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Sing Like a Pirate Day


I was conversing in real life with one Gentle Reader of this blog, a month or two ago, and one thing led to another, and the next thing I knew, we had agreed to each make a playlist approximately an hour in length (call it the length of an audio CD, just for the sake of whatnot) with a collection of… sea chanteys.

We completed our playlists and exchanged them. We are big-category people, happily, and neither collection was comprised entirely of your actual chantey worksong. There were Songs of the Sea—songs of travel and ballads and drinking songs and skiffle songs and modern songs that sound a bit like chanteys until you try to heave the line together and half of you fall over because it turns out the song is in fucking five-four time, and one bonus mining song just because. You know? And the performers, too—Gentle Readers should not be too surprised that I looked for some unconventional covers by such seafarers as Sting, Bruce, Courtney Love, Roger McGuinn, and the Muppets, although in the event I largely stayed away from the ska-core, punk and heavy metal versions.

What you’re wondering, Gentle Reader, is this: how much overlap was there? When two good friends make such playlists, 25 songs on one and 24 on t’other, from such a genre, did they wind up choosing all the same songs and the same performers, different songs and different performers, or what? There was no communication between us about the contents (other than a quick clarification about acceptable levels of profanity, since as we expected these are being played in automobiles with young-uns, and we don’t want to give them more opportunities to embarrass us) during the gathering process, nor have we shared our favorite chanteys in the past. Our general musical tastes overlap quite a bit, tho’ there are certainly areas where they don’t so much, what with people being different one to another, which is what makes the world interesting and fun. So within a fairly narrow subgenre, and one moreover in which a few recording artists really stand out, did we come up with the same discs? Or different ones entirely?

I was surprised to discover that there is very little overlap between the two playlists. There is only one track that made it onto both lists: the “All for Me Grog” with (probably) Jeff Warner leading his brother Gerret as well as Louis Killen and Fud Benson. It’s available from the Smithsonian Folkways store, by the way, and is an excellent version of an excellent song.

The nearest other overlap is that both playlists contain versions of “Barrett’s Privateers” featuring its composer Stan Rogers. My version was an absolutely terrific live one that turned out, once a person listened to it carefully, to begin halfway through the song. Tragically, that person who listened to it carefully enough was not YHB. Well, and there it is. Hmph.

There were five more chanteys that made it onto both playlists, though in very different versions. In two of the cases, they have different titles. One of those has different choruses on the two playlists, but “Haul Away, Joe” and “Haul Away for Rosie” are the same song, really, and count toward that overlap. The other differing title is called on one playlist “Away Rio” and on the other “Rio Grande”; neither has, I think, any greater claim to being the real title than the other, and the lyrics and melodies are, at least so far as Your Unobservant Blogger has noticed, the same. That’s less true for the two versions of “What Shall We Do With a Drunken Sailor”—the melodies are the same, yes, but they have chosen different lyrics from the many available. By the way, Wikipedia asserts that until Burl Ives recorded it with the earl-aye pronunciation, all the known versions have early pronounced the usual way. Can this be true?

We also each chose versions of “South Australia” and “Leave Her, Johnny, Leave Her”—I was tempted to go with the Lou Reed version of the latter, but didn’t. Lou Reed! Chantey! And yet… no.

And the other thirty-four tracks?

  1. “The Black Freighter”
  2. “Blood Red Roses”
  3. “Blow Ye Winds in the Morning”
  4. “Bully in the Alley”
  5. “Chicken on a Raft”
  6. “Come All You Bold Sailormen”
  7. “Eliza Lee”
  8. “Farewell Nancy”
  9. “Greenland Whale Fisheries”
  10. “The Handsome Cabin Boy”
  11. “Holy Ground”
  12. “I’se the B’y that Builds the Boat”
  13. “Irish Rover”
  14. “Lukey’s Boat”
  15. “Maggie May”
  16. “Maid of Amsterdam”
  17. “Married To a Mermaid”
  18. “The Mary Ellen Carter”
  19. “The Mermaid”
  20. “Mister Stormalong”
  21. “One for the Morning Glory”
  22. “Pay Me My Money Down”
  23. “Randy Dandy, O”
  24. “Reuben Ranzo”
  25. “Roll Alabama, Roll”
  26. “Rolling Down to Old Maui”
  27. “The Sailor’s Alphabet”
  28. “Santy Anno”
  29. “Sea Chanteys (Muppets)”
  30. “Shoals of Herring”
  31. “Spanish Ladies”
  32. “Stormy Weather Boys”
  33. “The Worst Pirate Song”
  34. “Ye Mariners All”

I was surprised, myself, that I didn’t choose songs from the American South Coasts, particularly from the African American tradition, because, hey, that’s practically blues, ain’t it? Only it turns out that (a) it’s not blues at all, no, and (2) it seems that most of those worksongs involve timing the long slow pull of fishing nets, and as such are long slow songs, and not as much fun as haul-yard songs.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,


Some I would add:

The Banks of Newfoundland
Black Ball Barque
Fiddlers' Green
Gray Funnel Line
New York Girls
Paddy Lay Back
The Quaker

For a while we were using sea chanties as bedtime songs, so we learned a bunch of extras then. And bonus: I still know the order of lighthouses in southern England!

I put together a playlist of sea-or-sailing songs a while back for a friend who was a sailor on a tall ship; it wasn't chanteys per se, but I figure close enough to be worth posting here. (I've also added a couple of items from my outtakes list.) Links where available (to free-listening samples of purchasable songs). In the case of the traditional ones here, I'm mostly not especially wedded to this particular version, it was just what I had (or what was available from iTunes). I like all of these, some of them quite a lot, but since I'm tossing a lot of them at you, I'm starring my very favorites.

* "Wave Over Wave," by Great Big Sea, from _Up_ (https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/wave-over-wave/id307810583?i=307810917)

* "Shoals of Herring," by the Clancy Brothers, from _The Boys Won't Leave the Girls Alone_ (https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/the-shoals-of-herring/id301069627?i=301069644)

"Hail and Farewell," by Cross Country, from _Hail and Farewell_

"Sailor's Prayer," by Wild Mountain Thyme, from _Of Moose & Men_ (https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/sailors-prayer/id4590097?i=4590064)

"Farewell to Carlingford," by Tommy Makem, from _The Tommy Makem Songbag_ (https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/farewell-to-carlingford/id190552065?i=190552099)

"Song for Gale," by Cindy Kallet, Ellen Epstein and Michael Cicone, from _Angels in Daring_ (https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/song-for-gale/id288598599?i=288598612)

* "Brown Gal," by Echo's Children, from _A Dancing World_ (http://echoschildren.bandcamp.com/track/brown-gal)

"All For Me Grog," by The Clancy Brothers With Tommy Makem, from _Irish Drinking Songs_ (https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/all-for-me-grog/id192795236?i=192795612)

"A-Roving," by The Revels, from _Blow, Ye Winds, In the Morning_ (https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/a-roving/id107364091?i=107362858)

"Blow, Ye Winds, in the Morning," by The Revels, from _Blow, Ye Winds, In the Morning_ (https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/blow-ye-winds-in-the-morning/id107364091?i=107363473)

"Cape Cod Girls," by The Revels, from _Blow, Ye Winds, In the Morning_ (https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/cape-cod-girls/id107364091?i=107363009)

"Away Rio," by The Revels, from _Blow, Ye Winds, In the Morning_ (https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/away-rio/id107364091?i=107363606)

"Mingulay," by The Revels, from _Blow, Ye Winds, In the Morning_ (https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/mingulay/id107364091?i=107363720)

"South Australia," by The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem, from _The Boys Won't Leave the Girls Alone_ (https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/south-australia/id159739182?i=159739580) (There's also a Pogues version, but this is the one I grew up with)

"We Rigged Our Ship," by Cindy Kallet, from _Working on Wings to Fly_

"Roll 'er Down the Bay," by Cindy Kallet, Ellen Epstein and Michael Cicone, from _Only Human_ (https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/roll-er-down-the-bay/id291034376?i=291034390)

* "The Silver Run," by John McCutcheon, from _What It's Like_ (https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/the-siler-run/id479976484?i=479976527)

"Ready for the Storm," by Cindy Kallet, Ellen Epstein and Michael Cicone, from _Angels in Daring_ (https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/ready-for-the-storm/id288598599?i=288598607)

* "Frobisher Bay," by by Cindy Kallet, Ellen Epstein and Michael Cicone, from _HeartWalk_ (https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/frobisher-bay/id289147449?i=289147816)

"The Mermaid," by The Clancy Brothers, from _Best of the Vanguard Years_ (https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/mermaid/id301069627?i=301069645)

"The Flowers of Bermuda," by Stan Rogers, from _Between the Breaks… Live!_ (https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/the-flowers-of-bermuda/id424302355?i=424302377)

"Sorrows of the Sailor," by David Francey, from _Torn Screen Door_ (https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/sorrows-of-the-sailor/id218367262?i=218367447)

"The Mhairi Bhan," by Cindy Kallet, Ellen Epstein and Michael Cicone, from _Only Human_ (https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/the-mhairi-bhan/id291034376?i=291034477)

"Rolling Down to Old Maui," by Stan Rogers, from _Between the Breaks… Live!_ (https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/rolling-down-to-old-maui/id424302355?i=424302378)

"Rolling Home," by Rise Up Singing teaching discs, from _Disc S: Good Times/Seas & Sailors_

"The Abby D," by John McCutcheon, from _Storied Ground_

* "Crossing the Water," by Bill Staines, from _Going to the West_ (https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/crossing-the-water/id59288729?i=59288605)

* "Safe in the Harbor," by Lee Murdock, from _Safe in the Harbor_ (https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/safe-in-the-harbor/id152533746?i=152533907)

(I of course would've included Barrett's Privateers, but my friend already knew it and you've already got it on your lists.)

Thanks! If any Gentle Readers don't have Jed on their aggregators, he's got the list with clicky links over at his place.


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