Everly (of The Everly Brothers) to Zevon in 1975, three years before the recording sessions for Excitable Boy. Everly had watched a television broadcast of the 1935 film Werewolf of London and "suggested to Zevon that he adapt the title for a song and dance craze." Zevon, Marinel and Wachtel played with the idea and wrote the song in about 15 minutes, all contributing lyrics that were transcribed by Zevon's then-wife Crystal. The song is in the key of G major, with a three-chord progression that runs throughout. However, none of them took the song seriously. Soon after, Zevon's friend Jackson Browne saw the lyrics and thought "Werewolves of London" had potential and began performing the song during his own live concerts. Backed by Bob Neuwirth and Guam, T-Bone Burnett also performed the song (with alternate or partially improvised lyrics referencing stars from classical Hollywood cinema, Jimmy Hoffa, Marilyn Chambers and Linda Lovelace) on the first leg of Bob Dylan's Rolling Thunder Revue tour in the autumn of 1975. "Excitable Boy" and "Werewolves of London" were considered for but not included on Zevon's self-titled second album in 1976.
According to Wachtel, "Werewolves of London" was "the hardest song to get down in the studio I've ever worked on." However, Wachtel "laid down his solo in one take." They tried at least seven different configurations of musicians in the recording studio before being satisfied with McVie and Fleetwood's contributions. The protracted studio time and musicians' fees led to the song eating up most of the album's budget.
Over Zevon's objections, Elektra Records chose "Werewolves of London" as the album's first single (he preferred "Johnny Strikes Up the Band" or "Tenderness on the Block"). The song was a quick hit, staying in the Billboard Top 40 chart for over a month.
Zevon later said of the song, "I don't know why that became such a hit. We didn't think it was suitable to be played on the radio. It didn't become an albatross. It's better that I bring something to mind than nothing. There are times when I prefer that it was "Bridge Over Troubled Water", but I don't think bad about the song. I still think it's funny." He also described "Werewolves of London" as a novelty song, “[but] not a novelty the way, say, Steve Martin’s ‘King Tut’ is a novelty.”
The song had a resurgence in popularity in 1986 due to its use in a scene in The Color of Money, where Tom Cruise dances and lip-synchs to the song in "a particularly memorable scene in which Cruise displayed the depths of his talents at the billiards game of 9-ball."
After Zevon's death in 2003, Browne stated that he interpreted the song as describing an upper-class English womanizer: "It’s about a really well-dressed, ladies’ man, a werewolf preying on little old ladies. In a way it’s the Victorian nightmare, the gigolo thing."