Posted by: shrewspeaks | July 18, 2008

Sailing Songs with Hard Tack (Street Cred)

Okay, so if “Yacht Rock” is a genre; a sound if you will.  Sailing Songs with Hard Tack (my own classification name) are songs with real ties to boating, oral history and/or sea chanties.  These songs come from any style of music and usually tell fantastic stories.  In the tradition of sea chanties, which were designed to capture the mind while the sailors worked the ship; Sailing Songs with Hard Tack break through the clutter of what is happening and demand attention.

The quintessential Sailing Song with Hard Tack (SSwHT)…

Whether you like him or loathe him, I bet you know at the very least the chorus of the modern boating national anthem.  Buffett is a master of the story lyric and his boating theme songs are rich and often more emotional then the blender tune.

A Pirate Looks at 40 is a a miracle of self awareness and and yearning.  The opening stanzas capture the universal draw that most boating types feel for the sea.   The lazy lingering melody rock the listener into the same lazy comfortable zone as the main protagonist of the song.  It truly is a brilliant song.

Son Of A Son Of A Sailor, plays with themes of freedom through the adventure and hard work of sailing.  Exotic sites of far off lands make the hard work mentioned in the chorus worth the toil.  This tune really follows the tenants of sea chanties closely yet within it’s structure you see youth and generations of tradition all at the same time.

Lastly, Sea Chanties traditionally have a call and response format.  The Chanter calls and the sailors respond.  FINS, follows this format closely and it is a blast when you are sitting in an arena and everyone is to the left and to the right.

Jimmy Buffett isn’t the only modern musician who has created SSwHT.  Although, this duo is included mostly in the Yacht Rock group, Loggins and Messina’s Vahevala is too rocking and recorded too soon to be labeled as such.

Switching Gears…The Beach Boys on Pet Sounds offered the ironic sailing song with Sloop John B.  The original song; the Wreck of the Sloop John B follows the tradition of telling tales of the demise of mighty vessels.

Wilson added the harmonic complexity to the melody that removes the traditional folk three chord structure.  In addition, Wilson added the voyagers perspective with modern lingo “I feel so broke up” & “this is the worst trip I’ve ever been on.”

Tom Waits can be an acquired taste.  His Shiver Me Timbers though is worth leaving your perceptions by the wayside.  It is full of angst and longing in a true folkloric fashion.

Randy Newman hardly needs an introduction. Sail Away is a searing take on american salesmanship. The songs protagonist is a salesman selling the dream of America to would be slaves on the shores of Africa.  Newman, is blunt with his lyrics but he calls ’em like he sees ’em because he loves this country.

The Irish punk band, The Pogues offers a fairly traditional take on Navigator.

Lastly, CSN’s Southern Cross, plays with the imagery of finding your way by the stars.  Lost love, navigation and hope are front and center in this sweet sweet melody.

There are many many more songs, such as Toots and the Maytals “Sailing On”, or Louis Prima’s “BarnacleBill” that I wish I could have included here, but time and youtube prevent me.

Can you provide any that I have not named?

ETA: KARMARDAV you are so right.  Gordon Lightfoot’s “Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” Is the essence of a Sailing Song with Hard Tack!



  1. […] on over to SGDT site for more on Sailing and Hard […]

  2. One from my childhood: Gordon Lightfoot’s “Edmund Fitzgerald”

  3. (continued) I know its actually about a wreck, but that’s a boating song that’s haunted me since I was kid.

  4. I think this one fits the bill:

    The Downeaster Alexa

  5. OH Yes Jenfera it does!!! Good Call.

  6. I never really paid much attention to sailing songs. Maybe because it doesn’t take much to make me seasick?

    So all I could come up right now is this. Does that count?

  7. LOL, hut!

  8. Here is my contribution…the perfect sailing song for the North Atlantic.

    Terra Nova — James Taylor

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