The exotic sound heard at the beginning of the song is from a gopichand, an one-stringed Indian instrument. The track got its title when Paul Simon and his band blended the sound of the gopichand with hand claps and the Peruvian percussion instrument Cajón. When he slowed the tempo way down, it sounded like someone was saying "the werewolf." Simon turned that into a song about the inevitability of human mortality, in which the symbol of death is not the grim reaper but a mythical werewolf.
The beats are provided here by Italian musician Clap! Clap! whose album Tayi Bebba, blending African field recordings and EDM, is admired by Simon. Clap! Clap! contributed to two other tracks on Stranger to Stranger, "Wristband" and "Street Angel."