Written by Alex Taylor
Anyone at all familiar with Kid Rock’s “All Summer Long” knows of its ties to Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama.” The former uses musical riffs from the latter and even pays tribute to its chronological predecessor in the song’s lyrics—Kid Rock says, “[We were] Singing Sweet Home Alabama all summer long.” If one is to fully understand the myriad nuances of the song, however, it is impossible to recognize its stated influences without an equally careful consideration of those that go unmentioned. Often, an examination of what an artist leaves unsaid can reveal much about their text that is hidden between the lines, waiting to be uncovered by a meticulous reader. Just as “All Summer Long” draws on Lynyrd Skynyrd, it simultaneously uses riffs from another song that is, perhaps, less familiar to the ordinary listener: Warren Zevon’s “Werewolves of London.” Listening to the first fifteen seconds of each song makes their connection immediately clear—and the similarity between them extends beyond just their form. Like “Werewolves of London,” Kid Rock’s “All Summer Long” is the story of a werewolf, one worthy of a place in the American horror canon.
One of the most common images in the song, and one that appears in its opening line, is that of hair. It is the defining characteristic of the people mentioned in the song—indeed, the only physical description given of the female the singer “[would] love to see…again” is of “her hair.” Indeed, the only physical details the listener is given of the singer himself are that “[his] thoughts were short” despite the fact that “[his] hair was long.” Hair, perhaps, does not belong solely to the lupine, but certainly it is a distinguishing characteristic of wolves. That the songwriter found hair an important enough attribute to emphasize in his characters shows the importance of their image as hairy people—and the hairiest people of all are those that take the shape of wolves by the light of the full moon.
At the end of the first stanza of “Werewolves of London,” Zevon writes, “Aaoooooo…Aaoooooo.”
Transformation, of course, is one of the most important aspects of the werewolf, and, fittingly, it is another of Kid Rock’s subtle, sublime images. There is an emphasis on change and the “in-between,” a state in which lycanthropes perpetually exist. At the beginning of the song, we learn that the singer is “caught somewhere between a boy and man,” in the same realm of divided existence occupied by the werewolf. Indeed, though he points out that the girl he sings about is “far from in-between,” the mere fact that he chooses to focus so heavily on the idea of dual-existence is telling of the kind of images he wishes to invoke in the listener’s mind. In the first stanza of the song—a position of power where the most important images are often placed to emphasize their importance—the singer chooses to emphasize hair and the in-between, all whilst the tune of “Werewolves of London” chimes softly in the background, lurking behind the lyrics. The first stanzas of both songs, too, are punctuated by similar, brilliant lines. At the end of the first stanza of “Werewolves of London,” Zevon writes, “Aaoooooo…Aaoooooo.” The fastidious listener might observe that this is meant to represent the howling of the wolf—and it is especially telling that the end of Kid Rock’s first stanza ends with the line, “Ahh Ahh Ahh,” a more subtle reference to the wolf-like nature of the characters in “All Summer Long.”
In imagining the howling of a werewolf, one would be remiss in ignoring the imagery of the moon that pervades Kid Rock’s supernatural narrative. Perhaps the most obvious of these moments is one to which the singer gives the utmost importance: “But man I never will forget,” he vows, “the way the moonlight shined upon her hair.” The line itself ties the girl’s hair to the moonlight, images that are clearly representative of the werewolf. It is a subtle detail, easy to miss in a song about good times—and yet it is a clever way of showing that the girl is a dangerous, man-eating lycanthrope.
Additionally, that much of the song is set at night—as, indeed, most werewolf stories are—is another of Kid Rock’s masterful touches in crafting his elusive horror story. At one point in the song, the singer says they were “Catching Walleye from the dock,” and as any bright student of ichthyology knows, the best walleye fishing occurs at night, when the fish is most active. Indeed, walleye themselves are nighttime predators; the walleye’s “mouth is large with sharp teeth, and it has low-light vision that helps it find prey at night” (if, perhaps, you find my explanation lacking, you can find more information about walleye here). The walleye, a seemingly minor detail in the course of the song, establishes the scene while simultaneously reflecting the nature of those who catch it. For the singer to catch walleye, he must be standing outside at night, looking into the dark, tumultuous waters and watching the luminous eyes of the nocturnal predators that lurk both by the dock and by his side.
At the end of the song, when Kid Rock sings, “Man I’d love to see that girl again,” the astute listener is left wondering, “Why is he unable to see her again?” The most obvious answer to the question, perhaps, is that the girl is a werewolf. During one of her moonlight massacres, therefore, she must have wandered too far, never to return. But though he regrets losing her, he admits that she will always be a part of him. He sings, “She’ll forever hold a spot inside my soul,” by which he clearly means that she has bitten him and infected him with lycanthropy—an incurable disease which will eventually devour him, just as it did his female acquaintance. Perhaps, even, she has passed the virus to many of the other loiterers—the singer tells us after all, of their insatiable lust for the dark and the moonlight when he says, “We’d blister in the sun / We couldn’t wait for night to come.”
“All Summer Long” is a story that—on the surface—appears to be nothing more than the tale of summer revelers in Northern Michigan, but the incredibly clever Kid Rock masterfully weaves a darker, more sinister story in the background. It is truly a feat unsurpassed by American horror writers—to have told the werewolf story through hints and subtle imagery, to bury it so deeply in the text that it has yet to be discovered is a feat of American literature. He has managed the seemingly impossible—he has told a story without having to really tell it at all. Like a werewolf, the song is, to all outward appearances, normal—until, that is, you examine it carefully under the moonlight.