In this song Dion is warning Flo, Jane and Mary to stay clear of The Wanderer. Dion told Rolling Stone magazine in 1976: "You say to a chick, 'Stay away from that guy. And she would say, 'What guy?' Chicks loved a rebel."
Dion recalled in Mojo magazine March 2008: "I was trying to do what they (his record label) wanted me to do. It was the times, you know? You could say 'The Wanderer' is my little white version of 'I'm A Man.' I saw Bo Diddley do 'I'm A Man' and he had this big belt buckle and I thought, I gotta get a song like that, so I did 'The Wanderer.' But if you listen to the lyric, it's really a sad song, and it actually turns in on itself, because it says 'I roam from town to town/I go through life without a care/I wave my two fists of iron/but I'm goin' nowhere.' You've got a thin veneer of what a man is. The guy's goin' to hell, but he's having a lot of fun doin' it."
Dion told Blueswax in 2009: "The other inspiration was a little bit of "Kansas City," because that song was popular at the time and I loved it. The big inspiration was this kid in the neighborhood... I think his name was Jackie Burns. He was a sailor and he had tattoos all over him, like he had 'Flo' on his left arm, 'Mary' on his right. Janie was the girl that he was going to be with the next night and then he put 'Rosie' on his chest and he had it covered up with a battleship. Every time he went out with a girl, he got a new tattoo. So the guy was worth a song!"
Among the notable covers are ones by The Beach Boys on Beach Boys Concert in 1964, Donna Summer in 1980 (#3 in the US, #48 in UK), Status Quo in 1984 (#7 in UK), and Eddie Rabbitt in 1988 (#1 in the Hot Country Singles chart).
"The Wanderer" featured in the films The Wanderers (1979) and Behind Enemy Lines (2001).
Another inspiration was Ruggero Leoncavallo's 1893 opera Pagliacci, which recounts the tragedy of a jealous husband in a commedia dell'arte troupe. Dion told Spinner in a 2012 interview: "It's a deeper song than people think. Those lyrics: 'Oh well, I roam from town to town/I go through life without a care/And I'm as happy as a clown/I with my two fists of iron and I'm going nowhere.' That's not just some throwaway song. There's a lot more going on than you might think. I used an image from Pagliacci. My grandfather took me to that opera as a kid and that inspired the song."