Dead Skunk

Album: Album III (1973)
Charted: 16


  • This song was inspired by a flattened little stinker on a suburban New York road. When it was released, there were a number of alternative interpretations of the meaning of this song's lyrics ranging from man's destruction of nature to an allegory about president Nixon. When asked about these differing readings by the London Times July 26, 2008, Wainwright replied with open palms: "Well, OK. But for me, it was just about a dead skunk lying there in the highway."
  • Loudon Wainwright III is one of the most proficient and accomplished singer-songwriters of his time, but his best-known song - and only chart entry - is this novelty hit. Exposure from the song led to his first acting role: a stint as the guitar-playing Captain Spaulding on the M.A.S.H. TV series. Wainwright did a lot more acting later in his career, appearing on the shows Ally McBeal and Undeclared, and in the movies Big Fish and The 40-Year-Old Virgin.
  • Wainwright confessed it only took about 12 minutes to pen "Dead Skunk," which became his most well-known song. The singer's brief sniff of fame left him with a foul odor. "Yeah, and it was revolting in some ways, horrible and I hated it, because it was grotesque," said Wainwright to the A.V. Club."It can be grotesque at that level where you are riding around in cars and there are 14-year-old kids pressing their faces up against the window. For no reason other than your song is on the radio. It made me very uncomfortable, particularly at that time. I imagine that now I would see it with a little more humor and detachment, but when I was 25 and it happened to me, it kind of blew me away."

    His new fans expected him to produce more of the same, but the singer wasn't complaining (too much) about his new persona. He explained, "I became the 'funny-animal-guy songwriter.' [Laughs.] Which got to be a drag after a while. But I certainly made a lot of money that year."
  • Wainwright would often have the crowd sing the chorus with him when he performed this song. When he played outside of America where folks were less familiar with skunks, we would have to give an explanation like "it's an animal that emits a terrible odor when struck by an automobile or attacked by a dog."
  • Loudon's son Rufus was born the year this song was released, and when Rufus was little, he would sometimes join his dad on stage to sing along with this song. Rufus became a very popular songwriter in his own right, but had a tense relationship with his dad, who didn't get to spend much time with his son because of his touring schedule. In 2012, Loudon recorded a duet that he sang with Rufus called "The Days That We Die," where they both sing, "You'll never change, neither will I."

Comments: 13

  • S M Barnes from Salina Ks.To me the dead skunk was always a metaphor for the war in Vietnam. It would have made an awesome anti-war song, but I guess it wasn't meant to be.
  • Bruce from San Jose, Calif.I was a was late at night, and I was restless and could not get to sleep. I turn on my little radio and got Dr. Demento on, and this song was one of his oft-played songs on his program...gave me chuckles back then, and still does today, decades later...and all of us who have ever smelled a dead skunk in the middle of the road can still remember (as a flashback) that acrid stink hitting our nostrils whenever we listen to this song! (LOL)
  • K.c. from Nh@Jim - Denver, Co: What's to understand? Both of my daughters and I love to sing along with this song (much to my husband's chagrin). Gals can dig it, too.
  • Esskayess from Dallas, TxSometimes a dead skunk is just...a dead skunk.
  • Deadskunk1 from Guelph, OnYou know what?? This song is a wonderful song. This years Airbands at school I'll be lip-synching "Dead Skunk"!!!!!!!!!
  • Thomas from Somerville, AlOne of my favorite songs when I was a kid.
  • Hank Williams Iii from Loganville, TnGotta love a song about a dead skunk
  • David Fowler from Rochester, NhI loved this song as a budding teen. I guess I still do. Like songs that aren't about relationships.
    One tghings for sure, til I get my own radio show, you won't hear this on any oldies stations.
  • Jim from Denver, CoA great tune for guys having a few beers and playing cards. The gals might not understand.
  • Kevin from Hood River, OrI saw Louden in 1978 (or79?) opening for Leo Kottke. The guy was so damn funny. It was half folk singer, half stand up show. His son is the big huge world famous Rufus.
    -Kevin, Hood River, OR
  • Clarke from Pittsburgh, PaThis was a MAJOR hit in Pittsburgh, where radio station 13Q played this little stinker to death in 1973. In recent years, Wainwright has played minor roles in a number of movies, including "Big Fish" and "The 40-Year-Old Virgin."
  • Loretta from Liverpool, EnglandI love his voice!!!
  • Kathy from Jasper, AlI attended a gospel meeting one time back when this song was popular and the preacher based his sermon on this song. He was preaching about things that were going on in the church that stunk to high heaven!
see more comments

Editor's Picks

Joan Armatrading

Joan ArmatradingSongwriter Interviews

The revered singer-songwriter talks inspiration and explains why she put a mahout in "Drop the Pilot."

Pam Tillis

Pam TillisSongwriter Interviews

The country sweetheart opines about the demands of touring and talks about writing songs with her famous father.

Rock Revenge Songs

Rock Revenge SongsMusic Quiz

John Lennon, Paul Simon and Lynyrd Skynyrd are some of the artists who have written revenge songs. Do you know who they wrote them about?

John Lee Hooker

John Lee HookerSongwriter Interviews

Into the vaults for Bruce Pollock's 1984 conversation with the esteemed bluesman. Hooker talks about transforming a Tony Bennett classic and why you don't have to be sad and lonely to write the blues.

Trucking Songs That Were #1 Hits

Trucking Songs That Were #1 HitsSong Writing

The stories behind the biggest hit songs about trucking.

Steve Morse of Deep Purple

Steve Morse of Deep PurpleSongwriter Interviews

Deep Purple's guitarist since 1994, Steve talks about writing songs with the band and how he puts his own spin on "Smoke On The Water."