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Spinning Wheel by Blood, Sweat & Tears

Album: Blood, Sweat & TearsReleased: 1969Charted:
2
  • "Spinning Wheel" was written by vocalist David Clayton-Thomas, arranged by saxophonist Fred Lipsius, and produced by James William Guercio. In our 2015 interview with Clayton-Thomas, he explained: "I came up with the song just picking it away on a guitar when I found some chord changes I liked. As for the lyrics, everybody was getting so serious about 'The Revolution' and everything else in those days. It was just kind of a way to say, 'Lighten up people. Take it easy. It's all going to come full circle.' And it did. Ten years later, we went from 'The Revolution' to Ronald Reagan."
  • The "Spinning Wheel" is an intriguing metaphor for the cycles of events we go through in life. There is also carousel imagery in the song, as David Clayton-Thomas references the carousel horses in the line, "Ride the painted pony."

    This was inspired by a Joni Mitchell song called "The Circle Game," where Mitchell sings about seasonal cycles and brings in the carousel with the line, "The painted ponies go up and down."

    This marked the first instance of a Joni Mitchell influence in a popular song. Like Clayton-Thomas, Mitchell is from Canada, and he heard her work long before most. Mitchell didn't release her first album until 1968, but in the years prior she developed a reputation as an insightful songwriter and performer, and Clayton-Thomas was a big fan. Mitchell didn't release her version of "The Circle Game" until 1970, but Buffy Sainte-Marie recorded it in 1967 and Tom Rush in 1968.
  • Blood, Sweat & Tears was formed in 1967 by Al Kooper after leaving the group Blues Project. Four of their eight members played horns, which defined their sound. Their 1968 album Child Is Father to the Man managed just modest sales, and Kooper left soon after. He was replaced by David Clayton-Thomas, who brought "Spinning Wheel" to the group and became their lead vocalist. With Clayton-Thomas up front, BS&T became one of the biggest acts of the late '60s and early '70s, with "Spinning Wheel" their calling card.

    The group had trouble keeping momentum because they burned out on the road, since that was the only way most of their members could make a living. Clayton-Thomas left in 1972 but returned in 1975. The band stopped recording in 1980, but continued as a live act with various iterations into the '10s.
  • This song was huge in the summer of 1969, which made Blood, Sweat & Tears a big draw for Woodstock. They were the second-highest paid act at the festival (next to Jimi Hendrix), although in the end it didn't matter, since they weren't paid. "Nobody was paying for tickets," David Clayton-Thomas told us. "There was no money. Jimi got $17,500. We got $15,000. We were the two highest-paid acts. But we didn't get paid. Nobody got paid."

    Clayton Thomas adds that they were not included in the Woodstock film because they would have been owed a percentage of the box office. "In a way it's a shame, because we were kind of cut out of history," he said.
  • There are many wild interpretations of this song, mostly having to do with religion. According to Clayton-Thomas, he's heard from many people who believe the song is about God, and others who think it's about the Devil. He says that both of these interpretations are way off.
  • This was nominated for three Grammys in 1970, and won for Best Instrumental Arrangement. It was nominated for Record of the Year and Song of the Year. The album itself won the Grammy for Album of the Year in 1970.
  • On the album, this song runs 4:08 and ends with a rave-up where the band plays a rendition of the Austrian folk song "Oh du lieber Augustin," ending with drummer Bobby Colomby saying, "That wasn't too good," and some laughter. This wasn't planned - the band just did it spontaneously and caught it on tape.

    For the single release, this wacky ending was edited out and the song cut down to 2:39.
  • Among the many artists to cover this song are Shirley Bassey, Peggy Lee, Nancy Wilson and Maynard Ferguson. James Brown did an instrumental version that made #90 US in 1971.
  • Milli Vanilli incorporated part of this song into their 1990 hit "All Or Nothing." Not surprisingly for a group that faked their vocalists, they didn't clear the interpolation. David Clayton-Thomas heard about it from a friend whose 8-year-old son heard the Milli Vanilli song on the radio and thought it was a version of "Spinning Wheel." Clayton-Thomas took legal action and is now listed as a composer on the song.
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Comments: 9

When I was 17...back in 1977, I had a job as an enumerator before some kind of election. David Clayton Thomas was on my route. Nasty piece of work. If you didn't want to be interrupted when you were playing, recording or rehearsing...put a note on the door a-hole. I was just doing my job.Kramo - Toronto, Canada
On October 2nd 1969, Blood, Sweat, & Tears performed "Spinning Wheel" on the ABC-TV program 'This Is Tom Jones"...
Just under six weeks earlier on August 23rd it was at #25 on Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart, and that was also its last day on the chart...
And on June 29th it had peaked at #2 {for 3 weeks}; its first week at #2, the #1 record was "Love Theme from Romeo and Juliet" by Henry Mancini and for 2nd and 3rd week it was "In the Year 2525 (Exordium and Terminus)" by Zager and Evans that was in the top spot...
Ten days later on October 12th their next release, "And When I Die", would enter the Top 100, and it also peaked at #2 on the Top 100.
Barry - Sauquoit, Ny
On April 6th 1969, Peggy Lee performed "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman" and "Spinning Wheel" on the CBS-TV program 'The Ed Sullivan Show'
Both songs were tracks from her 1969 album 'A Natural Woman'...
Later in 1969 on June 29th Blood, Sweat, & Tears would peak at #2 {for 3 weeks} with their original version of "Spinning Wheel".
Barry - Sauquoit, Ny
On February 28th 1971, James Brown's instrumental covered version of "Spinning Wheel" entered Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart at position #90; the following week it was still at #90 and that was its last week on the chart...
His version reached #78 on the United Kingdom's Singles chart...
The 'Godfather of Soul' passed away on Christmas Day of 2006 at the age of 73...
May he R.I.P.
Barry - Sauquoit, Ny
On January 18th 1970, Buddy Greco performed "Spinning Wheel", in a medley with "Aquarius" and "Smiling Faces", on the CBS-TV program 'The Ed Sullivan Show'...
In 1962 he released the original version of "Mr. Lonely", it peaked at #64, and two years later in 1964 Bobby Vinton took his covered version to #1 on the Top 100...
Mr. Greco, born Armando Greco, celebrated his 87th birthday five months ago on August 14th (2013).
Barry - Sauquoit, Ny
BTW, BS&T's name has my vote for one of the best band names of all time. I think one of the worst is... The Beatles.Brian - Desmoines, Ia
When this first came out I was in Jr. high and thought it was about cars, especially a nice Boss 302. Having listened to it more and grown up and knowing what its like to feed a car with no money, I realize it something else entirely: It's about life as a carnie!Brian - Desmoines, Ia
I saw BS&T when I was in college. They were terrific live, especially Spinning Wheel!Pat - Albuquerque, Nm
Blood, Sweat, & Tears' first three releases all peaked at No. 2; YOU'VE MADE ME SO VERY HAPPY for three weeks, then SPINNING WHEEL for also three weeks, finally AND WHEN I DIE for one week.. {All three records also spent 13 weeks in the Top 100}Barry - Sauquoit, Ny
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