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Songs About Ships and Boats

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by Steven G (subscribe)
Too much tertiary education... Former performer/wrestler, teacher, scientist; Published author & Father... Want to be a writer if I grow up...
Published June 17th 2022
A boat playlist for when you're on the waves
I recently got to talking to some family members about their holiday plans next summer – they are going on a cruise! Sounds lovely, even if it is a local cruise, as in, they won't be leaving national waters. But ten nights on a boat still sounds great.

And, as is the case in many of these things, it made me think about songs about boats and ships.
boat, ship, song, music
Image by Youssef Jheir from Pixabay

I did search for a lot of terms. I don't have any songs about yachts, liners, cruisers, or any other term. I had boat songs and ship songs… and a sloop song. I didn't include rocket ship songs (obviously), so these are songs about boats in my collection that I like, one song per artist, and you might notice some real easy listening stuff in here because I actually do enjoy these tracks. No classical music, no sea shanties - sorry.

To start with, though, a comedy song that I think is funny, but I am not going to put the video up because it is not safe for work, but I know someone will mention it: 'I'm On A Boat!' by The Lonely Island (2009). Crude, and maybe does not bear up to repeated listens, but I do like it.

So, with that out the way – songs about boats and ships!

'The Banana Boat Song (Day-O)' by Harry Belafonte (1956)

A traditional song that is now associated with Belafonte, despite being covered by many other artists. A song that even now, more than sixty years later, people know enough of to join in with.

'Sloop John B.' by The Beach Boys (1966)

Another traditional folk song, this version by The Beach Boys is probably the best known, and is one of their songs that people still know and love today.

'The Boat That I Row' by Lulu (1967)

Fun bit of pop from Lulu, this track was a really good one that sort of sank when it was released, despite being used for promotion for some of the pirate radio stations of the time in the UK. Shame – good track.

'Trains And Boats And Planes' by The Box Tops (1967)

This Burt Bacharach track was covered by many artists over the years (I own six), but I prefer this version by the Box Tops. I think it's the vocals, but whatever it is, this is my favourite version.

'Crimson Ships' by Sherbert (1971)

Very early Sherbert, a bit of Australian pop-rock that would dominate the local charts through the 70s, this track is an okay one, but worth listening to, especially to see where the band started.

'Rock The Boat' by The Hues Corporation (1973)

Considered one of the earliest disco hits, and possibly not as well-known as the Forrest cover version from the 80s, this is a fun bit of pop fluff that is essentially harmless.

'Ships That Pass Through The Night' by Christie Allen (1979)

An album cut from an artist that I liked when I was a kid and, listening to nowadays, is still a good 1970s pop ballad, verging on country in tone. I am probably the only one who likes this (maybe remembers this?), but it is a good little track.

'Night Boat To Cairo' by Madness (1979)

Early Madness, this one is a strange track (as so many of their songs were) but a fun one to listen to, with the ska style of music that has become associated with the band.

'Pioneer/Six Months In A Leaky Boat' by Split Enz (1982)

A song about the long journey to New Zealand from England by sea in the colonial days, this track is so very good, especially when the instrumental 'Pioneer' is added onto the start, as it is on the single I have, and in the video.

'The Lonesome Boatman' by The Fureys and Davey Richards (1982)

An instrumental this time, one with a Celtic flavour and some beautiful flute playing. An album cut, this was never going to make it as a single, but is still such a good piece of music.

'Ship To Shore' by Chris de Burgh (1982)

Chris de Burgh had a number of really good tracks in the 1980s which are all forgotten because people focus on his schlocky ballads instead. This song was one of my favourites of his, and I'm glad I've got a chance to put it here.

'Shipbuilding' by Elvis Costello (1982)

This is actually a protest song about the Falklands War and war industry in general. Still, it is Costello, so the song is strong and the lyrics are amazing.

'Death Ship' by Hoodoo Gurus (1984)

Another album cut, this track rocks well from the fine Stoneage Romeos album. It is strange lyrically, but I still like it.

'Ghost Ships' by The Saints (1984)

The Saints released so many wonderful tracks. While this is not one of my favourites of theirs, it is still a really good song, led by some nice acoustic guitar.

'The Skye Boat Song' by Roger Whittaker and Des O'Connor (1986)

With Whittaker's whistling and O'Connor's singing, this version of the nineteenth century song about Bonnie Prince Charlie is one of the few of this track that I like. And I couldn't tell you why.

'Ship Of Fools' by World Party (1987)

While the ship might be metaphorical, this song is too good to leave off this list. This was, I think, the only single the band released that made the charts, though at this time World Party was basically a Karl Wallinger solo project. Still, it is a strong track.

'Like A Ship' by The Traveling Wilburys (1988)

Another album cut, but everything from Volume 1 is a good track, and so this is no exception. A slower track, it is just a great example of their vocal harmonies.

'Khashoggi's Ship' by Queen (1989)

A song about excess, sung by the king of excess (allegedly), this is one of Queen's lesser-known tracks and yet is still a decent one.

'Boat Drinks' by Jimmy Buffett (1992)

I only discovered Jimmy Buffett in the last four years or so, and I really enjoy his music. This laid-back summer song is perfect for a cruise and I would not be surprised if it's played on boats often for that reason.

'Rock This Boat' by Things Of Stone And Wood (1993)

An interesting song from the Australian rockers, this is one I heard as a B-side first, and then an album cut. It is certainly different to the music I normally associate with the band, but it's quite good.

Twenty songs about boats. A decent playlist for that cruise around the islands and coastlines of your home country… or another country once borders open completely. I didn't realise so many tracks came from 1982 until actually doing the write-up for this… so many the whole Falklands War thing had a subconscious effect on song-writers? Some of these tracks were banned from BBC radio because of said war… And the rest of the 80s are well-represented as well. Again, not planned.

Anyway, hope you enjoyed this list!


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