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.
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.
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...