I can remember driving around with my father when I was a kid. He always maintained a dictator like control over the radio, often choosing grainy and antique AM stations over the modern and trend FM counterparts. For the most part, I very much disliked his choice in music. One song, however, seemed to play relatively often and it was a song that I enjoyed. It was Gordon Lightfoot’s “The Wreck of the Edumund Fitzgerald.” As it played, my father would tell me the story behind the song. I always liked songs that had a story, and as I got older I realized that I especially enjoyed songs that had stories about boats.
Here is my little collection of the best songs about boats. I hope you enjoy.
THE WRECK OF THE EDMUND FITZGERALD
As mentioned above, this song is the retelling of the sad story of the Edmund Fitzgerald. For the uninitiated, the SS Edmund Fitzgerald was a Great Lakes Freighter which went down in a storm on November 10th, 1975. All 29 crewmen were lost. Gordon Lightfoot pays tribute in this soft and haunting song that melodically recreates the ships final moments. It is both poignant and haunting.
I count this song as one of my favorites of all time, boat or otherwise. It’s got such an amazing feel and complex message. Joel wrote it as a valentine to the fishermen of Long Island who have been watching their industry get downsized and dismantled. The song has somewhat of an irony to it as the loss of the industry in Long Island is in part to the upper class invasion by the upper class in the Hamptons section. Joel himself currently has two homes for sale for roughly $34 Million! More than enough for a Swordfish Captain to buy a few “Downeaster Alexa’s”.
This one is a personal favorite, likely because I spent 4 years in the U.S. Navy. If you listen to the lyrics, it’s somewhat comical. I remember singing this ad nauseum as I marched in Boot Camp getting a hearty chuckle every time I yelled “To our last night ashore, drink to the foam…” There was something reassuring about the fact that the branch of service I had entered into not only recognized, but actually endorsed getting hammered the night before leaving for a long cruise. It’s as if they understood that in order to truly get over the fact that you were leaving land for nothing but miles of seawater on all sides, one needed to get plastered to reconcile it.
I’M ON A BOAT (NSFW)
Andy Sanberg is known for a lot of things on SNL, not the least of which are his hilarious Digital Shorts. As if it were possible he managed to one-up his previous success’ with “I’m On A Boat.” The song manages to accurately mock the success of bling-based-rap songs in such a fashion that if the song itself were not a parody it might actually be a successful addition to the genre. Adding T-Pain and his vocoder skills puts the song over the top. “Busting 5 Knots” is a particular favorite line. If you think about it in conversion terms he’s suggesting that he’s proud to be going more than 5.75 miles per hour. Never before has owning a yacht been so appealing to the youth of America. Future boat sales over the next few years owe a debt of gratitude to Mr. Sandberg and the guys in “Lonely Island.”
THE BANANA BOAT SONG
Personally, I most remember this song as being included in the film “Beetlejuice”, but in fact the song is about a boat. A banana boat to be exact. The song, while seemingly happy in feel, is actually an ode’ to the low wage Caribbean dock workers. I could explain it to you further, but watch the video above and see how Mr. Harry Belofante himself explains it to the Muppets.
WHAT SHALL WE DO WITH THE DRUNKEN SAILOR
Again, harkening back to times with my father (an old sailor himself), this to me is the seminal boating song. It seems as old as nautical shantee’s themselves. There seems to be a theme with drunken sailors in a great number of boating songs. Not sure if this is a good or bad thing, but definitely prevalent in nautical themed music.
A PIRATE LOOKS AT FORTY
No list of boating songs would be complete without a Jimmy Buffet inclusion. I decided to include “A Pirate Looks at Forty” because it is his flagship song (no pun intended). Buffet himself named his own autobiography “A Pirate Looks at Fifty.” This song encapsulates the true wanderlust and love that is a boaters life.