I saw a werewolf with a Chinese menu in his hand – great first lyrics

Great songs do not have to open with intriguing first lyrics. Some great songs do not have lyrics at all – Booker T and the MGs (“Green Onions”), Eric Johnson (“Cliffs of Dover”)and The Ventures (“Walk don’t run”) all had instrumental hits. But, a catchy first lyric can grab your attention.

Warren Zevon did so with these lyrics, “I saw a werewolf with a Chinese menu in his hand, walking on the streets of Soho in the rain.” This song is obviously “Werewolves of London.” What I learned yesterday is Zevon was talked into switching the first two stanzas for this purpose by Phil Everly one of the famous Everly Brothers.

Procol Harum (a great name) sang these lyrics to begin a “Whiter shade of pale,” a great song title. “We skipped the light fandango, turned cartwheels cross the floor.” You just have to listen as “the crowd called out for more.”

Known for interesting lyrics, Freddie Mercury of Queen sang, “She keeps her Moet et Chandon in her pretty cabinet, let them eat cake she says just like Marie Antoinette.” “Killer Queen” is packed with lyrics like this, as are many Queen songs.

Jimmy Webb wrote these lyrics sang so well by Glenn Campbell in “Wichita Lineman.” “I am a lineman for the county and I drive the main road, searching in the sun for another overload.” It is the daily life of man who does his job as he greatly worries about his wife who is in need of a break.

The Kinks introduced us to the enigmatic “Lola” with these lyrics. “I met her in a club down in old Soho. Where you drink champagne and it tastes just like Coca Cola. C-O-L-A Cola…” Soho is an interesting place, as it found its way into two songs herein, so it serves as a great backdrop to Lola and this young man’s encounter

Yet, the words need not be complex. Paul McCartney grabbed our attention with a simple plaintive lyric “Yesterday, when all my troubles seemed so far away.” The lyric makes you want to know what happened “Yesterday.”

Not to be outdone, John Lennon wrote “Imagine there’s no heaven, it’s easy if you try.” His lyric was so provocative, you had to listen to his point to “Imagine” a kinder world.

I treasure great lyrics, so I admire great song writers who coin them. Yet, the song need not start out that way. Motown coined many great lyrics, but the Motown sound started with “rhythm upfront.” That was the hook.

But, it was later when Marvin Gaye penned these heartfelt, and still needed words under the Motown label. “Mother, mother, there’s too many of you crying. Brother, brother, brother, there’s far too many of you dying.” This powerful song “What’s going on?” is a needed anthem.

Songs like Gaye’s are the reason lyrics move me. Let’s celebrate the music, but hear the words. I know I left out many favorites of mine. What are some of your favorites I missed?

9 thoughts on “I saw a werewolf with a Chinese menu in his hand – great first lyrics

  1. ‘Werewolves of London’ is one weirdly catchy songs which once is your head will not go away. A favourite of mine, in later years the bane of Warren Zevon’s life as folk seemed to forget his other work.

    Whereas Arthur Lee of Love was not renowned for making meanings obvious in his lyrics, this extract from A House is not a Motel of the album Forever Changes is one of the most penetratingly succinct:
    “By the time that I’m through singing
    The bells from the schools of wars will be ringing
    More confusions, blood transfusions
    The news today will be the movies for tomorrow”
    The last line is particular is a wonderful observation on what we do with history.

    • Well done. He had two other big hits, one of which is a tad scary – “He is just an excitable boy.” The others is profound as well – “Lawyers, guns and money.” My wife read the lyrics to the first one and said aloud “oh my God, do you know what this song is about?”

      • Whereas I don’t care much for the lyrics of ‘Excitable Boy’ my reaction is a bit eye-rolling cielingwards.
        I don’t know how it was in the USA but back in the 1950s & 60s in the UK a trope started amongst writers and playwrites of creating these most hideous disfunctional characters who often murdered a young woman.
        Critics and those would ‘open minds’ would gush about the expression of freedom, how the character was a victim, and make up numerous analogies….
        Strange that these writers were all male and the victims young women..implied misogyny was my opinion.
        Zevon was oblique in explaining his inspirations so I don’t pass comment on him.

  2. Note to Readers: There are so many songs I overlooked to write about these few. Neil Young is a vastly underrated wordsmith in his songs and rivals those more well-known. Here is the start to “After the gold rush.”

    “Well, I dreamed I saw the knights in armor coming,
    Saying something about a queen.
    There were peasants singing and drummers drumming,
    And the archer split the tree.”

    Now to be outdone, Joni Mitchell lamented not being invited to Woodstock, so she penned the quintessential song for Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. Here is the opening line:

    “Well, I came upon a child of God
    He was walking along the road
    And I asked him,Tell where are you going?
    This he told me.”

    • David, these are profound words. Just because one thinks it, does not mean one has to say it. Sometimes, the best argument is to remain silent. Thanks for sharing the link. Keith

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