An American Odyssey in Song: New Hampshire – Noel Harrison and “The Windmills Of Your Mind”

Welcome to this occasional series where I am attempting a virtual journey around the 50 States of America in song. For anyone new to this place, I have a continuous route map where I enter and leave each state only once. Suggestions for the next leg always welcome!

Last time we started our journey in Maine and our road trip inevitably now takes us to the neighbouring state of New Hampshire. This is a state with very little coastline but it does have the highest peaks east of the Mississippi – The White Mountains cover about a quarter of the state and are part of the northern Appalachian range. Looking at a map of New Hampshire, New England you could be back in Old England as the place names are all very familiar to us. There is Portsmouth on the coast then slightly inland there is Exeter, Dover and Manchester. Yes when the founding fathers landed in the New World they took a lot of the Old World with them.

new hampshire

The most distinctive thing about New Hampshire for me, is that it does seasons like no other state. Autumn, or fall as it is called there, is spectacular and in winter the mountain regions are covered in snow. Spring and summer look quite nifty too and again, although these are not travelogue posts, I’ll include a few pictures.

In popular culture, the Henry/Jane Fonda film On Golden Pond is set in New Hampshire and John Irving, a native of the state, wrote his best-selling novel about the eponymous Hotel. In both crime dramas Breaking Bad and The Sopranos, we have characters who successfully hide out there for long periods, in “cabins in the woods”.

But this is supposed to be a music blog so what song could accompany my post about New Hampshire? The suggestions were not as free-flowing as last time, mainly because there aren’t many well-known songs that mention place names from The Granite State although thanks to Jez for manfully coming up with his suggestion (The Shaw Brothers’ New Hampshire Naturally). Rick, a New-Englander himself, came in with a late suggestion (Tom Rush’s Merrimack County) and CC‘s generic pick (Jonathan Richman’s New England) is being kept for another state. Rol, who can usually be depended on for a multitude of suggestions, was even stumped in finding songs suitable for this blog – As he pointed out there are plenty of songs that refer to Manchester, Portsmouth and even Lebanon but just not the ones in New Hampshire. Time to bend the rules a bit then and this is where I made a wonderful discovery.

On my long list of “posts pending”, mentioned just a few times (I can’t keep up with it), I have the song The Windmills Of Your Mind by Noel Harrison because it is one of Mr WIAA’s favourites. It was written for a key scene in the film The Thomas Crown Affair and wait for it, that key scene is set in New Hampshire where Steve McQueen’s character flies a glider over the little airport in Salem. It’s obviously not autumn, because it’s all very green, but we do literally, get a bird’s eye view of the landscape.

The Windmills Of Your Mind by Noel Harrison:

This classic 1968 bank heist film needed an original song for that glider scene and the director asked French composer Michel Legrand, along with American lyricists Alan and Marilyn Bergman, to come up with something that referenced the feelings of Thomas Crown as he calmly flies his glider, whilst experiencing the inner tension of preparing to commit a major robbery. To quote the Bergmans – “The lyrics were a stream of consciousness. We felt that the song had to be some kind of mind trip. I think we were thinking of that feeling you have when you try to fall asleep at night and you can’t turn your brain off because thoughts and memories tumble.”

I don’t know about you but I often find that I can’t turn my brain off (maybe why all this outpouring in a blog is so therapeutic) and this song does kind of conjure up images of what is going on in there. As for the film, I am actually more familiar with the very stylish remake from 1999 which starred Pierce Brosnan and Renee Russo. The plotline was adapted somewhat to take account of the times but what I remember most about it was that Ms Russo, a lady of a certain age by that time, kept appearing in the most stunning outfits.

One of my many potential schemes for making money over the last decade was to devise a wardrobe planning system for busy women. Out there in cyberspace, there is probably still a website called The Little Red Box Wardrobe Planner, although I can’t quite remember where. There were business cards and I even had conversations with the Dragon’s Den TV Show people about it, as my online pitch must have caught their interest. Nothing came of it in terms of earning potential (I am exceptionally good at putting in an awful lot of time and effort to that end) but it still works for me on a daily basis – My point being is that one of the things that really causes the windmills to work overtime in a woman’s brain is that eternal dilemma, “What to wear?”. Not so if like Renee Russo in The Thomas Crown Affair you have all your outfits carefully co-ordinated and selected for you, or, if you are the proud owner of a Little Red Box Wardrobe Planning System!

Noel Harrison

It was of course Noel Harrison (son of Rex) who recorded the original version of The Windmills Of Your Mind and it won the Academy Award for Best Original Song in 1968. The remake in 1999 also featured the song, this time played during the end credits and performed by Sting who along with some other very serious-minded chaps seems to rarely pop up in the music blogosphere. Whatever, I do like his jazzy take on the song and it gives us a chance to revisit the autumnal New Hampshire landscape from that upgraded glider, and see some more of Renee’s great outfits (although in the still for this YouTube clip she seems to be in her birthday suit!).

Next time we’re heading across the state border into Vermont and any suggestions for songs associated with that state would be gratefully received. As you can see from this post it doesn’t necessarily have to be namechecked, just associated in some way. You know where the comments boxes are.

In the meantime, it’s not comments boxes I’m off to look at but Little Red Boxes of the wardrobe planning variety. Why have those windmills going round and round in your head all night when there is no need. Just sayin’.

Until next time…..

The Windmills Of Your Mind Lyrics
(Song by Michel Legrand/Alan Bergman/Marilyn Bergman)

Round like a circle in a spiral, like a wheel within a wheel
Never ending or beginning on an ever spinning reel
Like a snowball down a mountain, or a carnival balloon
Like a carousel that’s turning running rings around the moon
Like a clock whose hands are sweeping past the minutes of its face
And the world is like an apple whirling silently in space
Like the circles that you find in the windmills of your mind

Like a tunnel that you follow to a tunnel of its own
Down a hollow to a cavern where the sun has never shone
Like a door that keeps revolving in a half forgotten dream
Or the ripples from a pebble someone tosses in a stream
Like a clock whose hands are sweeping past the minutes of its face
And the world is like an apple whirling silently in space
Like the circles that you find in the windmills of your mind

Keys that jingle in your pocket, words that jangle in your head
Why did summer go so quickly, was it something that you said?
Lovers walking along a shore and leave their footprints in the sand
Is the sound of distant drumming just the fingers of your hand?
Pictures hanging in a hallway and the fragment of a song
Half remembered names and faces, but to whom do they belong?
When you knew that it was over you were suddenly aware
That the autumn leaves were turning to the colour of her hair!
Like a circle in a spiral, like a wheel within a wheel
Never ending or beginning on an ever spinning reel
As the images unwind, like the circles that you find
In the windmills of your mind

Author: Alyson

Whenever I hear an old song on the radio, I am immediately transported back to those days. I know I'm not alone here and want to record those memories for myself and for the people in them. 57 years ago the song "Alfie" was written by my favourite songwriting team, Bacharach and David. The opening line to that song was, "What's it all about?" and I'm hoping by writing this blog, I might find the answer to that question.

8 thoughts on “An American Odyssey in Song: New Hampshire – Noel Harrison and “The Windmills Of Your Mind””

  1. Another wonderful post, Alyson, and one that makes me a little embarrassed because you know more about the history & geography of my country than I do. “Windmills Of My Mind” is a song I know from my childhood but not via the Noel Harrison recording. It was either the Muzak version or a performance on a variety TV show like Donny & Marie. I never liked or disliked the song…it’s always just been there…but I have more of an affinity for it now in my middle-age. I’ve always had a taste for melancholy & wistful music and this tune ticks those boxes for me. Thanks for providing some historical context, as well as the connection to New Hampshire.

    As for your upcoming post about Vermont, I suggest the theme song from ’80s TV series “Newhart” by Henry Mancini. It’s a pretty instrumental song from a more innocent time, and any connection to the brilliant comedic mind of Bob Newhart is worth acknowledging. The geographical reference is, of course, the bed & breakfast Bob’s character owns with his wife in Vermont. I hope you’ll consider it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think you are just being kind – Anything that appeared on the Donny and Marie show shouldn’t really turn up on any music blog even one like this where I have no illusions of being a muso at all! I think I prefer the Sting version myself now and having discussed the song with Mr WIAA tonight he has no rational explanation for liking it, he just associates it with watching films from that era that had very cool “boys toys” and were set in really beautiful locations (Bond, The Persuaders etc).

      As for being knowledgable about your country I have read an awful lot of books written by people who have actually made such trips. It looks as if it might have to be a trip of the virtual kind for me now, but who knows? Thanks for the suggestion – I remember watching that show and that it was set in Vermont. Definitely a contender as think I’m going to have to get a bit more Vermonty for this next post as the songs so far have been a tad tenuous.


  2. I’m sorry, but I was just 17 (you know what I mean) when The Windmills Of Your Mind by Noel Harrison broke up an unsuspecting world. I didn’t like the 1968 film, which I was dragged into and I didn’t like Sting the one time I saw him live. Sorry to be so negative. I did enjoy your diversion into The Little Red Box Wardrobe Planner!

    I shall console myself a little by watching “Whoever’s in New England” – country singer Reba MCEntire’s 1st video (from 1986). It also mentions Massachusetts and Boston and was based on a Barry Manilow song!

    As for Vermont, there’s a town there called Bakersfield and there’s a song called “Streets of Bakersfield” by Buck Owens and Dwight Yoakam – although that song was written about the Bakersfield in California. That’s the trouble with the USA, it’s got too many places with the same name. Looking farther ahead – have you heard “Montana” by Frank Zappa? 🙂


    1. Yes, if you were just 17, I know what you mean – Noel Harrison was not top of the pops for you!! This was indeed a bit of a girly post what with the song and the wardrobe planning system but hope you’ll stick with it. Once we get out of New England I think it’ll be a lot easier to come up with songs that reference the actual place names (and not ones of the same name in other states).


  3. Can’t argue with that choice or your reasoning. I love Windmills of Your Mind; even enjoyed seeing Rob Brydon & Steve Coogan duet it on the latest series of The Trip.

    Vermont? A bit easier than New Hampshire. My money is on Moonlight In Vermont… by Frank, Ray or Willie. (Probably Frank.) Probably not Moonlight On Vermont by Captain Beefheart. I won’t expect to hear Long Vermont Roads by The Magnetic Fields or Just Give Me Moonlight In Vermont by Amy Allison either.

    Of course, there’s always the chance you might go for Burlington Bertie, I suppose. No, wrong Burlington.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. All this time spent blogging means I hardly have any time for telly nowadays and didn’t realise the new Trip series had started – Will investigate. Just loved the previous trips as they bounce off each other so brilliantly.

      Moonlight in Vermont does keep popping up on lists of songs/states and it is a more likely contender for me than the other two. Have a soft spot for Burlington Bertie but not right at all as you say, just a bit too old I think even for this place and wrong Burlington.

      Here I am pleased that I’ve finally come up with an idea for a series and I get trumped with the series that I can see is going to overshadow all others! Can’t wait for the Tuesday fun to begin and I can tell already that there will be an awful lot of wordplay with that one – Not your intention of course!


  4. Another fascinating trip! And I said there’d be a third slightly coincidental reference – indeed there is because the day before yesterday I could hear ‘Windmills Of Your Mind’ coming out from Mr SDS’ computer upstairs, it just crossed into my consciousness as I recognised it (Mr SDS had simply been looking at a record site/forum he regularly visits, where someone had just uploaded it). I hadn’t heard, or thought of it, in ages, and then….

    I haven’t seen either version of the film! But I think I’d go for the ’60s one, always something about ’60s films and of course Steve MQueen, but I agree Rene Russo is looking good in the clip of the remake (and pleased to spot the Magritte painting too!)
    Your Little Red Box Wardrobe Planner sounds very enterprising and a great idea – and brilliant that it attracted the attention of the Dragons’ Den people – how exciting! Would you have gone on it if they’d asked? Would Deborah Meadon have liked it? (I’m sure she would!)

    I could’ve done with one during the years I worked in an office, deciding what to wear each day always caused me a bit of a headache and I hated that thing when it was really cold outside in Winter but baking hot inside the office building, and vice versa in Summer. Life is so much easier now, I wear the same old crummy jumpers/T shirts for days on end and let them get crumpled and covered in paint…. Then I really look forward to ‘dressing up’ to go out, even if it’s only down to the Co-op to buy a bag of carrots 😉
    Can’t help with Vermont I’m afraid, but looking forward to the ride!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Do do do do, do do do do (the Twilight Zone theme music!). Yep funny how coincidental things like that happen – there is a name for it (the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon) and I wrote about such things last year.

      To be honest I can’t remember now having seen the original TCA film all the way through just snippets from it over the years but was a massive Steve McQueen fan so really should have. The remake was different in that there wasn’t a bank heist but a famous painting heist so loads of pictures included that even I knew of so you definitely would.

      As for the wardrobe planning system it was a little invention of mine that I thought could be turned into a business at one point. I tried to do consultations but it does involve people being very organised themselves otherwise it doesn’t work. Also it coincided with the time that phone Apps became available for everything and my “product” was very much stationery based. The chats with the Dragon’s Den researchers proved it wasn’t really at a stage that could be used for the show and I probably would have made a monumental fool of myself if I had been picked. I do go to an office every day so need smart outfits but when at home, like you, we can relax in comfy indoorsy clothes that have never been anywhere near a Wardrobe Planning System!


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