"The Wanderer" is the title track to Donna Summer's eighth album, her first after leaving Casablanca Records for Geffen. The song finds her in character as a woman who can't be pinned down; everyday life is a bore, so she hits the road in pursuit of adventure.
In real life, Summer was starting a new family and struggling to balance domestic life with her career. Her daughter Mimi was born in 1973 to her first husband, Helmuth Sommer. In 1977, she married the musician Bruce Sudano, and in 1981 they had their first child together, a daughter named Brooklyn. She was dedicated to her family and often spoke about the challenges that came with being away from them for long periods. Some of Summer's songs reflect her true self, but mostly she wrote from the perspective of others, which is the case in this song about a woman filled with wanderlust.
Disco was on the wane when summer released this song in 1980. Her producers, Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte, updated her sound, ditching the boogie basslines and strings in favor of synthesizers. It worked: "The Wanderer" was a big hit, climbing to #3 in America. The song didn't age well though, and unlike her disco hits that stuck around for decades, it was quickly forgotten once it fell off the charts.
A video was made for this song with scenes of Summer hitchhiking intercut with shots of her singing the song while wearing enormous headphones. MTV went on the air a year later, and with few videos to choose from, played many that were are year or two old "The Wanderer" wasn't one of them. Summer had to wait until 1983 to get airplay on MTV; her video for "She Works Hard For The Money
" went into heavy rotation soon after Michael Jackson broke the color barrier with "Billie Jean
Summer wrote this song with her producer, Giorgio Moroder. They were a hit-making creative team, with Summer writing the lyrics and Moroder composing the music.
Summer didn't do much Wandering to promote the album: she was embroiled in a lawsuit with her former label, Casablanca, and was busy birthing children (Brooklyn in 1981, Amanda in 1982). With little publicity to push it, the album sold about 500,000 in America, a substantial drop from her previous album, Bad Girls, which sold 3 million.
The song shares a title with a 1961 hit by Dion
, but that song is about how he can't stick with just one girl.
There are a few Alice In Wonderland references in the lyric, giving the song a more abstract feel:
Alice went to wonderland
But I stayed home instead
She climbed right through the mirror
Oh that really blew my mind