While I was multitasking the other evening – checking out Facebook, listening to music and keeping half an eye on a football game – the RealPlayer selected from its 70,001 mp3s a track I hadn’t heard for a long, long time: “The Wayward Wind” by Gogi Grant, a record that spent eight weeks at No. 1 during the summer of 1956.
It was the second hit in the career of the woman who began life as Myrtle Arinsberg and went through several name changes before an A&R man from RCA named her Gogi Grant, if I’m reading things right in Fred Bronson’s Billboard Book of Number One Hits. Grant first reached the Top Ten in late 1955, when “Suddenly There’s A Valley” went to No. 9. I’d never heard “Valley” until this morning, and my sense is that it’s just standard mid-1950s pop.
Grant’s take on “The Wayward Wind,” however, is a sweeping and dramatic record, and I got to wondering how the song – written by Stan Lebowsky and Herb Newman – fared in the hands of folks who covered it. So I went digging. There are twenty-one other versions of the song listed at Second Hand Songs and numerous other versions listed at Wikipedia and at All Music Guide. Two covers made the Billboard pop chart: a version by Tex Ritter entered the chart about two months after Grant’s did and climbed to No. 28, and in 1961, a cover by Frank Ifield bubbled under at No. 103. (Grant’s version was re-released in 1961 and went to No. 50.)
In the five years between the Ritter and Ifield covers, there were plenty of folks who took a stab at “The Wayward Wind.” Among those listed were Jimmy Young, Shirley Bassey, Gene Vincent, Patsy Cline, Sam Cooke, rockabilly singer Carl Mann, the Everly Brothers, Pat Boone, Eddy Arnold and Rikki Henderson. The most interesting of those might be the 1961 cover by the Everly Brothers, just for their well-known close harmony. The quasi-rockabilly take from 1960 by Carl Mann (almost certainly recorded at Sam Phillips’ studio in Memphis) has its moments, and I also like 1963’s bare bones country version from Eddy Arnold. But too many of those early covers try to replicate the epic (in the original sense of the word) sound of Grant’s original.
It’s also mildly interesting to check the lyrical approach: Grant sang the song in third person, about the man who wandered. Mann gender-flips, singing about the girl who wandered. The Everlys sing the song in the first person, as do Ritter, Ifield and Arnold.
After Ifield’s version bubbled under in 1963, covers came from the Browns, Hank Snow, Mary McCaslin, Connie Smith, Connie Francis, Crystal Gayle, and in 1985, from Neil Young with Denise Draper, a countryish version that leads off his Old Ways album. Since then, the various lists include versions by the Lazy Cowgirls, Lynn Anderson, Anne Murray, Logan Wells, Barbara Mandrell & Friends and Carol Noonan.
Even combining the three lists doesn’t provide a comprehensive account. I found versions as well by Slim Whitman and Frankie Laine, and a version that I like a lot that paired 1980s country singer Sylvia Hutton with flautist James Galway for the title track of Galway’s 1982 album, The Wayward Wind.