The Seven Sea…Shanties? Nautical tunes for a new week

Noah Pasley

For most college students, music is an important part of the daily routine. Maybe it’s lo-fi beats for a study session or Taylor Swift’s “Folklore” for a good old-fashioned sob. But I’m here to talk about one of the most underserved genres of music: the ancient art of the sea shanty.

Laugh and scoff all you want, but sea shanties are a tried-and-true musical tradition, and it may surprise you just how modern some of them are. So hoist your sails and weigh the anchor — here are seven shanties for the Seven Seas!


“Lover’s Wreck” by Gaelic Storm

“Lover’s Wreck” leads my list because it blends a rugged narrative of a pirate’s life with an ages-old love story seamlessly. Our hero, or rather anti-hero, is a pirate drinking and pillaging his days away, but it’s no longer meaningless violence from a vagabond out at sea. Instead, his rage is aimed at the world after his lover leaves him.

There’s something haunting about the pirate’s tale as he sings about his doomed existence out at sea and as he swears up and down that he’ll change his ways if she ever comes back.

“Johnny Leave Her” by The High Kings

“Johnny Leave Her” is a timeless classic, especially since its popularity was revived by 2013’s Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag. As such, the song has many different versions floating about on the web, but The High Kings’ take holds its own merit. It’s minimalist, but their deep voices enrich the sailor’s romantic feelings toward the port.

“The Longest Johns offers the strongest contender for a solid Moby Dick soundtrack.”

“The Tempest” by The Real McKenzies

Among the most motivational songs on the list, “The Tempest” stands out from most songs listed here as it incorporates a tasteful twist on the genre — bagpipes and electric guitar! The song carries the intense energy of a modern rock band, but it rings just as true as any sea shanty. In it, the crew powers through a dangerous storm to obtain their freedom.

“Bones in the Ocean” by The Longest Johns

“Bones in the Ocean” takes a somber stance on the sailor’s dilemma as a young man paddles away from the sands of England to revisit the spot of his greatest failure: the shipwreck where his entire crew died.

The sailor carries the enormous guilt that he survived, but it’s not until the third verse that he reveals his chilling secret: he plans to drown himself out at sea to join them. But he comes to realize that he doesn’t owe his life to his crewmates, and he returns to the shore to live out his days in remembrance.

“Ring Down Below” by Storm Weather Shanty Choir

This one is a bit on-the-nose, though it clearly belongs on this list. “Ring Down Below” has very little to it —  nothing more than strong vocals and a simplistic rhythm, but that makes it a perfect fit for your chores playlist. Its only drawback? The song is criminally short.

“Wellerman” by The Longest Johns

With this one, The Longest Johns offers the strongest contender for a solid Moby Dick soundtrack. As usual, the song utilizes little in the way of instrumentals, supplying only deep vocals and long, droning hums as the crew rallies to “take that whale in tow.” If nothing else, the sailors have the right priorities as they focus instead on the fact that rum is on the way.

“Drunken Sailor” by Blaggards

Of course, any sea shanty playlist worth its salt would be incomplete without some rendition of this song. “Drunken Sailor” has spawned endless spins on the whimsical tune leading to dozens of viable covers. But my favorite by far goes to Blaggards.

Right out of the gate it sustains the energy and quick pace that the song thrives upon. As have many covers, Blaggards substantially alters many of the lyrics, including a clever take on the infamous “rusty razer” lyric. Another noteworthy addition? Blaggards carries the intensity into a particularly invigorating instrumental solo.


Noah Pasley can be reached at or on Twitter @PasleyNoah.