‘Like A Wheel Within A Wheel . . .’

After “Windmills of Your Mind” was used – as noted here Tuesday – as the main theme for the 1968 movie The Thomas Crown Affair, covers of the Michel Legrand tune came spinning from many places – in English, with the lyrics by Alan and Marilyn Bergman; in French, with Eddy Marnay’s lyrics; in Dutch; in Danish (as “Sjælens Karrusel,” a 1970 single performed by Pedro Biker that I, sadly, have not yet heard); and eventually, in recent years, in Slovenian and Italian.

(Those are the languages listed today at Second Hand Songs, which is usually pretty comprehensive, but there certainly could be covers in other languages out there.)

The vast majority of the covers listed at Second Hand Songs are, of course, in English; the website lists seventy versions of “Windmills of Your Mind,” beginning with a 1968 cover by Merrill Womach, who is described at Wikipedia as “an American undertaker, organist and gospel singer.” I’ve never heard Womach’s cover, but other early covers I have heard include those from jazz drummer and singer Grady Tate, guitarist George Benson (who kicked the tempo up way too fast) and rock group Vanilla Fudge (who psychedelicized the tune) in 1969.

(The song has also been covered numerous times in French, too, with the most popular cover – if I’m reading things right – being the 1969 version by Vicky Leandros.)

Also in 1969, Dusty Springfield released the tune as a single, recorded during her brilliant Dusty in Memphis sessions; the record went to No. 31 on the Billboard chart in June of that year. I don’t recall hearing Springfield’s version, and the record doesn’t show up on the Twin Cities radio charts available at The Oldies Loon. But a couple of readers who stopped in this week – Steve E. and Marie – noted that for them, Dusty’s version is the definitive take on the song. Steve E. wrote, “For me, the song belongs to Dusty Springfield. Her version got a lot of airplay in Southern California in summer 1969, and I love both her vocal and the arrangement.”

Despite the large number of covers the song has generated over the years, only two versions of the tune have made it to the pop charts (through 2009, anyway, which is where my copy of Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles calls it quits). Springfield’s, as I noted above, got to No. 31, and a version by country/pop singer Jimmie Rodgers (“Honeycomb”) went to No. 123 in 1969. It’s not a bad cover, but it’s distinguished more by being Rodgers’ thirtieth and last record in or near the Hot 100 than by anything else.

The past decade has brought out quite a few covers of the tune. Of those I’ve heard, perhaps the most interesting was the trippy 2008 version released by the Parenthetical Girls, an “experimental pop band” (according to Wikipedia) from Everett, Washington. You’ll note I said “most interesting” and not “most listenable.” I also sampled recent versions of the song by singers Melissa Errico, Stephanie Rearick and by Barbra Streisand (from her 2011 album What Matters Most: Barbra Streisand Sings the Lyrics of Alan and Marilyn Bergman), and wasn’t impressed by them, either.

So which is my favorite? Well, somewhere out there is an instrumental version of the tune that I heard on occasion, probably on what would now be called Adult Contemporary radio, right around the time the original version of The Thomas Crown Affair was released. I’m just not sure whose version it was. It might have been the cover by Henry Mancini off his 1969 album A Warm Shade of Ivory, but I’m not putting any money on it. In the absence of surety, I’ll go with Steve E. and Marie and enjoy Dusty Springfield’s take on the song.

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4 Responses to “‘Like A Wheel Within A Wheel . . .’”

  1. Yah Shure says:

    It’s so frustrating trying to come up with those elusive cover versions that only seem to exist in the windmills of our minds and nowhere else. My own “Windmill”-like quest has never turned up the rendition of “Turn Around” I seem to remember. It didn’t help that the only part of the song I recalled was the “where are you going, my little one, little one” line, rather than the title. The Dick and DeeDee hit didn’t sound anything like the Julie Andrews-like holy grail version still adrift in my head.

    I can confirm that the Dusty “Windmills” never graced a turntable on any of the Twin Cities’ contemporary stations. If it ever popped up on one of the middle-of-the-roaders or WCCO, I never heard it. My first encounter with the song occurred in the cut-out 45 bin at Musicland. After being accustomed to Dusty’s version all these years, I flat-out laughed at Noel Harrison’s Evelyn Wood-like dash through the park. I’m with you, whiteray; that one has less depth than the Mississippi River fresh out of Lake Itasca. Score another vote for Dusty.

    Never heard the Fudge’s take in its day. Their ‘Near The Beginning’ snorefest quickly put an end to my vanilla jones. As collection dust-gatherers go, it’s probably remained in its jacket longer than any other. The $4.19 Musicland price sticker on its shrink wrap is far more engaging.

  2. Steve E. says:

    I was a little off in my memory of when Dusty’s version peaked in SoCal. I checked the KHJ charts and learned that the single peaked at No. 7 on the Boss 30 in late May, so it was a late-spring hit rather than summer. Here is that chart:
    http://www.users.qwest.net/~oldiesloon/khj052869.htm

  3. David Lenander says:

    I got to wondering about Yah Sure’s recollection of a version of “Turn Around,” and found a page where a woman talks about her heartfelt memory of her mother crying as she listened to Judy Collins sing this song on the turntable. Well, near as I can tell, Judy never released such a recording. The best known version seems to have been by Harry Belafonte, a tenor (could that be the high voice we remember?) and lots of others recorded it in the 60s and since, including Sonny & Cher in the 60s, and several groups that might have had a woman singer (I don’t know them). But the Malvina Reynolds page devoted to the song also mentions: “Turn Around”‘s popularity was boosted by its use as the theme for a memorable Kodak television commercial.

  4. Leroy says:

    Nobody sings this song as well as Vicky Leandros . She has released it in four languages . English French Greek and German . All four are exceptional for the voice lyrics and phrasing . I actually don’t like the song unless she is singing it . Her backing track also is the best arrangement . Just the whole thing is stunning . Then again so many of her productions are .

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