An Unlikely Chart Topper: Lee Marvin and “Wand’rin’ Star”

I really enjoyed my return to the world of blogging last weekend after a month’s break. I was also pleasantly surprised that my featured song by Edison Lighthouse proved to be such a favourite with so many of you, as I hadn’t expected that at all. I have ended up returning to the UK Singles Chart of 1970 for these first two posts of the new decade, and both songs have been really enjoyable to research and write about. I thought it might be an idea for this calendar year to revisit that chart once a month (a kind of 50-year-retrospective) but you know what, I can’t wait another month to dip into the archives again because the March 1970 No. 1 single was Wand’rin’ Star by Lee Marvin.

I’ve often mentioned around here that the songs hitting the top spot are not always representative of what we were listening to at the time at all – Oh no, it’s often a song that became a hit because of its association with a prime time television show or blockbuster movie. All those people who would never normally go out and buy records suddenly do so, and it invariably skews the chart keeping what are now thought of as pop classics, off the top spot.

Wand’rin’ Star by Lee Marvin:

But, I really do have a soft spot for this song. It was from the film Paint Your Wagon released in 1969 which was one of only two films I went to see at the cinema with my parents (the other being The Sound of Music). Living nearly 30 miles away from the nearest cinema it wasn’t something we ever did as a family, but I think we were on holiday at the time in the south of Scotland, and it being July it was probably wet, so the decision must have been made to hole up for the afternoon watching a film we were all familiar with because of Mr Marvin’s regular appearances on TOTP. I have featured a few really deep voices around here over the years (Barry White, Johnny Cash…. ) but surely Lee must have had the deepest voice of all. It was described, by co-star Jean Seberg, as “like rain gurgling down a rusty pipe” and has also been described as “the first 33⅓ recorded at 45” – Seems about right.

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Paint Your Wagon was a Western, but also a Musical, and it wasn’t really a box-office success, never recouping its cost of production and marketing. Just not the kind of thing people wanted to go and see in 1970 it seems. Musicals of this sort had gone out of fashion and as this Simpson’s clip shows, it had something of a split personality, neither working for rootin’, tootin’, shootin’ western lovers, or lovers of the more sedate musical.

I don’t think Lee ever released any more records but continued to work as an actor right up until his death in 1987. He starred in many classic movies such as The Dirty Dozen and Cat Ballou, winning the 1965 Best Actor Oscar for his role in that film.

Lee_marvin_1971
Lee Marvin, 1924-1987

I do remember my mum being a bit concerned, after leaving the cinema, that there had been things in Paint Your Wagon I wouldn’t understand. Yes, there was a fair bit of bodice-ripping and all the excitement of kidnapping “six French tarts” in order to provide the miners with female companionship (There’s a Coach Comin’ In), but even at age ten I wasn’t totally green, just mortified at having to sit beside my parents whilst watching such fodder. Funny, but looking back, the only two films watched in a cinema with my family were about a nun called Maria, and a wind called Maria (albeit pronounced differently) – Cue one last link to a song from the film!

Until next time….

Wand’rin’ Star Lyrics
(Song by Frederick Loewe/Alan Jay Lerner)

I was born under a wanderin’ star.
I was born under a wanderin’ star.

Wheels are made for rollin’, mules are made to pack.
I’ve never seen a site that didn’t look better lookin’ back.

I was born under a wanderin’ star.

Mud can make you prisoner and the plains can bake you dry.
Snow can burn your eyes but only people make you cry.
Home is made for comin’ from, for dreams of goin’ to.
Which with any luck will never come true.

I was born under a wanderin’ star.
I was born under a wanderin’ star.

Do I know where hell is, hell is in hell-o.
Heaven is good-bye forever it’s time for me to go.

I was born under a wanderin’ star, a wanderin’, wanderin’ star.

Mud can make you prisoner and the plains can bake you dry.
Snow can burn your eyes but only people make you cry.
Home is made for comin’ from, for dreams of goin’ to.
Which with any luck will never come true.

I was born under a wanderin’ star.
I was born under a wanderin’ star.

When I get to heaven tie me to a tree.
Or I’ll begin to roam and soon you’ll know where I will be.

I was born under a wanderin’ star.
A wanderin’, wanderin’ star.

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. 50 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 that by writing this blog, I might find the answer to that question.

14 thoughts on “An Unlikely Chart Topper: Lee Marvin and “Wand’rin’ Star””

    1. They certainly were although it seems by 1970 cinema-goers were no longer so infatuated with “the musical”. It seems with the passage of time, there is a new appreciation for films such as these.

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  1. For some reason I’ve never seen Paint Your Wagon! But now I know I must. This scene was strangely moving; love the realism of oxen slogging through the mud and the general crappiness of everyone’s possessions. Ugh, what a time to live. Also, now I know the origins of Tom Waits’ style!

    1. Welcome to the blog Julia and yes, you must! All that mud though, what an awful place to live in, BUT the lure of gold brought them all in. As for Mr Waits, you could be right – Funnily enough I have another musical I want to write about soon that he appeared in. Watch this space as they say.

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  2. I only caught up with Paint Your Wagon years later on the TV, but The Sound of Music was one of Dad’s favourite films, so I saw it many times at the cinema, on TV and, when I eventually bought him a copy, on VHS video. No doubt had Dad lived long enough, he would’ve picked up a copy on DVD too. So I may not have seen the full film at the cinema, but I do clearly remember that clip of Lee Marvin being played out on TOTP at the time.

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    1. Funnily enough my dad loved musicals too and I often write about the films we watched together. This stereotype has arisen whereby men aren’t supposed to like musicals and women are not supposed to like action movies. At the end of the day it’s all about the quality and The Sound Of Music certainly was a quality film. I have always loved Paint Your Wagon too but it seems it was a victim of bad timing whereby the musical had gone out of fashion. I checked, and Lee was at the No. 1 spot in the UK for 3 weeks but at the time it seemed longer! Quite a memorable little film clip that and a very memorable voice.

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    1. Just checked that out and of course you are correct – I had that album back in the day but obviously didn’t remember the lyrics.

      When daylight breaks, I’ll be down that road
      Rockman ‘an me, with a lighter load
      We’ll stop for lunch, in some taco bar
      Lee Marvin on the jukebox, ‘Wanderin Star’

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    1. Clint wasn’t really a singer was he but my goodness, at that stage in his career he certainly was a bit of an Adonis. He could talk to trees for as long as he wants as far as I’m concerned.

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  3. March 1970 – blimey, so long ago, makes my heart stop for a moment when I realise that and yet still have vivid memories of certain aspects of it and one of those was definitely the repeat viewings of this on ToTP. It just seemed to be on for weeks and weeks (or perhaps that’s just because a week is a long time when you’re six, yet now it’s only about two minutes, isn’t it?)
    I guess I should include Lee with our other favourite deep-voiced men such as Lee Hazlewood (what is it about the name Lee?) but he’s not such an obvious choice! Perhaps because at the time I found him frankly rather scary/creepy-looking.
    Lovely memories as ever, Alyson. I don’t remember ever seeing Paint Your Wagon, but certainly recall that thing about going to the cinema with your parents and being a little mortified at some of the more risqué references – in my case it was a Carry On film!

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    1. Yes, 50 years ago, when we were very young, a week went on for ever and although Lee was only at the top spot for 3 weeks it did seem like months. How could I have forgotten about the other Lee when I mentioned deep-voiced singers? (And of course Jez too, so we’re told!)

      The Carry On films were so popular weren’t they but just so non-PC nowadays. I wonder which one you went to see with your parents. I always had a soft spot for Carry On Up The Khyber when they always had to stop for “Tiffin”.

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  4. The lyrics to this song are in my opinion, some of the best ever written. Having a chorus is another fine touch and the tune is so memorable. The words just make sense. They tell a story about a man forever wandering: “Hell is in hello”, “only people make you cry”. So many of these lyricists were wordsmiths: Cole Porter, Ira Gershwin, Sammy Cahn, Oscar Hammerstein (particularly Old Man River).

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    1. Hi Peter – Thanks for dropping by. Great lyrics for the character in the film, but I’m very much a “happy to stay put in the same place” kinda person so wouldn’t work for me at all! But yes, “only people make you cry” – So true. I do love the songs written by the people you mention however (and the films they were often in) so really need to revisit some more of them in this blog. Old Man River gets me sobbing every time.

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