“Wild Is the Wind”: A Boomer Story

It happened again one morning this week: Mister Boomer woke up with a song in his head (if not his heart). Sometimes these infiltrations are earworms, the epitome of brute force inflicted on the hazy circuits of a waking brain. (Mister Boomer has detailed such incursions previously: Earworms Burrowed into Boomers’ Brains). This time, however, the melodious visitor was welcome to pitch its tent in his memory campground and hike the synaptic trails in the space between his ears. This time the song was Wild Is the Wind by David Bowie.

He was content to let the tune swirl around as he finished the last leg of his morning commute to work when he spotted a young man walking directly toward him. On any other day, the man would have passed unnoticed, but on this morning, Mister B observed that the man’s t-shirt was emblazoned with a portrait of David Bowie. “Hmm. Happenstance or message?” thought Mister B. As the day went on, the song did not leave. Mister B thought it was time that he learned more about this visitor, and discovered more than he had previously imagined.

David Bowie’s version of the song was released on his Station to Station album in 1976, which was the same album that gave us the hit, Golden Years. Right out of the gate Mister Boomer recognized that the song’s structure and sound did not follow the usual Bowie opus. Not knowing the song’s history, he correctly assumed Bowie had not written the tune, and very quickly found out that it was written for the film of the same name by Dimitri Timkin and Ned Washington. The 1957 film, directed by George Cukor, was a reworking of the 1947 Italian film, Fury. Anthony Quinn and Ann Magnani starred in the lead roles and it featured a young Anthony Francisosa. It was the story of a widowed Nevada rancher who brought an Italian widow to America as his second wife, but the woman was neglected by the rancher and she falls in love with a young ranch hand. Both Quinn and Magnani were nominated for Academy Awards, as was the title song.

Here is where is gets really interesting for boomers. At the 30th Annual Academy Awards ceremony, the song was sung by Johnny Mathis, who sang the title song for the film. Mathis had his first album released a year before the movie was released. His appearances in several films as a singer or singing the title songs of others gave him the exposure he needed to be sought after as a guest on TV shows like The Pat Boone Chevy Showroom, which in turn made him a favorite with audiences. Mathis went on to chalk up multiple hits throughout the 1960s.

The song’s history didn’t end there. It was recorded by several artists of differing sensibilities over the next decade, including twice by Nina Simone — in 1959 and again in 1966. Her smooth jazz sound paired perfectly with the romantic lyrics to reveal a guttural longing missing in Johnny Mathis’ film score version.

You touch me, I hear the sound of mandolins
You kiss me, with your kiss my life begins
You’re spring to me, all things to me
Don’t you know, you’re life itself?

Mister Boomer recommends you listen to all three versions of the song and you’ll see that Bowie’s interpretation owes much to Simone’s version. In fact, Bowie himself had mentioned that he was a deep admirer of Simone. Mister Boomer prefers Bowie’s version of the three. He has often stated to people who may have recognized Bowie’s showmanship, but not his musicality and vocal range, that they should have a listen to Wild Is the Wind. In this song, Bowie bridges the gap between Mathis and Simone. He embraces a pop tempo like Mathis’ version but infuses the phrasing with all the emotional impact of Simone.

Thus ended another song-in-the-head infiltration. Mister Boomer hopes the hits just keep on coming.

When did you first hear Wild Is the Wind, boomers, and who was singing it?

One thought on ““Wild Is the Wind”: A Boomer Story”

  1. I listened to Johnny M’s version, then Nina Simone’s, then David Bowie’s. I was not impressed with Nina Simone’s version – that is, until the “hmmm…” at 2:54 – 2:55. Then the ‘hauntingness’ – I cannot describe it in any other way – overtook me; (although it is not nearly as chilling as “Strange Fruit” or “Mississippi Goddam”).

    Bowie’s version is somewhere in between Ms. Simone’s and Mr. Mathis’s.

    On another note, someone once referred to Johnny M as “Johnny Mattress”…Ironically, he was also named “Mr. B”.

    SPOILER alert for next week;s installment. Johnny M’s version of “Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye” is at least as good as the Casinos’.

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