Thursday, November 02, 2006

song of the week: werewolves of london ii

Lon Chaney, the Wolf Man himself, but alas, not with the Queen

Lycanthropy is up there as my second favourite human/animal metamorphosis (mermaids win, sorry), and I’m a sucker for Hallowe’en (I was born during a viewing of a pirated copy of Texas Chainsaw Massacre, don’t you know), so the opportunity to dine in an apparently world-famous Chinese restaurant (or mildly famous, judging by the faded, laminated Warren Zevon poster in the window) on the basis that it’s in a song (that I’ve never heard before) about werewolves was rather appealing. (so many brackets, such poor writing)

It was all HL’s idea – he’s much snazzier than me or minifig, and as I said, they serve a mean eel. Sadly the staff were not very mean, and seeing as HL had promised me abuse and contempt I was sorely disappointed not to have left with a full belly and a fat lip. Still, as wise men say, you can’t always get what you want.

So waking up on a beautifully crisp Sunday morning last weekend, sans hangover thanks to consumption of Lee Ho Fook's delicacies, I obviously set about snaring this song to enjoy at leisure. My god it’s good.

When BBC Radio 2 searched for the Greatest Opening Song Line in rock and roll history, they bypassed revered wordsmiths Paul Simon, Elvis Costello, Morrissey and Bill Haley’s immortal ‘One, two, three o'clock, four o'clock, rock,’ for, Mr Warren Zevon and this little beauty:

Saw a werewolf with a Chinese menu in his hand
Walking through the streets of
Soho in the rain
He was looking for a place called Lee Ho Fook's

Going to get a big dish of Beef Chow Mein

Yep, it’s bite-your-neck brilliant, and although I doubt I’ve given it as much thought as the good old boys at Radio 2, as an opener it takes some beating.

It’s such a bizarre hybrid song. Musically it sounds like a pastiche / homage to Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Sweet Home Alabama. It’s cheerfully jaunty in a really jaded, gum-chewin’, wise-crackin’ way and Zevon’s vocal performance is so, sort of, dirty – not in a raspy, nasty, spitting way but in a real slurry, puke-on-the-night-bus way. No surprise then that he’s no stranger to the liquor and was ‘tired and emotional’ for much of the production of Excitable Boy, the album from which this gem is taken. (True to form, I know no other songs from it, but a trip to Fopp is long overdue this weekend)

Like a previous song of the week, The Velvet Underground’s The Gift, Werewolves of London is short-story meets song-writing at its best. As far as I can tell, it’s the tall tale of a bunch of bloodthirsty werewolf yuppies with perfect hair and a taste for old ladies and Pina Coladas at Trader Vic’s. The song joyfully marries bar-room brawl music with the macabre resulting in a murderously smart-arsed little ditty, with a verse that arguably beats the strangely evocative power of its opening line:

He's the hairy-handed gent who ran amuck in Kent
Lately he's been overheard in
Better stay away from him
He'll rip your lungs out, Jim…
I'd like to meet his tailor

Speaking about the song, Paul Morley (who I don’t always agree with, but I’d stand him a beer) brilliantly surmises what makes this song so exceptional:

Warren Zevon represents that world created by Bob Dylan, creating great opening images that set up a whole world in which we have no idea what is going to happen but it's all going to be inside four minutes.

That, and the Ah-ooooooooooh! bits, of course.

p.s. To the drunk zombies who stumbled into my tube carriage at Leicester Square on Saturday made my Hallowe'en - the lovely Simon Pegg would be proud.


At 04 November, 2006 10:36 , Blogger Philippa said...

cf hypertrichosis and sirenomelia.

Hee! It occurs to me now I have an ipod I can follow Steph's song-of-the-week learning curve. I will be inviting myself round soon.


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