?The Windmills Of Your Mind? won the Oscar for Best Original Song in 1968, after featuring in the Steve McQueen film ?The Thomas Crown Affair?.
Noel Harrison recorded ?The Windmills Of Your Mind? for the movie and had a UK Top 10 hit with it. Another relatively well-known version was recorded by Dusty Springfield for her ?Dusty In Memphis? album and later released as a single which did moderately well in the US (Dusty?s version here? https://youtu.be/qKV9bK-CBXo ).
The music for ?The Windmills Of Your Mind? was written by Michel Legrand for a song that was originally called ?Les Moulins de mon coeur?(my slightly rusty French translates that as ?the windmills of my heart?). Eddy Marnay wrote the French lyrics.
There?s a lovely version of ?Les Moulins de mon coeur? by Natalie Dessay with the great Michel Legrand himself accompanying her on piano and helping out on vocal duty here?https://youtu.be/_jQEnXFskqQ
You?ll see what a superb piano player Michel Legrand is in this clip too, so it?s well worth a look even if you don?t speak French. I should warn you, though, that Michel Legrand is a much better composer and pianist than he is a singer. But it?s his own song, after all, so I figure he?s entitled to sing it any way he likes?
The English lyrics to ?The Windmills Of My Mind? have a broadly similar theme to the French lyrics of ?Les Moulins de mon coeur?, but they?re not a direct translation by any means.
Lyrics for the English version were written by Alan and Marilyn Bergman, a husband and wife duo who were responsible for the lyrics of some timeless classics from the 1960s and 70s, including ?The Way We Were? and ?You Don?t Bring Me Flowers? for Barbra Streisand (music by Marvin Hamlisch and Neil Diamond respectively).
If there?s one style Alan and Marilyn Bergman do exceptionally well it?s ?wistful?, and if you?ve been following along here for any length of time, you?ll know that ?wistful? is one of my very favourite song styles?in large part because it?s incredibly difficult to pull off convincingly.
Naturally, Alan and Marilyn Bergman lyrics made ?The Windmills Of Your Mind? into a wonderfully wistful song, especially with Noel Harrison?s treatment, although I like Dusty Springfield?s version too.
The way Noel Harrison half-speaks, half-sings the song conjures up a perfect picture of someone who?s deeply confused and uncertain about what he should do next, so he resorts to talking to himself, half under his breath, as he goes through the thoughts in his head and tries to impose some sense of order.
There?s clearly a lot going on in the singer?s mind?
Round, like a circle in a spiral, like a wheel within a wheelNever ending or beginning on an ever spinning reelLike a snowball down the mountain or a carnival balloonLike a carousel that?s turning, running rings around the moonLike a clock whose hands are sweeping past the minutes of its faceAnd the world is like an apple whirling silently in spaceLike the circles that you find in the windmills of your mind
?The Windmills Of Your Mind? is such a great song because both the music and the lyrics keep us very much on edge. The lyrics are not conventionally-structured and there?s nothing like a chorus or any form of conclusion.
They?re like a series of unanswered?and possibly unanswerable?questions running through the singer?s mind, more or less simultaneously. No sooner has one thought come into his mind, but another follows on almost immediately, leaving no space to collect himself or to solve the first problem before another comes along.
Michel Legrand?s music complements this state of confusion and uncertainty about as perfectly as it?s possible to do. As the lyrics swirl round and round in such a way that you never quite know where the song is going next, so does the music.
Even for the 1960s, when there was some pretty avant-garde stuff around, ?The Windmills Of Your Mind? was a song that stood out from everything else in the charts.
No conventional verse-chorus structure. No sense of closure from the lyrics or the melody. No sight of the storyteller?s usual beginning, middle and end. No hook, at least in the way we?d normally understand the term. No complete thoughts, just a series of half-completed ideas all jumbled together.
Not even any singing as such. The words Noel Harrison utters are more of a half-sung, half-spoken accompaniment to the soaring, luscious strings that take us through the song every bit as haltingly and confusingly as the thoughtful, contemplative, reflective lyrics.
All that would make ?The Windmills Of Your Mind? unconventional enough for most people, but Michele Legrand and Alan and Marilyn Bergman have another trick up their sleeve before they?re finished with us.
They write an ending that goes out with a whimper, not a bang. Most songs end on a high point, a joyous crescendo with a finality that sends you on your way, suitably uplifted, after three minutes in the company of one of popular music?s better songs.
But ?The Windmills Of Your Mind? was having none of that. The song feels like it ends without ever having reached a conclusion despite the extensive musing the singer has been through about whatever is going on inside his head.
The closest we get to some sort of conventional structure is that the third and fouth-last lines are the same as the first two lines. Ending a song on the same lines as the start of the song is a well-established lyrical device, which generally works well. The lyricist can take you on a journey and bring you back to where you started hopefully, by then, understanding the story from a new perspective.
By now, it won?t surprise you that, thanks to the genius of Alan and Marilyn Bergman, ?The Windmills Of Your Mind? doesn?t do that?it nearly does, but not quite.
That makes the ending of the song, when it comes, quite a surprise?don?t forget that by now, without a conventional song structure, we have no real idea even that the end might be coming.
We?ve lost all sense of time and space, which is quite a musical and lyrical triumph given that ?The Windmills Of Your Mind? has only been going for about two minutes by this point. Two minutes has passed according to the clock, but you feel like you?ve lived through half a lifetime in your head by the time the strings fade out.
You?ve no idea what caused this distortion of time and space, but I can tell you exactly what it was?the pairing of the incomparable Michel Legrand?s swirling music and Alan and Marilyn Bergman?s expertly-crafted lyrics.
I say the song comes to a halt when we?re least expecting it ? that?s not quite true. It actually ends on another half-question that feels like the start of another swirling round of questions, conjecture and self-doubt like the two minutes we?ve already been through to get to that point.
It?s the end of one song, but it?s almost like the start of another at the same time?another set of questions that don?t get answered either, but the twist is that those questions never even get asked in the first place.
?The Windmills Of Your Mind? just trails off and lets our imaginations take over. Rather, the song places us in a small boat on the shore of a beautiful lake, full of fresh, still water, on a warm and sunny day and just gently pushes us away from the shore to drift wherever our thoughts might take us, with no expectations that we?ll be back any time soon?
Like a circle in a spiral, like a wheel within a wheelNever ending or beginning on an ever spinning reelAs the images unwind, like the circles that you findIn the windmills of your mind
?The Windmills Of Your Mind? is a truly great song, and a well-deserved Oscar-winner?
Normally when the Oscars Committee give out their Best Original Song award, what that means is the song hasn?t been used anywhere else before it appeared in the movie.
When they gave ?The Windmills Of Your Mind? the Best Original Song Oscar, what the Oscars Committee meant was they?d discovered a song of almost unparalleled originality in music and lyrics, the like of which we don?t see very often in the movies, or anywhere else for that matter.
?The Windmills Of Your Mind? is a song that breaks all the rules, but what it creates in their place is one of the most memorable and distinctive songs of the 20th Century.
At the time of writing, Alan and Marilyn Bergman are still with us, but sadly, earlier today, news of Michel Legrand?s passing hit the newswires.
Perhaps Michel Legrand wasn?t the most famous 20th Century composer in the minds of the general public, but anyone who truly appreciated the music they listened to knew they were in the presence of genius when they heard a Michel Legrand song.
And, irrespective of genre, songs don?t come much better than ?The Windmills Of Your Mind?. So thank you for sharing your music with us, Michel Legrand. You?ve made the world a better place for your part in our musical memories. May you rest in peace.
Noel Harrison?s version of ?The Windmills Of Your Mind? is below. The video is from a live performance, which is interesting in its own right, but for the original, more atmospheric version of this most wistful of songs, I?d recommend the Spotify link for your listening pleasure?
The video is below, but if you prefer you can listen to the track on Spotify here? https://open.spotify.com/track/5HpgFfhUdGzkBLM3255Fkz
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