Shifting Whispering Sands
Western Music
The Lone Writer  

Western Song: Shifting, Whispering Sands

Vivian Clark Gilbert and his wife Mary Margaret Hadler originally wrote the Western song and poem “Shifting Whispering Sands” in 1950. Billy Vaughn with Orchestra first recorded and released it as a single in 1955. It included a narration spoken by American voiceover and recording artist Ken Nordine. Additionally, Billy Vaughn released another version in 1962 under his album of the same name, utilizing the voices of the Ray Conniff Singers and spoken words of Ken Nordine.

Since its first release, many artists have recorded their cover/version of “Shifting Whispering Sands.” For example, country and pop singer Rusty Draper released the song as a single in 1955. Draper and Vaughn’s versions entered the charts, becoming hit recordings during their time. American country and music singer-songwriter Jim Reeves also recorded the song as part of his 1961 album, Talkin’ to Your Heart. On the other hand, the Western singing group named Sons of the Pioneers included their version on their 1965 album, The Sons of the Pioneers Sing Legends of the West

The song enters the Top 100 Western songs of all time after members of the Western Writers of America voted for it.

About the Song

“Shifting Whispering Sands” starts with an unnamed man narrating his search for gold in the West. His narration includes his journey into a deserted valley covered by “the shifting, whispering sands.” He wandered far and for long, using up his resources, but seemingly escaped somehow. Throughout the narration and the song itself, the speaker describes his experience in what appears to be a desolated environment.

The song, including the narration, lasts for almost six minutes. While others incorporate the entire narration, some recordings choose to omit this part.

Popular Recordings

Similar to many Western songs, several artists performed their version of the song. Among these include covers/versions recorded by:

  • Rusty Draper
  • Billy Vaughn and His Orchestra
  • The Johnson Family Singers
  • Eamonn Andrews with Ron Goodwin and His Orchestra and Chorus
  • Wink Martindale
  • Walter Brennan
  • Jim Reeves
  • Lorne Greene
  • Johnny Cash
  • Sons of the Pioneers

Listen to Shifting, Whispering Sands (Jim Reeves Version)

Shifting, Whispering Sands Lyrics

[Narration]

I discovered the valley of the shifting whispering sands
While prospecting for gold in one of our western states.
I saw the silent windmills, the crumbling water tanks
The bones of cattle and burrows, picked clean by buzzards
Bleached by the desert sun.

I stumbled over a crumbling buckboard nearly covered by the sands
And stopping to rest I heard a tinkling whispering sound
And suddenly realised that even though
The wind was quiet the sand did not lie still.

I seemed to be surrounded by a mystery so heavy
And oppressive I could scarcely breath
For days and weeks I wandered aimlessly in this valley
Seeking answers to the many questions
That raced through my fevered mind.

Where was everyone why the white bones, the dry wells
The barren valley where people must have lived and died
Finally I could go no farther my food and water gone
I sat down and buried my face in my hands and resting thus
I learnt the secret of the shifting whispering sands.

How I escaped from the valley I do not know
But now to pay my final debt for being spared
I must tell you what I learned out there on the desert
So many years ago.

[End of narration]

When the day is oddly quiet
And the breeze seems not to blow
One would think the sand was resting
But you'll find this is not so.

It is whisp'ring softly whisp'ring
As it slowly moves along
And for those who stop and listen
It will sing this mournful song.

Of sidewinders and the horntoads
Of the Thorny Chaparral
In the sunny days and moonlight nights
The coyote's lonely yell.

How the stars seem you could touch them
As you lay and gaze on high
At the Heavens where we're hoping
We'll be going when we die.

[Narration]

Yes, it always whispers to me
Of the days of long ago,
When the settlers and the miners
Fought the crafty Navajo,
How the cattle roamed the valley,
Happy people worked the land,
And now everything is covered
By the shifting, whispering sands.

How the miner left his buckboards,
Went to work his claims that day,
And the burro's broke their halters
When they thought he'd gone to stay.
Wandered far in search of water
On to old sidewinder's well
And there, their bones picked clean by buzzards
That were circling when they fell.

[End of narration]

How they found the ancient miner
Lying dead upon the sand
After months they could but wonder
If he died by human hand

So they dug his grave and laid him
On his back and crossed his hands
And his secret still is hidden
By the shifting, whispering sands.

[Narration]

This is what they whispered to me
On the quiet desert air
Of the people and the cattle
And the miner lying there.

If you want to learn their secret
Wander through this quiet land
And I'm sure you'll hear the story
Of the shifting, whispering sands.

[End of narration]

Of the shifting, whispering sands...

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