Four Strong Winds

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"Four Strong Winds" is a song written by Ian Tyson and recorded by Canadian folk duo Ian and Sylvia. Tyson has noted that he composed the song in about 20 minutes in his then manager Albert Grossman's New York apartment in 1961.[1] A significant composition of the early 1960s folk revival,[2] the song is a melancholy reflection on a failing romantic relationship. The singer expresses a desire for a possible reunion in a new place in the future ("You could meet me if I sent you down the fare") but acknowledges the likelihood that the relationship is over ("But our good times are all gone/And I'm bound for moving on ...").

The song has a clear Canadian context and subtext, including an explicit mention of the province Alberta as well as references to long, cold winters. In 2005, CBC Radio One listeners chose this song as the greatest Canadian song of all time on the program 50 Tracks: The Canadian Version.[3] It is considered the unofficial anthem of Alberta.[4][5]

Ian and Sylvia and original history[edit]

Ian & Sylvia's second Vanguard LP titled Four Strong Winds (stereo: VSD-2149; monaural: VRS-9133), released July 1963,[6] entered the Billboard Top LPs at number 150 the week of September 28, 1963.[7] The song was a hit in Canada, making the top ten of the single charts there in October 1963.[8]

In the United States, the song did not have the same initial chart success. Ian and Sylvia's single version (released on Vanguard 35021) entered the Cashbox magazine "Looking Ahead" chart in September 1963. It was then recorded by The Brothers Four in a version that "bubbled under" the Billboard Hot 100 in October 1963.[9] Subsequently, it was released by Ian and Sylvia on an album of the same name released in the U.S. in April 1964.[10] It was released in a country arrangement by Bobby Bare in 1964 and became a number three hit on the U.S. country singles chart in early 1965.

It also become a big hit in Norway in 1966 in a Norwegian version: "Mot ukjent sted" by The Vanguards and a big hit in Sweden in 1967 in a Swedish version, "Mot okänt land", recorded by Hep Stars.

Other versions[edit]

The song has been recorded by many artists, including: Hank Snow, The Seekers, Judy Collins, the Chad Mitchell Trio, The Browns, Bob Dylan, Marianne Faithfull, The Searchers, Bruce & Terry, John Denver, The Kingston Trio, Trini Lopez, Waylon Jennings, Bobby Bare, Chad and Jeremy, The Wolfe Tones, Blue Rodeo, Joan Baez, Vanity Fare, Glenn Yarborough, Harry Belafonte, Tony Rice, Johnny Cash, The Carter Family, Hep Stars, Sarah McLachlan, David Wiffen, Schooner Fare, The Pilgrims, and David Houston.

Neil Young recorded the song for his 1978 album Comes a Time, with harmony vocals from Nicolette Larson, and on The Band's The Last Waltz. It has received significant airplay over album oriented rock and classic rock radio stations and has become part of Young's concert repertoire, including featured performances during Young's yearly appearances at Farm Aid benefit concerts.[11][12]

Swedish artist Ulf Lundell recorded a translated cover called "Fyra vindar", for his 1985 album Den vassa eggen, which did not make the cut but was later included in a remastered edition in 1998. Another version of Swedish translation, "Mot okänt land", appears on the 2016 album Vid Grinden by Georga. Norwegian band The Vanguards released it as "Mot ukjent sted" in 1965.

Canadian legacy[edit]

The song is performed on the last night of the Edmonton Folk Music Festival each year.

Tyson and Gordon Lightfoot performed the song at the opening ceremonies of the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary.[13]

Ian and Sylvia sang the song together at the 50th anniversary of the Mariposa Folk Festival on July 11, 2010, in Orillia, Ontario. On April 5, 2013, a recording of the song by Ian Tyson was played during the funeral of former Alberta Premier Ralph Klein, as the honour guard brought his urn into the Jack Singer Concert Hall.[14]

The song is also referenced in A Prayer for Owen Meany, the 1989 novel by John Irving that deals with Americans living near or across the Canada–United States border. The narrator remembers how the main character, Owen, loved to hear that song as sung by the character of Hester.[15]


  1. ^ "Four Strong Winds / Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame Inductee". Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame. Retrieved 2019-07-28. Tyson went to his manager Albert Grossman’s New York City apartment and wrote Four Strong Winds ‒ one of the most influential songs of the folk era ‒ in twenty minutes flat.
  2. ^ Unterberger, Richie. "Ian & Sylvia: Biography". Allmusic. Retrieved 18 January 2014.
  3. ^, Ian and Sylvia
  4. ^ News; Canada (2016-09-21). "From Ode to Newfoundland to Ontar-i-ar-i-ar-i-o: Which provincial anthem is the best? | National Post". Retrieved 2020-05-09.
  5. ^ Retrieved 2020-05-15. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  6. ^ "Tracks on Four Strong Winds - Ian and Sylvia (July 1963) | SecondHandSongs".
  7. ^ "Billboard". 1963-09-28.
  8. ^ "Canadian Charts for October 1963". Fitz. Archived from the original on 2002-11-02.
  9. ^ Billboard. October 19, 1963. p. 18. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  10. ^ Ian and Sylvia Re-Releases and Discography
  11. ^ "Neil Young Setlist at Farm Aid 2004". Retrieved 2018-01-18.
  12. ^ "Neil Young Setlist at Farm Aid 2006". Retrieved 2018-01-18.
  13. ^ "OLYMPIC WINTER GAMES, THE XV 1988 CALGARY OLYMPICS". Retrieved 2019-07-30. This program presents a portion of coverage of the 1988 XV Olympic Winter Games from Calgary. Canadian singers Gordon Lightfoot and Ian Tyson perform "Alberta Bound" and 'Four Strong Winds.'
  14. ^ Wood, James (April 5, 2013). "Key details of today's memorial service for Klein; temporary road closures to affect downtown, Macleod Trail". Archived from the original on October 9, 2014.
  15. ^, A Prayer for Owen Meany

External links[edit]