Songs about Boats, Sailing and the High Seas by Crosby Stills and Nash + others: Gimme Five

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The first day of summer isn’t officially here until about the third week in June, but it’s warm enough in most places to at least start dreaming about — if not actually enjoying — some fun in the sun. For many, that will include using some mode of floating transport, be it an ocean liner, a private yacht or a rubber dinghy. So let’s skip some of the obvious choices like “Sea Cruise,” “Sloop John B” or even “Louie Louie” and cue up a few tunes to enjoy while out on the water:

CROSBY STILLS AND NASH, “WOODEN SHIPS”
CROSBY STILLS AND NASH (1969)

Crosby Stills and Nash had a number of sailing songs, including “Shadow Captain,” “Lee Shore” and 1982’s Top 20 hit “Southern Cross.” However, the allegorical vision of apocalypse and escape found in 1969’s “Wooden Ships” was so spectacular that it went on to inspire other nautical pop music visions, including Grand Funk Railroad’s “I’m Your Captain (Closer to Home)” and one hit wonder Blues Image’s “Ride, Captain, Ride,” both of which made the Top 40. Oddly enough, “Wooden Ships” was never actually a single, though one would think Crosby Stills and Nash’s stellar trademark harmonies might’ve have taken it all the way to the top.

THE SENSATIONAL ALEX HARVEY BAND, “TOMAHAWK KID”
THE IMPOSSIBLE DREAM (1974)

Although the Sensational Alex Harvey Band gained only moderate success in a handful of markets, anyone familiar with their material knows they were one of the most dynamic bands of the mid-1970s. As well, they were a live act unlike any other, led by ringleader Alex Harvey and his spellbinding vocal delivery. Prohibition-era gangsters, sci-fi fantasies, teenage idols, sharks, saints, the electric chair, love, murder and STDs made up just some of the lyrical imagery, and it was supported musically by a crackerjack backing band that could play anything from R&B to proto metal to show tunes. “Tomahawk Kid” is the Sensational Alex Harvey Band’s tribute to Robert Louis Stevenson, and would not sound out of place on any pirate’s playlist. Sixteen men on a dead man’s chest: Alex Harvey would be the one dancing on top of it.

LOS LOBOS + RICHARD THOMPSON, “WRECK OF THE CARLOS REY”
THE RIDE (2004)

For the moment, forget Gordon Lightfoot’s great shipping tragedy “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,” which succeeds in part because of Lightfoot’s ability to tell a historically true story from a detached, objective viewpoint. In Los Lobos’ “Wreck of the Carlos Rey,” guest vocalist/guitarist Richard Thompson sings from the point of view of one of the fifty migrant workers who lies dead at the bottom of the sea — never to arrive at his new job or see his true love again. The key element here is the resignation in Thompson’s voice; he’s all but admitted the sad reality that dead men really do tell no tales.

CAPTAIN TRACTOR, “THE LAST SASKATCHEWAN PIRATE”
EAST OF EDSON (1995)

No apologies here for including this All-Canadian classic. Originally written by the eastern Canadian comedy trio the Arrogant Worms, it was later retooled by western Canadian alt-folk punk outfit Captain Tractor. A rollicking tale of a farmer who lost his land to the bank, he now makes a living stealing wheat, barley and fertilizer. How bad is this dude? Look at it this way: He doesn’t even pay his taxes, including the GST (memorable chorus: “Screw it!”). He’s a true Canuck rebel and hero to all the landlocked landlubbers who will never make it to the beach this summer, or any other summer in the near future. Just be warned — if you can’t dance, sing or drink to this jig, Salty Bob will surely come looking for you.

LYLE LOVETT, “IF I HAD A BOAT”
PONTIAC (1987)

This is perhaps the most beautiful boating song in recent memory. Interestingly enough, the lyric is based around a series of “ifs,” and the singer never admits to actually owning a boat or doing any of the things he describes. In that sense, the song is nothing more than a dream, but it’s a beautiful one that appeals to everyone’s inner sense of peace.

JC Mosquito

JC Mosquito

JC Mosquito spends most of his day keeping the wolves from the door. When he's not occupied with this pastime, he's interested in all things rock and roll -- which may or may not have died back in the late 1950s, the late 1970s, or the early '90s, depending on who you believe. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
JC Mosquito
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