Maresca had co-written Dion's previous number-one hit, "Runaround Sue", but originally intended "The Wanderer" to be recorded by another group, Nino and the Ebb Tides. They passed on it in favor of another Maresca song, so Dion was given it as the B-side of his follow-up single, "The Majestic", a song which his record company had chosen for him. The record was turned over by radio DJs who preferred "The Wanderer", which duly entered the US charts in December 1961 and rose to number 2 in early 1962 (behind "Duke of Earl" by Gene Chandler). It also reached number 10 in the UK and number one in Australia.
At its roots, it's more than meets the eye. "The Wanderer" is black music filtered through an Italian neighborhood that comes out with an attitude. It's my perception of a lot of songs like "I'm A Man" by Bo Diddley or "Hoochie Coochie Man" by Muddy Waters. But you know, "The Wanderer" is really a sad song. A lot of guys don't understand that. Bruce Springsteen was the only guy who accurately expressed what that song was about. It's "I roam from town to town and go through life without a care, I'm as happy as a clown with my two fists of iron, but I'm going nowhere." In the Fifties, you didn't get that dark. It sounds like a lot of fun but it's about going nowhere.
However, on Maresca's original demo of the song, the lyrics were "with my two fists of iron and my bottle of beer", and the change to "with my two fists of iron but I'm going nowhere" in fact seems to have been at the record company's insistence.
In 2015, the Bethesda Softworks game, Fallout 4, was released, and advertised via a live-action clip of the protagonist and his dog walking through a wasteland, with "The Wanderer" playing in the background. This had been fully licensed by Dion's label. However, Dion filed a lawsuit claiming he was not informed it would be licensed, saying that it "...featured repeated homicides in a dark, dystopian landscape, where violence is glorified as sport. The killings and physical violence were not to protect innocent life, but instead were repugnant and morally indefensible images designed to appeal to young consumers."