Sep 06

LEE MARVIN – “Wand’rin Star”

FT + Popular36 comments • 6,991 views

#282, 7th March 1970


LEE MARVIN – “Wand’rin Star”Nelson Riddle’s arrangement for “Wand’rin Star” harks back a good twenty or thirty years, to the days of the singing cowboys and particularly acts like Sons Of The Pioneers, whose massed male backing voices this song reminds me of. “Wand’rin Star” has something of the gentle mystery of the Sons’ “Tumblin’ Tumbleweeds” or “Ghost Riders In The Sky”, with Marvin’s puzzled deep voice turning the track into a kind of cowboy lullaby. Marvin is a technically awful singer but this is an effective way for Riddle to use him, at least until the last verse when he sounds like he’s straining too hard for the tune. The singles chart at this point was clearly still wide open, deserted by emergent ‘album acts’ and without much grip on a younger teen audience, and this is yet another oddity at number one. But a very charming oddity, nonetheless.



  1. 1
    wwolfe on 28 Sep 2006 #

    Wow – Lee Marvin had a #1! Well, better Lee at #1 in England than Lorne Greene at #1 in America with “Ringo.” How the heck did Marvin snag Nelson Riddle as an arranger, though?

  2. 2
    Martin Skidmore on 28 Sep 2006 #

    I know it’s not entirely applicable to this, but it seems too long since it’s been said, so:

    Do you hate soul music, Tom?

  3. 3
    Doctor Casino on 28 Sep 2006 #

    This type of thing, while perhaps an oddity on the charts, wasn’t so much of an oddity in terms of what was in the water at the time. The Band, Sweetheart of the Rodeo, Nashville Skyline and so on had opened country music back up as source material for artists who were emphatically not country stars. The closest parallel to “Wand’rin Star” and the Sons of the Pioneers aesthetic is Ringo’s “Beaucoups of Blues,” from the album of the same name, released September of the same year…worth a listen if you like this sort of thing!

  4. 4
    rosie on 28 Sep 2006 #

    Presumably Nelson Riddle was involved in the arrangement for the film of Paint Your Wagon?

    If I recall correctly, Clint Eastwood was on the B-side.

  5. 5
    intothefireuk on 28 Sep 2006 #

    Surely the success of this single is almost entirely dependant on the popularity of Paint Your Wagon as a musical rather than the country/cowboy genre connection. It also contains two of the worst vocal performances you are likely to hear on one single. Unfortunately for me I will always have a fondness for it as it reminds me of an outing during my childhood when on a particularly grim rainy day at Herne Bay my Mum and I abandoned the beach for the safety of the local cinema. You can guess what was on.

  6. 6
    Marcello Carlin on 29 Sep 2006 #

    It’s another throwback to Songs From The Shows – after all, the two biggest-selling non-Beatles albums in Britain up to that time were the South Pacific and Sound Of Music OSTs (Vince Hill nearly had a number one in ’67 with his version of “Edelweiss”).

    For the first two weeks of its chart run it was listed as a double A-side with Clint Eastwood’s, er, individualistic rendition of “I Talk To The Trees.”

  7. 7
    markgamon on 29 Sep 2006 #


  8. 8
    rosie on 29 Sep 2006 #

    Naturally, as with Two Little Boys, the team of I’m Sorry I’ll Read That Again had a take on both sides of this record. (“I was born under a squandering Tsar”/”I talk to the trees, that’s why they put me away”)

  9. 9
    Tom on 29 Sep 2006 #

    I don’t think the awfulness of the performance matters really, intothefireuk, or rather, Riddle works out how to make it matter least, and does so in quite an engaging way. Usually when you have appaling singers (Bobby Gillespie, say), you smother them in production as much as you can, whereas Riddle puts Marvin absolutely front-and-centre and it still works (for me).

    Thinking about it last night 5 seems a little too low, though my basic concept of 5 is “perfectly OK record”

  10. 10
    Marcello Carlin on 29 Sep 2006 #

    “I talk to the tress, that’s why they put me away” was a regular Goon Show meme (usually given to Eccles).

    I wonder if this record had been by Lee Hazlewood rather than Lee Marvin, would we be revering it in a Cowboy In Sweden-outtake-type sense?

  11. 11
    Marcello Carlin on 29 Sep 2006 #

    “trees” not “tress” (bring back comment-edit!)

  12. 12
    GeorgeB on 29 Sep 2006 #

    His vocal seems to me to be just right for this song, altho I may be projecting Lee Marvin’s persona on the whole thing. Worth noting that back then Robert Mitchum, the other great “I don’t give a shit” actor with a hinterland had a chequered musical career and was singing country at around this time.

  13. 13
    Marcello Carlin on 29 Sep 2006 #

    I’ve heard those Mitchum calypso records he did in the fifties.

    Dearie dearie me…

    *impersonates Les Dawson impersonating Mitchum walk on Blankety Blank*

    The only decent thing about the D-Day film The Longest Day is how everyone clears off the beach right at the end just so that Mitchum can do his walk.

  14. 14
    Daniel_Rf on 29 Sep 2006 #

    “Worth noting that back then Robert Mitchum, the other great “I don’t give a shit” actor with a hinterland had a chequered musical career and was singing country at around this time.” – wow, are there any recordings of this? I just know about the “Calypso Is Like So” record, which is pretty awesome (tho not all calypso – “Ballad Of Thunder Road” is prettty C&W.)

  15. 15
    GeorgeB on 29 Sep 2006 #

    I know he was bothering the country charts in the mid/late 60s and his biggish album of the time was on the Bear Family label, called something like “That Man, Robert Mitchum” (or maybe the other way around). There were others – I’m sure if you google/amazon/ebay him all will be revealed. Wasn’t his biggest country single “Little Old Wine Drinker Me”? Lee Marvin would have loved it.

  16. 16
    Doctor Mod on 30 Sep 2006 #

    As far as I can recall, “That Little Old Wine Drinker Me” was Dean Martin, though I’m sure others probably recorded it. DM had a weekly television show in the US and was known for constantly performing in a semi-inebriated state, whether real or faked I don’t know.

    The source of the title was a long-running series of commercials for Italian Swiss Colony wines, in which an old man in Tyrolean costume would end the commercial (full of quaint looking alpine types singing and dancing), saying with a horrifically cute giggle, “from that Little Old Winemaker, Me!”

    While references to drugs were completely taboo in the public media back then, there seems to have been no problem with adults (especially ones who wouldn’t appeal to younger audiences) glorifying the joys of alcohol abuse.

  17. 17
    Alan Connor on 30 Sep 2006 #

    I heard this before I knew he was a bad singer, and thought he was just a tough roustabout. I like it, and the b-side, very much. The Paint Your Wagon soundtrack is in a charity shop very near you, and I consider it five pence well spent.

    Shane MacGowan growled this on one of his Popes albums, IIRC. I have yet to hear the other Lee (Christopher)’s version.

    They say Lee had to record it one line at a time, but they say that about Al Green too, and it’s a record not a gig, so that suits me fine.

  18. 18
    Chris Brown on 30 Sep 2006 #

    Coincidentally I heard this on the radio shortly after reading the entry; it’s a sign of how much Popular is taking over my life that I sort of leap to attention when I hear one of these semi-familiar Number Ones kick off. It prompted Steve Wright to say that nobody would tell Lee Marvin to “put a bit more energy in, mate!”. BTW, this is the most amusing observation Wright has come out with in years, which ought to give you an idea of his usual standard.

    I have to say that this record doesn’t exactly communicate wanderlust to me, but it has a sort of mid-table charm to it.

  19. 19
    koganbot on 1 Oct 2006 #

    Is it correct that the British singles chart you’re using – unlike the Billboard Hot 100 in the U.S. – is (and was) strictly based on sales? If so, that could help explain why oddball and novelty singles get to number one more than we’d expect, though I don’t know if that applies to this particular song. That is, starting about 1968 most fans of a song buy the album not the single, the exceptions being novelties and one-shots and newcomers and teenybopper music (where the kids can’t afford the album, hence go for the single).

    Fans of musicals, however, tend to buy the albums. What may have happened here, though, is that the song broke out to nonfans of musicals, who I’d imagine would have bought the single almost exclusively.

    Can’t recall hearing this. Will now go search YouTube.

  20. 20
    Tom on 1 Oct 2006 #

    Yep, the UK chart is entirely sales-based. And your model is generally right – at this point several of the progressive ‘album acts’ weren’t even releasing singles. 1969 is the tipping point when album sales outpace single sales for the first time in the UK.

    The only thing in your description I’d tweak is that fans of an album act were generally encouraged to buy the single *and* album. Radio playlists were influenced by singles chart performance (there were never really ‘FM’ style rock stations here, at least until quite recently, and playing of album tracks was and is rare on daytime radio). The singles chart being entirely sales-based, groups needed a strong singles performance to ensure that people knew they had album product out: without the single sales, the airplay might wither.

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    koganbot on 1 Oct 2006 #

    I’d expect that many fans manage to resist the encouragement to buy both the album and the single.

  22. 22
    Tom on 1 Oct 2006 #

    Yes! But it explains why album acts don’t entirely disappear from the singles chart.

  23. 23
    koganbot on 1 Oct 2006 #

    [Forgive me if this is a duplicate post. I keep trying to post this comment, and WordPress keeps refusing it.]

    A pleasant surprise. 5 underrates this. There’s nothing wrong with Marvin’s singing (it sometimes goes below his range, so he rough-talks it but with the same basic purr/burr in his throat, which works fine). The tune is a lightweight throwaway, and with a higher-pitched singer would have been given a perkier arrangement. This has got more Riddle busyness than necessary, but Riddle keeps it light enough on its feet.

    (I notice that after the track is finished YouTube displays links to Dana and Greenbaum and Thunderclap Newman, etc., leading me to believe that the only people who’ve watched this clip recently are we Freaky Triggerers.)

  24. 24
    intothefireuk on 4 Oct 2006 #

    Just to clarify my earlier point – although technically they are bad vocal performances I actually think their vocal timbres suit the respective tracks and at least in Marvins case make them pleasant listening experiences. I might be stating the obvious here but you don’t have to be a great a singer to make a great recording – it tends to become a problem in the live arena though (although even then vocal processing can cover a multitude of sins).

  25. 25
    Chris Brown on 4 Oct 2006 #

    Just pitching in on this dying thread to mention the sales factor – at this point it was still common even for acts who might be considered relatively album-driven to release non-album singles, although by the time the Seventies roll around this is happening less.

    Towards the end of the century, you get a slight decrease in novelty hits because the economics change; record companies can’t make money from singles, so there’s less incentive for them to release something that won’t sell in album form unless it’s tied into something else.
    It occurs to me that the greater importance of sales might be part of the reason why we care more about our Christmas Number Ones – but this probably isn’t the right place to make that point.

  26. 26
    SteveIson on 20 Jul 2008 #

    Such an atmospheric,strange song..My god,country records were actually good in those days 7

  27. 27
    Waldo on 24 Oct 2009 #

    Anyone listening to this for the first time would be forgiven for losing patience with it, convinced that it was an instrumental, as it takes an absolute age for Lee to start growling his way into this dirge in a voice so low it made Paul Robeson sound like Alan Ball on helium. The interjecting harmonica is just plain irritating as are the sooo manly backing singers. Basically, I thought this was a stinker and I don’t mind saying so. The only thing in its favour is that it was taken up by the intelligensia at Stamford Bridge, who sung:

    “I was born under a Chelsea shed,
    I was bor-orn under a Chelsea shed,
    Knives were made for cutting,
    Guns were made to shoot,
    If you go down to the Chelsea shed
    We’ll all put in the boot…”

    Well, it’s fucking better than anything Andrew Motion ever came up with!

  28. 28
    Jungman Jansson on 24 Oct 2009 #

    Just thought I’d mention that The KLF name check this on “Build a Fire” (album track from The White Room).

    I quite like this song. But I have a soft spot for cowboy kitsch. It would be a lot less interesting without Marvin’s abyssal voice.

  29. 29
    thefatgit on 28 Jan 2010 #

    I used to be able to burp-sing this when I was 9 years old!

  30. 30
    crag on 14 Apr 2011 #


    Graham Hill, Racing driver(1974)

    Jackie Charlton, football manager(1996).

  31. 32
    Lena on 2 Apr 2012 #

    Words of wisdom: http://musicsoundsbetterwithtwo.blogspot.co.uk/2012/04/rock-of-ages-beatles-let-it-be.html Thanks for reading and commenting, everyone!

  32. 33
    Larry on 27 Oct 2014 #

    No one has mentioned some wonderful lyrics:
    Do I know where hell is?
    Hell is in hello
    Heaven is “goodbye forever”
    “It’s time for me to go”

    not to mention “mules are made to pack”

  33. 34
    Mark G on 28 Oct 2014 #

    “I never saw a sight that didn’t look better looking back … ”

    All together now!

  34. 35
    lonepilgrim on 7 Oct 2017 #

    like thefatgit @29 I too used to amuse friends and family with my growly take on this as a 9 year old. Now I like it for the arrangement and the confidence of the vocal that puts me in mind of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Tower of Song’.

  35. 36
    Gareth Parker on 27 May 2021 #

    How do you rate this one. I like Lee Marvin and Paint Your Wagon, but I think 4/10 would be my limit here.

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