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Popular Sailing Songs That Made the Charts

My sixty-plus years have experienced many musical trends— some mere fads with a short time in the limelight, and many more that endure.

 Songs inspired by the power of the sea and people’s attempts to sail upon it.

Songs inspired by the power of the sea and people’s attempts to sail upon it.

Songs inspired by the power and majesty of the sea.

These ten nautical themed songs are my most favored of the last sixty years.

They all have one thing in common; they invoke in the listener's mind all the attributes of life at sea—the sense of freedom, self-reliance, confronting storms, feelings of isolation and being away from family, the choice to battle the sea or to embrace it.




"Beyond the Sea"

Bobby Darin



Petula Clarke


"Sloop John B."

The Beach Boys


"Sail on, Sailor"

The Beach Boys



Rod Stewart


"The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald"

Gordon Lightfoot


"Come Sail Away"



"Southern Cross"

Crosby, Stills and Nash


"The Ship Song"

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds


"Sailing on Seven Seas"

Orchestral Manoeuvers In The Dark"

Bonus Track

"When The Ship Comes In"

Bob Dylan

1. "Beyond the Sea" Performed by Bobby Darin

The song "Beyond the Sea" became the title track for the same-named movie, a biographical drama of Bobby Darin released in 1964. Bobby played himself in the film.

The lyrics, cleverly crafted, chime with anyone who pines for someone separated by distance.

"Beyond the Sea" was first written in 1945 and has been covered by many artists since. The version sung by Bobby Darin is arguably the best known of these.

PerformerSong Writer(s)LabelGenre

Bobby Darin

Jack Lawrence


Big Band

Bobby Darin (1936 to 1973) was a versatile American singer and songwriter who had a string of hits and starred in several films. After the release of his song "Splish, Splash" in 1958, he shot to stardom, and the record went on to sell over one million copies.

Lyrics (2nd Verse)

Somewhere beyond the sea

She's there watching for me

If I could fly like birds on high

Then straight to her arms

I'd go sailing

"Beyond the Sea" single from 1959.

ReleasedUK (Official Charts Company)US (Billboard Hot 100)

August 1959

No. 8

No. 6

Bobby Darin and our next featured artist - Petula Clarke - performed their hit songs in the same musical era. On occasions starring alongside each other on popular television shows.

Bobby Darin and our next featured artist - Petula Clarke - performed their hit songs in the same musical era. On occasions starring alongside each other on popular television shows.

2. "Sailor" Performed by Petula Clarke

"Sailor" is a ballad with a simple message—a plea for a lover's return.

The lyrics call upon the sailor to quit the sea, return to his love and end his seafaring days away from home.

"Sailor" Released in 1961.

PerformerSong Writer(s)GenreLabel

Petula Clark

Werner Scharfenberger, Fini Busch (original German lyrics), David West (English lyrics)

Traditional Pop

Pye Studios

Petula Clark's singing career began in 1954 when she charted as a child singer with the song "The Little Shoemaker." Petula Clark went on to have a long and industrious career singing across Europe and America, resulting in having sold more than 68 million records worldwide.

Sailor stop your roaming

Sailor, leave the sea

Sailor, when the tide turns

Come home safe to me

As you sail across the sea

All my love is there beside you

In Capri or Amsterdam

Honolulu or Siam To the harbour of my heart

I will send my love to guide you

As I call across the sea

Come home to me

Scroll to Continue

"Sailor" a single performed by Petula Clark.

ReleasedUK (Official Charts Company):US (Billboard Hot 100)

January 1961


3. "Sloop John B." Performed by the Beach Boys

It is a song telling of a sailor's difficult time at sea, feeling trapped and missing home.

The crew is a motley lot, who the ship's Captain seems to leave to their own devices.

There have been many variations of the original folksong, "Sloop John B." by the Beach Boys, being one of the most popular. Interpretations of its meaning are many. Indeed, during the 1960s-1970s, many believe the lyrics refer to being on an "acid trip."

Initially written in 1916, and not during those culturally different years of the 60s and 70s, I side with the view that the song is simply about a difficult time at sea.

"Sloop John B." single performed by The Beach Boys.

PerformerSong Writer(s)GenreLabel

Beach Boys

Transcribed from a folksong in 1916. This version produced by band member Brian Wilson.

Folk Rock


So hoist up the John B's sail

See how the main sail sets

Call for the Captain ashore

Let me go home, let me go home

I want to go home, yeah yeah

Well I feel so broke up

I want to go home

"Sloop John B." single released 1966.

ReleasedUK (Official Charts Company)US (Billboard Hot 100)


No. 2

No. 3

The Beach Boys in concert 1972.

The Beach Boys in concert 1972.

4. "Sail on, Sailor" Performed by the Beach Boys

A song of hope.

Trials and tribulations of life, expressed through a sailor's eyes, are laid bare in these lyrics. And yet, the song tells of hope in the future through determination and a willingness to persevere.

"Sail on, Sailor" Performed by the Beach Boys

PerformerSong Writer(s)GenreLabel

Beach Boys

Brian Wilson, Ray Kennedy, Tandyn Almer, Jack Reiley and Van Dyke Parks



I work the seaways, the gale-swept seaways

Past shipwrecked daughters of wicked waters

Uninspired, drenched and tired

Wail on, wail on, sailor

"Sail on, Sailor" released in 1973.

ReleasedUK (Official Charts Company)US (Billboard Hot 100)


No.79 (reissue in 1975 reached No. 49)

Several explanations are prevailing that try to solve the mystery surrounding the meaning of this song. It is hardly surprising when you consider five songwriters involved with the making of "Sail On Sailor."

The only thing we can be sure of is that at the time of the song's creation and release, the Beach Boys were going through a difficult period, with some of the group's key members undecided about their future with the band.

5. "Sailing" Performed by Rod Stewart

"Sailing" is a beautifully written and performed song. It has a sense of melancholy about it. The lyrics are emblematic of feelings of solitude and the need to be with the person you love.

A song that, for many, became tied up with the jingoism of the Falklands War.

"Sailing" Performed by Rod Stewart

PerformerSong Writer(s)GenreLabel

Rod Stewart

Gavin Sutherland

Soft Rock

Warner Bros.

We are sailing, we are sailing

Home again

'Cross the sea

We are sailing

Stormy waters

To be near you

To be free

"Sailing" a single released in 1975 and performed by Rod Stewart.

ReleasedUK (Official Charts Company)US (Billboard Hot 100)


No. 1

No. 58

Initially composed in 1972 and performed by the Sutherland Brothers. At that time, the song had modest success reaching number 54. Rod Stewart took his cover of this song to number one in the UK singles chart.

The song was successful at the 1981 Grammy Awards, winning in three categories:

  • Record of the Year ("Sailing") – Michael Omartian (producer) & Christopher Cross
  • Song of the Year ("Sailing") – Christopher Cross
  • Best Arrangement Accompanying Vocalist ("Sailing") - Michael Omartian (producer) & Christopher Cross

6. "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" Performed by Gordon Lightfoot

A song that has its foundation in the real-life tragedy that was the sinking of the ship Edmund Fitzgerald.

The vessel was lost, along with her entire crew of 29 men, while sailing on Lake Superior.

"The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" released in 1976.

PerformerSong Writer(s)GenreLabel

Gordon Lightfoot

Gordon Lightfoot

Folk Rock


Third Verse

The wind in the wires made a tattle-tale sound

And a wave broke over the railing

And every man knew, as the captain did too

T'was the witch of November come stealin'

The dawn came late and the breakfast had to wait

When the gales of November came slashin'

When afternoon came it was freezin' rain

In the face of a hurricane west wind

Gordon Lightfoot at Massey Hall, Toronto.

Gordon Lightfoot at Massey Hall, Toronto.

"The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" sung by Gordon Fitzgerald.

ReleasedUS (Billboard Easy Listening)US (Billboard Hot 100)

August 1976

No. 1

No. 2

The simple instrumentals place a heavy focus on the singer's voice. Gordon Lightfoot's performance makes this sad, sorrowful ballad a haunting rendition.

7. "Come Sail Away" Performed by Styx

A song that uses sailing as a means of expressing the desire to chase your dreams.

The lyrics include references to childhood dreams and about letting go of the past.

Formed in 1972, Styx is a Rock Band from the U.S.A. Their first Top Ten Hit being "My Lady" in 1974.

The band is still playing today although only four of the original group remain these being: Tommy Shaw, Chuck Panozzo and James Young.

"Come Sail Away" Performed by Styx

PerformerSong Writer(s)GenreLabel


Dennis DeYoung

Rock/Pop Rock


"Come Sail Away" released in 1977.

ReleasedUK (Official Charts Company)US (Billboard Hot 100)

September 1977

No. 8

First Verse

I'm sailing away

Set an open course for the Virgin Sea

'Cause I've got to be free

Free to face the life that's ahead of me

On board I'm the captain

So climb aboard

We'll search for tomorrow

On every shore and I'll try

Oh Lord I'll try

To carry on

8. "Southern Cross" Performed by Crosby, Stills & Nash

"Southern Cross" is about the healing of wounds. Rick Stills described the lyrics as being based upon "a long boat trip I took after my divorce."

"Southern Cross" Performed by Crosby, Stills & Nash

PerformerSong Writer(s)GenreLabel

Crosby, Stills & Nash

Stephen Stills, Rick Curtis & Michael Curtis

Soft Rock


In 1970, Crosby, Stills and Nash won the Grammy Award for "Best New Artist".

In the groups various forms (including as Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young) they have sold in excess of 70 million copies.

"Southern Cross" a single released in 1982 and performed by Crosby, Stills & Nash

ReleasedUK (Official Charts Company)US (Billboard Hot 100)


No. 18

9. "The Ship Song" Performed by Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds

A moving ballad that has come to mean many things to many people. I hear it, and thoughts turn to messages of moving on with life, whether after an argument or a loss.

To others, "The Ship Song" is seen as mourning the loss of a loved one through a breakup or bereavement.

"The Ship Song" Performed by Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds

PerformerSong Writer(s)GenreLabel

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds

Nick Cave

Mute Records


Come sail your ships around me

And burn your bridges down

We make a little history, baby

Every time you come around

"The Ship Song" released in March 1990 and performed by Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds.

ReleasedUK (Official Charts Company)US (Billboard Hot 100)

March 1990

No. 84

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds are an Australian Rock band that formed in 1983. The group still perform today and released their 17th album Ghosteen in 2019.

In 2001 this song was selected by the Australian Performing Rights Association as one of the top 30 Australian Songs of all time.

10. "Sailing on the Seven Seas" Performed by Orchestral Manoeuvers In The Dark (OMD)

The drumbeat on this track is mesmeric, and I love it.

Interestingly, the band themselves seem to have mixed views about the song, although they all seem to acknowledge that it remains one of their most successful.

"Sailing on the Seven Seas" performed by OMD.

PerformerSong Writer(s)GenreLabel


Andy McCluskey, Stuart Kershaw



Verse One

You say that love will capture me

Not unless you give it free.

You're sailing on the seven seas

Sister Rae is on TV.

The light above, it shines so bright

That the F.B.I. won't sleep tonight

'Cause I'm so in awe of you

That I don't know what to do

And I'm sailing on the seven seas so blue.

Sick and tired, I don't know why

Skin and bones, touch the sky

Sex and lies, can't bring me down

'Cause I sold my soul

All over town.

"Sailing on the Seven Seas" a single released March 1991.

ReleasedUK (Official Charts Company)US (Billboard Hot 100)

March 1991

No. 3

No. 9

OMD are an English band formed in 1978.

The band disbanded in 1996, only to reform once more in 2006 and have sold over 40 million records to date.

Bonus Track: "When the Ship Comes In" Performed by Bob Dylan

From the Album: The Times They Are a-changin Not released as a single—but included as a bonus track—simply because I love it, and in my mind, Bob Dylan out-performs any other singer of this song.

Bob Dylan, widely regarded as one of the greatest songwriters ever, is also a singer, author, and visual artist. His career spans over fifty years, and he is a prominent figure in popular culture.

The lyrics read like poetry. Each verse tells the listener of something good to come "when the ship comes in." It seems a metaphor for social change and better things to come.

Verse two reminds us that change will necessarily be tumultuous to existing structures.

"When the Ship Come In" from the album "The Times They Are a-changin" released in January 1964.

PerformerSong Writer(s)GenreLabel

Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan



The final verse tells of those with vested interests seeming to appease those rising against them, but people should hold out and that those in power will finally bow to the inevitable.

A beautifully crafted song.

Final Verse

Then they'll raise their hands

Sayin' we'll meet all your demands

But we'll shout from the bow your days are numbered

And like Pharaoh's tribe

They'll be drownded in the tide

And like Goliath, they'll be conquered

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