Some will know that “Wand’rin Star” comes from the musical Paint Your Wagon, while others are now confused as to why I’ve just made reference to The Simpsons.
Some of you are following up that last statement by asking, “What the hell does The Simpsons have to do with this?” while others are wishing I would stop writing in this manner and get on with it.
So let’s “origin story” this sucker.
Paint Your Wagon was written by Lerner and Loewe—the Broadway-dominating duo who later penned My Fair Lady and Camelot—and originally performed on stage in 1951. The show proved only mildly successful, closing after less than a year. Almost two decades later, after the massive popularity of such movie musicals as The Sound Of Music, producers cast about for untapped properties and decided to revive—and remix—Paint Your Wagon, significantly changing the story and the characters. It opened to universally negative reviews but eventually turned a tidy profit (as did the soundtrack).
In the movie, Lee Marvin plays a grizzled, drunken gold prospector, one who would find the very thing he’s searching for . . . if only he would prospect his own heart. During filming, while the rest of the cast drank what looked like alcohol for the saloon scenes, Marvin insisted on using the real McCoy and was, therefore, quite inebriated throughout the shoot, leading to many delays and frustrations (and a character portrayal steeped in veracity — and by veracity, I mean whiskey).
Though not a trained singer, Marvin—like his costar, Clint Eastwood—was quite adamant about doing his own vocals. (As a former Marine, wounded in battle during WWII, Marvin could be rather intimidating, and no one was prepared to argue with him.) It turned out for the best, however, since his voice perfectly suits the tunes, and his performance of “Wand’rin Star” brings out a truth in the song that a more polished singer never could, lending the character an added dimension of emotion and tenderness.
Americans only know the song if they’ve watched the movie, but in the UK “Wand’rin Star” was released as a single in early 1970 and went straight to #1, becoming one of the biggest hits of the year, and making Lee Marvin one of the most unlikely pop stars ever.
(I like the unlikely, and that’s why I’m writing about it.)
The B-side to “Wand’rin Star” is Clint Eastwood’s song “I Talk To The Trees.” I could put it here, but then again, I could also not put it here.
And what of The Simpsons? Well, viewers unfamiliar with the movie assumed the writers of The Simpsons made Paint Your Wagon up for Episode 11 of Season 9 because the premise seemed too bizarre to be true.