THE BEST SEA SHANTIES YOU MUST KNOW!
Throughout history, people have always had a fondness for captivating sea shanties. These lively and boisterous work songs serve as a means to alleviate the hardships of toil, peril, longing, suffering, addiction, and even sheer monotony, by embracing a sense of playfulness and camaraderie. Whether spontaneously crafted by a group or penned by a solitary individual, these shanties embody a defiant spirit that bolsters morale during challenging periods.
We have curated a selection of the best sea shanties for your enjoyment!
THE BEST SEA SHANTIES
1. Spanish Ladies
The timeless and widely recognized sea shanty experienced a resurgence in popularity through its inclusion in the iconic film Jaws, where the crew sings it while embarking on their quest to locate the eponymous shark.
Originating in 1789, the song’s lyrics seem to narrate its genesis—an account of British sailors encountering enchanting Spanish women and lamenting their obligation to leave them behind and head back home. It encompasses all the elements one desires in a sea shanty: merriment, seafaring, and heart desires.
WHO SAMPLED THIS SONG? THE BEST APPS TO FIND OUT!
2. Don’t Forget Your Old Shipmate
While not the most recent addition to the genre, this sea shanty can be considered relatively new compared to its counterparts.
Originating during the Napoleonic era, it emerged as a heartfelt anthem among the hardworking sailors of the British Royal Navy. Upon listening to the first two shanties on our list, you will notice a discernible structure in this particular song. Singers take turns alternating between solo verses and the collective chorus, deviating from the more spontaneous and boisterous nature often found in similar compositions of this kind.
3. Leave Her, Johnny
A common motif is becoming apparent among the sea shanties we encounter, depicting seafaring individuals encountering romantic entanglements with women in distant lands, only to be compelled to part ways when their duties call.
Some people think that “Leave Her, Johnny” is a heartfelt rendition sung by a fellow sailor, beseeching Johnny to gather his resolve and bid farewell to his newfound love, wherever she may be.
Within this sea shanty, the sorrow is imbued with a touch of defiance against the institutions that compel an enamored man to act contrary to the desires of his heart.
Others, however, strongly believe that “her” in the song refers to the ship, which, you must admit, sounds much more consistent with the lyrics. It’s the tale of the crew and complaints about the problems of their ship.
4. Roll Northumbria
Undoubtedly one of the most ancient themes on this list, and perhaps in general, “Roll Northumbria” draws inspiration from the historical Kingdom of Northumbria, which flourished between the years 600 and 900 CE.
Resurrected and brought to prominence by the immensely popular television series Vikings, this sea shanty has now achieved worldwide recognition, making it one of the most renowned melodies of its kind.
5. Blow the man down
Undoubtedly the most widely recognized sea shanty, the iconic theme song of Spongebob Squarepants draws inspiration from this particular tune. The lyrics of the song recount a tragic tale of sailors being forcibly abducted and sold into slavery, a practice commonly referred to as being ‘shanghaied.’
This nefarious act involved luring unsuspecting sailors into trapdoors located in drinking taverns, hence the expression “blow the man down.” It serves as one of the scarce surviving historical accounts of a sinister form of slavery, which has largely faded from contemporary discourse.
6. My Mother Told Me
“My Mother Told Me,” a song that has been handed down to us from the Viking era, has gained popularity through its inclusion in the television show Vikings.
Given this context, we can only hope that people recognize the historical significance of this song and appreciate the insights it provides into an ancient culture that has not been faithfully documented elsewhere.
7. Roll The Old Chariot
It finds its roots in the rich tapestry of early African American culture. This sea shanty weaves a narrative encompassing the struggles of black and Scottish slaves intertwined with the brandy trade during the early days of pre-republic America.
It holds historical significance as the origin of the colloquial term “Nelson’s Blood,” used to refer to brandy or rum. The term derives from the unfortunate fate of Nelson, a sailor who was laid to rest in a cask of liquor in an ill-fated attempt to preserve his body.
8. Lowlands Away
“Lowlands Away” is a well-known sea shanty that has gained recognition through its inclusion in the video game Assassin’s Creed.
Though its exact origins remain uncertain, it’s believed to have Scottish roots and dates back to the 17th century.
The song revolves around a tale of love tragically lost and the perils of travel, with speculation suggesting that it may have been inspired by the journeys of individuals to and from the African continent during the formation of the American colonies.
Hailing from New Zealand, “Wellerman” recounts the story of laboring individuals eagerly awaiting the arrival of a much-anticipated alcohol shipment.
Contrary to promoting indulgence, this sea shanty draws inspiration from the sobering reality of impoverished working-class individuals who had few prospects other than the occasional solace found in a strong drink. It serves as the inspiration for the contemporary comedic sea shanty “The Kittyman Sea Shanty.
10. Seaman’s Hymn
This age-old maritime ballad has been revived and given new life by the talented David Coffin. It narrates the story of an unnamed and courageous individual who courageously advocates for peace during a conflict.
The melody itself is derived from the Welsh tune “Patience.” The translated title evokes a profound sense of hope and resilience, likely stirring tears in the eyes of those who have experienced hardship and sorrow firsthand.
Any songs you would add?