By Madeline Bocaro ©
© Madeline Bocaro, 2020. No part of this site may be reproduced in whole or in part in any manner without permission of the copyright owner.
As we merrily “row, row, row” our boats gently down the stream,
remember – life is but a dream.
Let’s take a ride on Hokusai’s Great Wave!
Row, Row, Row your boat!
Let’s start with this cool punk version of ‘Popeye the Sailor’ by Face to Face from the 1995 compilation album Saturday Morning Cartoons Greatest Hits. It starts of slow, then it really packs a punch! The song originated in 1934 as the theme song of the popular American cartoon show.
Sing along with Popeye and the bouncing ball: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i8O0PwGSoO0
SHIPS IN THE NIGHT
Harry Belafonte shouts ‘Day-O in ‘Banana Boat Song’ in this Calypso tune from 1956 (a phrase that Freddie Mercury successfully applied to rousing the crowds in Queen’s stadium performances). The singer of the traditional Jamaican folk song yearns to go home after his work of stacking and counting bananas on the boat is done. I wonder if he’s related to the guy on the PT boat in the Ramones’ song ‘Havana Affair’ who “used to make a living man, picking the banana” and is now a guide for the CIA.
‘(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay’ was soul singer Otis Redding’s lonely tune featuring a great whistling solo at the fadeout! Otis would never come to know the huge success of his song. It was written shortly before his death in a plane crash on December 10, 1967 and posthumously released on Stax Records. The song became a widely covered classic – No. 1 in the USA.
Official music video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rTVjnBo96Ug
‘The Crystal Ship’ is a gorgeous, eerily dreamy goodbye to a lover written by Jim Morrison of The Doors. It’s from their 1967 debut album. It was also on the B-side of ‘Light My Fire’. Morrison wrote the song on LSD, not on crystal meth as some suspected. This ship takes us to a place beyond the sea.
‘Slowboat’ was on Sparks’ debut self-titled album (when they were known as Halfnelson). This beautiful song sung by Russell Mael in his gorgeous voice should have been a single, but they opted for ‘Wonder Girl’ instead (which I love as well).
See my story about Sparks’ debut album
Another nautical outing by Sparks is ‘Bon Voyage’ from their 1974 album Propaganda. This song is sung from the viewpoint of pairs of animals left behind when Noah’s ark departs – voiced beautifully by Russell Mael. The animals contemplate disguises, imitation and other ways to sneak aboard the ark within the orchestrated operatic tune. Russell performs a gruff sea shanty style call-and-response with himself, ‘Glad that we could know you / I wish that we could join you’.
‘Rock the Boat’ by The Hues Corporation was an early Disco hit in 1974. See them performing the song here, dressed hues of yellow.
British Pop band Sailor had a hit in 1976 with the song ‘Glass of Champagne’ from their album Trouble. This melodic tune reminds me of Sparks.
‘Come Sail Away’ by Styx starts of beautifully as a melodic ballad with some piano trills, then it becomes an epic rocker. This was in 1977 at the height of the Punk rock craze in New York and London – so far away from what was happening in stadium prog rock. They lost me at the lengthy synth solo.
‘Red Sails’ appears on Bowie’s 1978 travelogue, Lodger. He’s having some fun with his pal Brian Eno. This song is very heavily influenced by Harmonia’s track Monza (Rauf Und Runter) especially after the 1:30 mark. Listen below…
Listen: Harmonia – Monza (Rauf Und Runter):
See my story about the 2018 Lodger remixes
‘Ships’ is a ballad by former Mott The Hoople singer Ian Hunter about his relationship with his father. It’s on his 1979 album You’re Never Alone with a Schizophrenic. Barry Manilow had a Top 10 hit with the song that same year.
‘Toyboat’ is an enchanting, magical and comforting lullaby sung by Yoko Ono in a delicate, high pitched voice in childlike wonderment. It resides somewhere between a prayer and a dream. From her 1981 album Season of Glass.
Read my full story about the album Season Of Glass:
World Party was a side project, started in 1986 by the band’s sole member Karl Wallinger (formerly of The Waterboys). ‘Ship of Fools’ was a hit for him in 1987.
‘Sail Away’ is also known a ‘Orinoco Flow’ – named after the studio where it was recorded). It appears on Enya’s second album released in 1988 called Watermark. This beautiful ‘new age’ tune featuring a Roland synth was a huge worldwide hit.
Mazzy Star’s version of ‘I’m Sailin’ appears on their May 1990 debut album She Hangs Brightly. The band have been categorized as Dream Pop due to Hope Sandoval’s gorgeously haunting vocal style. This is a wonderful song for sailing on a quiet sea at night. It was written by Minnie Douglas a.k.a. Memphis Minnie (1897-1973) who recorded a couple hundred songs in the course of 30 years as a country blues guitarist/songwriter. Minnie’s songs have also been covered by Led Zeppelin, Donovan and Jefferson Airplane.
Mazzy Star “I’m Sailin’” Listen: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_VPLMkb4U7g
ROLLIN’ ON A RIVER
‘Proud Mary’ was written by Creedence Clearwater Revival’s John Fogerty. It was a single from their album Born on the Bayou in 1969. The steamboat rolled on a river until Ike & Tina Turner’s red hot (‘nice and easy/nice and rough’) version ROCKED it! Ike & Tina’s version was released as a single in 1971. All we can think of now is Tina’ gold fringed miniskirt as she shakes her booty with the Ikettes on The Ed Sullivan Show.
Ike & Tina Turner – watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fIitgkc4Iwk
The classic ‘Many Rivers to Cross’ was a gospel style ballad written and recorded by reggae legend Jimmy Cliff in 1969 at age 21. Numerous covers by other artists include John Lennon, Linda Ronstadt, Eric Burdon & The Animals, Joe Cocker, Percy Sledge and Cher.
‘Beyond The Sea’ was written in 1945, but the version by Bobby Darin in 1959 became the swinging standard. His style is so similar to Sinatra on this one! There have been dozens of other versions recorded before and since. Kevin Spacey sings this in a wonderful 2004 biopic about Bobby Darin named after this song.
Lou Reed placed ‘Ocean’ as the ominous final track on his self-titled 1972 debut solo album after leaving The Velvet Underground. He sings,
Don’t swim tonight my love
The sea is mad my love
It’s known to drive men crazy
‘Sea Diver’ by Mott The Hoople was written by the band’s singer Ian Hunter about the troubles of being the group’s lead songwriter and the struggles with intermittent writer’s block. Their 1972 album All the Young Dudes is titled after the hit song that was given to Mott by David Bowie when they were on the verge of breaking up. The gorgeous string arrangement on ‘Sea Diver’ is by Mick Ronson.
Something comes and something goes
And something dies before it grows
And I’m like a sea diver
Who’s lost in space
Sweet, savage grace?
Oh lord I wish I could escape this iron veil
Ride on my son
Right on my son
Ride until you fail
Also see my story about Mott The Hoople’s hit ‘All the Young Dudes’
‘Seven Seas of Rhye’ appears in short form as an instrumental – the final track on Queen’s debut album in 1973. The full version of Freddie Mercury’s song appeared in 1974 as their third single – and on their second album Queen II.
‘Brighton Rock’ was written by Brian May during the sessions for the band’s prior album, Queen II. The song is about a tryst at the seaside resort in England. May perfects his use of the Echoplex with a stunningly savage guitar solo. The song appears on Queen’s third album Sheer Heart Attack (1974).
Watch: Seven Seas of Rhye – Top of the Pops https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B6n2FBcd5n0
Watch: Seven Seas of Rhye Live 1974: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=38xkDA_Q9rU
Watch: Brighton Rock live 1975 @ Hammersmith Odeon: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wbZ8RL2VQmU
See my story about two amazing songs on Queen II: ‘White Queen’ / ‘Black Queen’
‘Sea of Love’ written by Philip Baptiste (a.k.a. Phil Phillips) and George Khoury has been covered by many. My favorite version is by Iggy Pop on his 1980 album, Party.
Speaking of Iggy and the sea, one of my favorite of his ballads is ‘The Endless Sea’ from his 1979 album New Values. His former Stooges bandmate Scott Thurston makes this dramatic track shine with harp, keyboards, synths and horns. It’s also enhanced by Klaus Krüger’s stunning drums. Iggy recently performed a stunning live version of this on the tour for his album Free (2019/2020). It was covered by The Church in 1999.
Here’s a recent stunning live version for the BBC in 2019:
(@ 40:15 into the performance) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4h8ktOXzIxA
‘By The Sea’ by Suede is a stunning ballad from their 1996 album Coming Up. It’s a song of redemption – at once melancholy and uplifting. It’s about casting off the chains of the past and running freely into the sea. The band are touring the album again this year (2020) – unfortunately, not in America.
When I start my new life
I won’t touch the ground…
THE FLOATING WORLD
Japanese percussionist Stomu Yamashta released an album called Floating Music in 1972. The beautiful opening track ‘Poker Dice’ is featured on The Man Who Fell To Earth film soundtrack (starring David Bowie). Yamashta was a founding member of the 1976 supergroup Go with the great Al Di Meola, Steve Winwood (Traffic), Klaus Schulze (Tangerine Dream)and Michael Shrieve (Santana).
Floating Music album: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0mlKxkHPPGA
The anthemic ‘Sailing’ about a spiritual journey was written by one of The Sutherland Brothers in 1972. Rod Stewart’s version a huge No. 1 hit in the U.K. is on his 1975 album Atlantic Crossing. It was recorded at Muscle Shoals studios in Alabama with the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section. The Scottish Sutherland Brothers teamed up to record with the band Quiver, producing a hit with ‘You Got Me Anyway’ in 1973. Quiver was formed by guitarist Tim Renwick and bassist John Lodge, both from David Bowie’s early band Junior’s Eyes.
‘Some Are’ by David Bowie is a cryptically ethereal and beautiful piece – possibly about drowning sailors. This was presented as a bonus track on a reissue of Low on CD as an outtake from the album. Guitarist Reeves Gabrels speculates that it was recorded at the time of Bowie’s Stage tour (1978) with Dennis Davis, Adrian Belew and Simon House.
Sailors in snow…
Send a callout raising hands
Some are bound to fail
Some are winter sun, ah
Bowie’s iSelect sleeve notes about ‘Some Are’ are just as cryptic:
“A quiet little piece Brian Eno and I wrote in the Seventies. The cries of wolves in the background are sounds that you might not pick up on immediately. Unless you’re a wolf. They’re almost human, both beautiful and creepy. Images of the failed Napoleonic force stumbling back through Smolensk. Finding the unburied corpses of their comrades left from their original advance on Moscow. Or possibly a snowman with a carrot for a nose; a crumpled Crystal Palace Football Club admission ticket at his feet. A Weltschmerz [world weariness] indeed. Send in your own images, children, and we’ll show the best of them next week.”
‘The Tide is High’ was written in 1967 by John Holt and released by his group The Paragons from Jamaica. Blondie took it to No. 1 in the USA and in the U.K. in 1980. A Mariachi/reggae version of the song appears on Blondie’s album Autoamerican. The cool Blondie music video is nowhere to be found on YouTube, so here is the audio:
‘The Ninth Wave’ is a seven-song suite on Side two of 1985 Kate Bush album Hounds of Love. It is so eerie and beautiful – it could be a Grimms’ Fairy Tale soundtrack. In Kate’s words, it is ” …about a person who is alone in the water for the night. It’s about their past, present and future coming to keep them awake, to stop them drowning, to stop them going to sleep until the morning comes.”
This person, desperately trying not to drown voices the songs; ‘ And Dream of Sheep‘ Under Ice, ‘Waking the Witch’, ‘Watching You Without Me’, ‘Jig of Life’, ‘Hello Earth’ (see my playlist You Say Goodbye & I Say Hello) and ‘The Morning Fog’. I love this entire suite –especially the last track on Side One, ‘Cloudbusting’.
‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ by Simon & Garfunkel is the quintessential gospel anthem of hope released in 1970, capping off the turbulent 1960s. It was written by Paul Simon and beautifully sung by Art Garfunkel. The musicians include The Wrecking Crew – who played on hundreds of classic hits (including the master Hal Blaine on drums). It begins quietly and gently, growing into a sweeping echoing wall of sound – big enough to rival The Righteous Brothers’ epics!
Yoko Ono points out that there is not much difference in any of us, as ‘We’re All Water’. She best illustrates this in lyrics about Chairman Mao and Richard Nixon who enjoy a carefree naked dance together in one of the pictures on the newspaper column styled album cover of Some Time In New York City (1972). The photo was censored with a permanent sticker in later reissues. This features the Elephant’s Memory Plastic Ono Band – with the incredible sax of Stan Bronstein who shines on ‘Drug Stabbing Time’ by The Clash (Give ‘Em Enough Rope) and also on The New York Dolls’ ‘I’m a Human Being from their album Too Much Too Soon.
A Brian Eno Interlude:
I need an Eno break. These nautical instrumentals by Brian Eno are very calming. The first two are from Another Green World, the second pair are from Before and After Science. ‘The Big Ship’ was featured in the film The Lovely Bones with several other Eno tracks. ‘Backwater’ is a pure pop charmer!
‘The Big Ship’ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Tqy6be0Juc
‘Little Fishes’ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q2Vf56jN_Kg
‘By This River’ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UokIoawK9wQ
CAPTAINS AND ADMIRALS
‘I’m Your Captain (Closer to Home)’ is by Grand Funk Railroad. Written by Mark Farner, it’s the final track on their album Closer To Home released in the summer of 1970. This lengthy 10 minutes+ song was always played on FM radio in its entirety and became a long-standing classic.
‘Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey’ was an exceptionally long Grammy-winning single from Paul McCartney’s 1971 solo album Ram, released the same year as John Lennon’s album Imagine. The song features Linda McCartney on backing vocals, David Spinozza and Hugh McCracken on guitars, Denny Seiwell on drums and the New York Philharmonic orchestra. There’s an awesome cover version by jazz great Freddie Hubbard on his album First Light.
Watch: – McCartney: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XI6C7L66zq8
Listen: Freddie Hubbard: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a9QcUEQS7cw
We can’t forget The Beatles – Yellow Submarine from the 1968 movie soundtrack with Ringo’s lovely vocal.
‘Sub-mission’ was to appear on The Sex Pistols’ debut album Never Mind The Bollocks (the album title resulted in an obscenity trial). However, in the U.K. the song was originally omitted (and sometimes included as a one-sided 7-inch single). It later appeared on the 12-track album version. The song is on the U.S. release of the album and on the French pressing. The story goes that manager Malcolm McLaren suggested that the band write a song about sexual submission. Instead, they delivered lyrics about a submarine mission. The best CD version of this album is a double set called Cut the Crap which includes a bonus disc titled This Is Crap with scathing alternate versions of the songs.
‘Johnny Remember Me’ by John Leyton is a 1961 duet at the shore with the ghost of the singer’s drowned girlfriend. Her haunting voice is otherworldly. It’s a beautifully eerie song with a galloping beat and echoing vocals produced by my favorite knob-twiddler, the great Joe Meek – his first No. 1 production.
‘S.O.S.’ was the third single from the self-titled 1975 album by ABBA. S.O.S. is the universal Morse Code distress call, usually used by sea vessels in trouble. In this case, it’s about drowning in a relationship gone wrong. Like many ABBA songs, it replicates many musical styles – with the use of a Minimoog synthesizer.
David Bowie’s gorgeous vocal manages to make ‘The Drowned Girl’ sound lovely though its haunting lyrics are extremely morbid. This is from a performance of Bertolt Brecht’s Baal for BBC television. The recording was made on in September 1981 at Hansa by the Wall studio in Berlin. The EP was released in February 1982. This is a video for the song, directed by David Mallet. The band includes Tony Visconti on guitar, Simple Minds’ drummer Mel Gaynor and David’s assistant Corinne (Coco) Schwab on a wind instrument.
Wreck and duck weed slowly increased her weight / By clasping her in their slimy grip
Through her limbs, the cold-blooded fishes played
Creatures and plant life kept on, thus obstructing her last trip…
Once her pallid trunk had rotted beyond repair It happened quite slowly that she gently slipped from God’s thoughts
First with her face, then her hands, right at the last with her hair Leaving those corpse-choked rivers just one more corpse
‘The Drowners’ is the first single by the band Suede released in May 1992 which appeared on their debut album in 1993. Suede are the wonderful band which heralded Britpop. Another song about drowning in (an ambiguous) love affair.
On their third album Rocket To Russia, (1977) The Ramones take us to ‘Rockaway Beach’ with this wonderful surf-punk tune with its bubble-gum rhythm, written by Dee Dee Ramone.
‘Redondo Beach’ appears on the debut album Horses by Patti Smith in 1976. A deceivingly upbeat reggae tune disguises the sad story of a woman finding her female lover washed up on the shore of Redondo Beach.
‘Echo Beach’ was a single by the Canadian band Martha & The Muffins from their 1980 album Metro Music. It’s about an escape from the mundane world to a place that’s ‘far away in time’.
“I Want to Go to The Beach” by Iggy Pop is on his 2009 album Preliminaires. The song has a quiet ambient beauty and sad lyrics, some poetic and some blatant.
I wanna go to the beach
I don’t care if it’s decadent
I don’t know where my spirit went
But that’s alright…
You can convince the world that you’re some sort of superstar
when an asshole is what you are, but that’s alright.”
See my story about Iggy’s album Preliminaires:
In her spoken word piece ‘Wave’, Patti Smith celebrates the two meanings of the word; the wave of a hand / the waves of the ocean. Set on a beach, Patti is a child walking along the shore alongside the Pope. The lyrics comprise her sweet one-sided conversation. ‘Wave’ closes her 1979 album of the same name. Patti eventually met Pope Francis in 2014 when she was invited to sing at the Vatican.
Hi, hi, I was running after you for a long time
I, I was watching you for, actually, I’ve watched you for a long time
I like to watch you when you’re walking back and forth on the beach
And the way you, the way your cloth looks, I like
I like to see the edges, the bottom of it get all wet
When you’re walking near the water there
It’s real nice to talk to you, I didn’t
I, I, I, I, I, how are you? how are you?
I saw, I saw you from your balcony window and
And you were standing there, waving at everybody
It was really great because there was about a billion people there
But when I was waving to you, the way your face was, it was so
The way your face was, it made me feel exactly like we’re
It’s not that you were just waving to me
But that we were we were waving to each other
Really it was really wonderful, I really felt happy, It really made me happy
And I, I just wanted to thank you, because, you, you really, really
You made me, you made me feel good and oh I, it’s nothing
I, I, well I’m just clumsy, yeah, no, it’s just a band-aid, no, it’s okay
Oh no, I’m always doing something’s always happening to me
Yeah, well, I’ll be seein’ ya, goodbye, bye
Wave thou art pretty
Wave thou art high
Wave thou are music
Wave thou are white
Wave thou art high
Wave thou art pretty
Wave to the city
Goodbye, goodbye sir, goodbye papa
A line in Lou Reed’s lyrics to The Velvet Underground song ‘Heroin’ sticks in my mind. He longs for an escape to another place and time away from all the evils in the city, as he tries to reach ‘the kingdom’ in this epic song on the band’s 1967 debut album. It sonically veers from the drone of depression – sailing away in the throes of elation.
I wish that I was born a thousand years ago /
I wish that I’d sailed the darkened seas
On a great big clipper ship / Going from this land here to that /
I put on a sailor’s suit and cap
Away from the big city
Where a man cannot be free
Of all the evils of this town
And of himself and those around
Oh, and I guess that I just don’t know
Oh, and I guess that I just don’t know
“‘Heroin,’ to me, is one of our more perfect American songs because it addresses a very conflicting subject that has so many stigmas attached to it. It addresses the deeply painful and destructive elements of it, and also whatever is precious about it,
just with Lou’s beautiful, simple, direct language.”
– Patti Smith
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