Werewolves of London: How The Everly Brothers and a B-Movie from 1935 Inspired Warren Zevon's Monster Hit

Ah-hoooo! Warren Zevon performing at New York City's Bowery Ballroom in 2000.
Ah-hoooo! Warren Zevon performing at New York City's Bowery Ballroom in 2000.
Hiroyuki Ito/Getty Images

In 1975, Phil Everly had a kooky idea. The rock legend best known as one half of The Everly Brothers had just watched the 1935 horror film Werewolf of London, and he thought the title and subject matter would make for a great pop song and accompanying dance craze.

Everly shared this brainstorm with his touring keyboard player, a then-unknown musician and songwriter named Warren Zevon. Alongside buddies LeRoy Marinell and Waddy Wachtel, Zevon promptly wrote “Werewolves of London,” a darkly funny ode to a dapper beast who prowls England’s capital city, scarfing down Chinese food and mutilating old ladies.

Three years later, "Werewolves of London" was officially released as part of Zevon’s 1978 album Excitable Boy, and went on to reach #21 on the Billboard Hot 100. It was Zevon’s first and only Top 40 hit, and it followed him throughout his career, returning with a particular vengeance each Halloween. Zevon once described “Werewolves of London”—featuring that irresistible "Ah-hoooo" chorus—as a “dumb song for smart people.” It’s certainly that, but it’s also part of a lineage of comedy-horror rock novelties stretching back to the ’50s.

 

The peak year for silly songs about the supernatural seems to have been 1958, when David Seville’s “Witch Doctor” and Sheb Wooley’s “The Purple People Eater” both reached #1 on the Billboard charts. They would have reigned back-to-back, but another song held the top spot in between them: “All I Have to Do Is Dream” by—you guessed it—The Everly Brothers. Perhaps that explains why Phil Everly knew his werewolf idea had legs.

Fortunately, Zevon and friends didn’t waste a lot of time in writing “Werewolves of London.” The song came together essentially in one day at LeRoy Marinell’s house in Venice Beach, California. Waddy Wachtel—regarded as one of the greatest studio guitarists of all time—stopped by on his way to a different session and found Zevon hanging out. Zevon told Wachtel about the crazy song title Everly had suggested, and Wachtel responded, “‘Werewolves of London?’ You mean like, ‘Ah-hoooo?’”

Warren Zevon performs in support of "The Envoy" release at the Saddle Rack on February 10, 1982 in San Jose California
Warren Zevon performing at the Saddle Rack in San Jose California in 1982.
Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images

That’s exactly what Zevon meant. Wachtel was off and running. First, he told Marinell to play the nifty guitar lick he’d been toying around with for years. As Marinell launched into his now-classic riff, Wachtel began ad-libbing lyrics about a werewolf eating beef chow mein at Lee Ho Fook, a real-life Chinese restaurant in London that's still in operation.

“I had just gotten back from England, so I had all these lyrics in my head," Wachtel said. "So I just spit out that whole first verse. Warren says, 'That's great!' I said, 'Really? OK, fine. There's your first verse. You write the rest. I've gotta go into town.'"

It took just 10 or 15 minutes to finish what Wachtel had started. Zevon penned the second verse, while Marinell took the third, which ends with the classic line, “He'll rip your lungs out, Jim / I'd like to meet his tailor.” When they were done, Warren’s wife Crystal told them how much she liked the song. “Fools that we are, we said, ‘You think it’s so great, why don’t you write it down?’” Marinell recounted in Crystal’s 2008 book I’ll Sleep When I'm Dead: The Dirty Life and Times of Warren Zevon. “Otherwise, that song never would have gone anywhere.”

The next day, while recording demos for songs he hoped to sell to The Eagles and Linda Ronstadt, Zevon played “Werewolves of London” for his producer, noted rocker Jackson Browne. Browne dug the song and began performing it sporadically in concert. Nearly three years later, Zevon set about recording it for Excitable Boy.

 

While “Werewolves of London” was a cinch to write, it proved a bear to record. Browne and Wachtel co-produced Excitable Boy and tried at first to cut the song with drummer Russ Kunkel and bassist Bob Glaub, session aces who had played with superstars like Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, and Rod Stewart. Kunkel and Glaub definitely had the chops, but something wasn’t right.

“It didn’t sound stupid enough; it sounded cute,” Wachtel said. “Jackson was saying, ‘It's really good!’ and Warren and I were saying, ‘No, man, it's too cute. It's got to be ... heavy.’”

A photo of Warren Zevon performing.
Warren Zevon plays his guitar, while dreaming of a piña colada at Trader Vic's.
Hiroyuki Ito/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Wachtel and Browne proceeded to shuffle through session guys, assembling five or six different bands in the hopes of getting the desired level of dumbness. Finally, someone suggested they call bassist John McVie and drummer Mick Fleetwood, the rhythm section from Fleetwood Mac. Wachtel loved the idea, and since he’d just worked with Fleetwood Mac members Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks, he knew how to find them.

McVie and Fleetwood had the right feel, but they weren’t quite nailing it. The band recorded take after take as the moon went down and night turned to day. “I remember at about 5 in the morning saying to Mick, ‘I think we're done!’” Wachtel said. “And Mick looks at me with that crazy look he gets in his eyes and sort of whispers, ‘We're never done, Waddy!’ I thought, ‘Sh*t, we've got a wild one here!’”

After 59 tries, Wachtel and Browne decided to use take #2. Wachtel fared much better recording his guitar solo; he laid it down in a single pass, before he could even sip from the bottle of vodka he had opened. But the song still wasn’t finished. Months later, Zevon called Wachtel out of the blue to say he wasn’t happy with the song’s closing line. Zevon thought it should end with, “I saw a werewolf drinking a piña colada at Trader Vic's, and his hair was perfect.” Wachtel laughed but later realized it was exactly the right line.

 

Despite all the hard work they had put into recording “Werewolves of London,” Zevon and Wachtel were miffed when Asylum selected the song, which they considered a novelty, as the lead single off Excitable Boy. They would’ve preferred the more serious “Tenderness on the Block.” But from a commercial standpoint, the label’s instincts were correct. “Werewolves of London” spent six weeks on the Hot 100, peaking at #21. In the decades since, it’s never really gone away.

Even as Zevon emerged as a songwriter’s songwriter, developing a loyal fanbase that included Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, and Bob Dylan, “Werewolves of London” remained his calling card. In addition to being a perennial Halloween favorite, it has appeared in numerous TV shows and movies, including the 1986 Martin Scorsese film The Color of Money, starring Paul Newman and Tom Cruise. “Werewolves of London” would have been perfect for John Landis’s 1981 horror comedy An American Werewolf in London, but amazingly, the song wasn’t included.

“Werewolves of London” was especially popular in 1999. In January, Zevon took the stage at Minnesota governor Jesse Ventura’s inaugural ball and played piano as the newly elected leader sang “Werewolves of Minnesota.” Later that year, the minor league baseball team the Kalamazoo Kodiaks moved from Michigan to London, Ontario, and changed their name to the Werewolves. The squad’s sharply dressed mascot was dubbed Warren Z. Vaughn.

When Zevon died in September 2003 following a public battle with cancer, “Werewolves of London” was naturally mentioned near the top of almost every obituary. Folks even discussed the song at Zevon’s memorial, which gave Jackson Browne—one of the song’s early champions—a chance to reflect on what the lyrics were truly about. It turns out that the song may have been deeper than anyone ever realized.

“It’s about a really well-dressed, ladies’ man, a werewolf preying on little old ladies,” Browne told Rolling Stone. “In a way it’s the Victorian nightmare, the gigolo thing. The idea behind all those references is the idea of the ne’er-do-well who devotes his life to pleasure: the debauched Victorian gentleman in gambling clubs and consorting with prostitutes; the aristocrat who squanders the family fortune. All of that is secreted in that one line: ‘I’d like to meet his tailor.’”

13 Father's Day Gifts for Geeky Dads

Amazon/Otterbox/Toynk
Amazon/Otterbox/Toynk

When in doubt, you play the hits. Watches, flasks, and ties are all tried-and-true Father’s Day gifts—useful items bought en masse every June as the paternal holiday draws near. Here’s a list of goodies that put a geeky spin on those can’t-fail gifts. We’re talking Zelda flasks, wizard-shaped party mugs, and a timepiece inspired by BBC’s greatest sci-fi series, Doctor Who. Light the “dad” signal ‘cause it’s about to get nerdy!

1. Lord of the Rings Geeki Tikis (Set of Three); $76

'Lord of The Rings' themed tiki cups.
Toynk

If your dad’s equally crazy about outdoor shindigs and Tolkien’s Middle-earth, help him throw his own Lothlórien luau with these Tiki-style ceramic mugs shaped like icons from the Lord of the Rings saga. Gollum and Frodo’s drinkware doppelgängers each hold 14 ounces of liquid, while Gandalf the Grey’s holds 18—but a wizard never brags, right? Star Wars editions are also available.

Buy it: Toynk

2. Space Invaders Cufflinks; $9

'Space Invaders' cufflinks on Amazon
Fifty 50/Amazon

Arcade games come and arcade games go, but Space Invaders has withstood the test of time. Now Pops can bring those pixelated aliens to the boardroom—and look darn stylish doing it.

Buy it: Amazon

3. Legend of Zelda Flask; $18

A 'Legend of Zelda' flask
Toynk

Saving princesses is thirsty work. Shaped like an NES cartridge, this Zelda-themed flask boasts an 8-ounce holding capacity and comes with a reusable straw. Plus, it makes a fun little display item for gamer dads with man caves.

Buy it: Toynk

4. AT-AT Family Vacation Bag Tag; $12

An At-At baggage tag
ShopDisney

Widely considered one of the greatest movie sequels ever made, The Empire Strikes Back throws a powerful new threat at Luke Skywalker and the Rebellion: the AT-AT a.k.a. Imperial Walkers. Now your dad can mark his luggage with a personalized tag bearing the war machine’s likeness.

Buy it: ShopDisney

5. Flash Skinny Tie; $17

A skinny Flash-themed tie
Uyoung/Amazon

We’ll let you know if the Justice League starts selling new memberships, but here’s the next best thing. Available in a rainbow of super-heroic colors, this skinny necktie bears the Flash’s lightning bolt logo. Race on over to Amazon and pick one up today.

Buy it: Amazon

6. Captain America Shield Apron; $20

A Captain America themed apron
Toynk

Why let DC fans have all the fun? Daddy-o can channel his inner Steve Rogers when he flips burgers at your family’s Fourth of July BBQ. Measuring 31.5 inches long by 27.5 inches wide, this apron’s guaranteed to keep the cookout Hydra-free.

Buy it: Toynk

7. Doctor Who Vortex Manipulator LCD Leather Wristwatch; $35

A Doctor Who-themed watch
Toynk

At once classy and geeky, this digital timepiece lovingly recreates one of Doctor Who’s signature props. Unlike some of the gadgets worn on the long-running sci-fi series, it won’t require any fancy chronoplasm fuel.

Buy it: Toynk

8. Wonder Woman 3-Piece Grill Set; $21

Wonder Woman three-piece gill set
Toynk

At one point in her decades-long comic book career, this Amazon Princess found herself working at a fast food restaurant called Taco Whiz. Now grill cooks can pay tribute to the heroine with these high-quality, stainless steel utensils. The set’s comprised of wide-tipped tongs, a BBQ fork, and a spatula, with the latter boasting Wonder Woman’s insignia.

Buy it: Toynk

9. Harry Potter Toon Tumbler; $10

Glassware that's Harry Potter themed
Entertainment Earth

You can never have too many pint glasses—and this Father’s Day, dad can knock one back for the boy who lived. This piece of Potter glassware from PopFun has whimsy to spare. Now who’s up for some butterbeer?

Buy it: EntertainmentEarth

10. House Stark Men’s Wallet; $16

A Game of Thrones themed watch
Toynk

Winter’s no longer coming, but the Stark family's propensity for bold fashion choices can never die. Manufactured with both inside and outside pockets, this direwolf-inspired wallet is the perfect place to store your cards, cash, and ID.

Buy it: Toynk

11. Mr. Incredible “Incredible Dad” Mug, $15

An Incredibles themed mug
ShopDisney

Cue the brass music. Grabbing some coffee with a Pixar superhero sounds like an awesome—or dare we say, incredible?—way for your dad to start his day. Mom can join in the fun, too: Disney also sells a Mrs. Incredible version of the mug.

Buy it: ShopDisney

12. Star Wars phone cases from Otterbox; $46-$56

Star Wars phone cases from OtterBox.
Otterbox

If your dad’s looking for a phone case to show off his love of all things Star Wars, head to Otterbox. Whether he’s into the Dark Side with Darth Vader and Kylo Ren, the droids, Chewbacca, or Boba Fett, you’ll be able to find a phone case to fit his preference. The designs are available for both Samsung and Apple products, and you can check them all out here.

Buy it: Otterbox

13. 3D Puzzles; $50

3D Harry Potter puzzle from Amazon.
Wrebbit 3D

Help dad recreate some of his favorite fictional locations with these 3D puzzles from Wrebbit 3D. The real standouts are the 850-piece model of Hogwarts's Great Hall and the 910-piece version of Winterfell from Game of Thrones. If dad's tastes are more in line with public broadcasting, you could also pick him up an 890-piece Downton Abbey puzzle to bring a little upper-crust elegance to the homestead.

Buy it: Hogwarts (Amazon), Winterfell (Amazon), Downton Abbey (Amazon)

At Mental Floss, we only write about the products we love and want to share with our readers, so all products are chosen independently by our editors. Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a percentage of any sale made from the links on this page. Prices and availability are accurate as of the time of publication.

10 Things You Need to Know About 'The Star-Spangled Banner'

The actual star-spangled banner is displayed at the National Museum of American History.
The actual star-spangled banner is displayed at the National Museum of American History.
National Museum of American History, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

In 1814, Francis Scott Key saw the tattered remains of the American flag still blowing in the breeze after Maryland's Fort McHenry had been bombarded by the British navy all night. Here are a few facts about Key's poem (yes, poem) that we know as the American national anthem today.

1. There really is a specific star-spangled banner.

It's the actual flag Francis Scott Key saw when he was watching Fort McHenry in Baltimore being bombarded during the War of 1812. His tale goes just like the song: after gunfire and rain all night, the flag was still standing when the sun rose. Inspired, Key wrote down what he was feeling—but when he wrote it, it was simply a poem called “Defense of Fort McHenry.” It became a song when Key’s brother-in-law discovered the poem perfectly fit the tune of a popular song called “The Anacreontic Song” (see #3).

Although the song was played at public events and on patriotic occasions from that point on, it wasn’t officially named as the national anthem until after Robert Ripley of Ripley’s Believe it or Not! noted in his cartoon that “Believe It or Not, America has no national anthem.” John Philip Sousa rallied for "The Star-Spangled Banner" to become the new national anthem, and on March 3, 1931, Herbert Hoover signed a law making it so.

The actual star-spangled banner that Key observed is now displayed at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.

2. There were other contenders for the national anthem besides "The Star-Spangled Banner."

Other candidates included “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” “Hail Columbia,” and “America the Beautiful.”

3. The national anthem's tune is based on a drinking song.

Before it was a national anthem, the tune of "The Star-Spangled Banner" belonged to a popular British drinking song. The anthem takes its melody from “The Anacreontic Song” or “To Anacreon in Heaven,” a British drinking song sung by members of London’s Anacreontic Society.

4. Francis Scott Key wrote alternate lyrics for "The Star-Spangled Banner."

One version of the lyrics, handwritten by Francis Scott Key himself in 1840, changes the version we all know so well. It’s a subtle change, though: "Whose bright stars and broad stripes, through the perilous fight" was written as "Whose bright stars and broad stripes, through the clouds of the fight.” This version is now housed in the Library of Congress.

5. The lyrics of "The Star-Spangled Banner" are surprisingly difficult to remember.

It’s a hard song to sing musically because it stretches vocals an octave and a half, but it’s apparently a hard song to remember lyrically as well—at least for some people. In 1965, Robert Goulet sang the national anthem before the big Sonny Liston-Muhammad Ali fight. The crowd wanted to fight him, however, when he botched the lyrics right from the start: “Oh, say can you see, by the dawn’s early night.”

"I walked into that town and I was a hero. Then the fight lasted a minute and half and I walked out of town and I was a bum," he said.

In 2009, Jesse McCartney was asked to sing the famous song before the NASCAR Pepsi 500. He went right from “Oh, say can you see, by the dawn’s early light,” to “Whose broad stripes and bright stars." McCartney chalked it up to stage fright.

6. A fifth stanza was added to "The Star-Spangled Banner" during the Civil War.

It’s little known today, but it appeared in songbooks and sheet music in 1861. It goes like this:

When our land is illumined with liberty's smile,
If a foe from within strikes a blow at her glory,
Down, down with the traitor that tries to defile
The flag of the stars, and the page of her story!
By the millions unchained,
Who their birthright have gained
We will keep her bright blazon forever unstained;
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave,
While the land of the free is the home of the brave.

You might be surprised that there’s a fifth stanza—in fact, you might be surprised that there’s a second, third and fourth. The others are rarely played, but you might hear them on really formal occasions. You’ll almost never hear the third stanza, though, which is pretty anti-British. Here are the lyrics to the song in their entirety.

7. Francis Scott Key's grandson was imprisoned in Fort McHenry.

Ironically, Francis Scott Key’s grandson was jailed in the very place that inspired his granddad to write “The Star-Spangled Banner." In 1861, residents of Baltimore who were deemed to be pro-South were held in Fort McHenry.

8. Other countries have played "The Star-Spangled Banner" to support the American people.

The song inspires all kinds of emotions in a lot of people, but there’s one instance where it really tugged at the heartstrings of the world. On September 12, 2001, the Buckingham Palace band played the American national anthem during their Changing of the Guard. The gesture of solidarity and show of support was repeated for Spain (with their national anthem, of course, not “The Star-Spangled Banner”) in 2004 after the bombings in Madrid.

9. "The Star-Spangled Banner" wasn't always played before baseball games.

The tradition of playing the national anthem before a baseball game wasn't standard until WWII. Before that, the song was typically reserved for the seventh-inning stretch.

10. “The Star-Spangled Banner” is really hard to sing.

Our national anthem is so difficult to sing well that radio host Garrison Keillor started a campaign to transpose the song to a more congenial key, G major. He argued that most singers are able to tackle that key with ease, unlike A flat major, the key in which it's typically sung today. So far, obviously, he has been unsuccessful.

A version of this story first ran in 2010.