Playlist: Windy Songs

Who has seen the wind?/Neither I nor you,” wrote Christina Rossetti in her well-loved poem. Because the wind is invisible and evanescent, it has inspired generations of poets — and songwriters. As gusts kick up in spring and brightly colored kites speckle the sky, we turn our attention to tunes inspired by the breeze.

“The Wind,” Laura Nyro & Labelle //

This haunting number was originally recorded in 1954 by Detroit-based R&B group Nolan Strong and the Diablos, with Strong’s ethereal tenor soaring above an underpinning of basement-level basses and baritones. Later recorded by The Jesters in a more doo-wop-like version, it resurfaced in the ’70s with Laura Nyro’s wispy, slow version. Her plaintive soprano is offset by the velvety voices of Patti Labelle, Sarah Dash, and Nona Hendryx, who made up the backup trio Labelle.

“Catch the Wind,” Donovan //

The Scottish troubadour wrote this 1965 song about a woman he pined for, “but I may as well try and catch the wind,” he lamented. Donovan called it “a song of unrequited love,” and the gentle lyrics underscore that. One can sense that he was under the influence of Bob Dylan, but this song has a tender vulnerability that Dylan often lacked.

“Cast Your Fate to the Wind,” George Winston //

This lovely number written by jazz pianist Vince Guaraldi is very much like the wind: shifting, quizzical, and fleeting. Part of its strange beauty is that it’s hard to pin down harmonically. Guaraldi released his version in ’62, but Sounds Orchestral scored a bigger hit with it three years later. In his version, pianist Winston is keenly aware of the work’s jazz contours.

“Song of the Wind,” Santana //

After a couple of big hits, the band seemed to make a deliberate effort to try something different on their fourth album. Jazz/rock, jazz fusion, call it what you like, but when the Caravanserai album came out in 1972, music fans from several camps pricked up their ears. Guitarists Carlos Santana and Neal Schon have a wild time trading riffs in this free-flowing number. Electric guitars can sound screechy in the stratosphere, but Santana makes his top notes sound sweet.

“Whenever Winds Blow,” Mabel Mercer //

George Cory and Douglass Cross earned their niche in the pop-music pantheon as the creators of “I Left My Heart in San Francisco.” But a lot of their other works remain obscure.

Mercer included this mystical tune on her 1958 album, Once in a Blue Moon. The fragile melody is arranged for strings and woodwinds and benefits from Mercer’s famous clarion diction in such exquisite lines as: But where my love goes, the winds alone know/Except at evening when stars find their halo.

“The Winds That Blow,” Duncan Sheik //

The melancholy nature of this song from the 2001 album Phantom Moon is established in the opening lyrics: All the shadows blue, in the winter moon/The stars within the darkness/They remember you, and they sorrow too/With all the winds that blow. If the lyrics sound poetic, there’s good reason: Sheik collaborated on the CD with poet Steven Sater. The two also joined forces on the Broadway hit Spring Awakening. Sheik scored a hit in 1996 with “Barely Breathing,” but his oeuvre is filled with other treasures worth exploring.

“Summer Wind,” Frank Sinatra //

This tune’s gently swinging, major-key mode is deceptive, because its sentiment is rueful. Written by Henry Mayer and lyricist Johnny Mercer in 1965, it became one of Sinatra’s signature hits, and he imbues these lines with a matter-of-fact regret: Like painted kites, those days and nights, they went flying by/The world was new beneath the blue umbrella sky/Then softer than a piper man, one day it called to you/I lost you, I lost you to the summer wind.