11 Best Sea Shanties of All Time
You may be familiar with sea shanties from TikTok, mates. People from around the world are sharing these multi-singer musical videos featuring singers addressing life on the sea.
There is apparently a significant relevance to these old-time songs and our current lockdown experience brought on by the pandemic. The repetition and isolation felt by old-time sailors is something that many feel today. TikTok’s duet feature also enables everyone to join in on songs that were meant to be joined in on.
Maybe you know a 19th century sea song from New Zealand is the number one song in the UK in the first week of February. TikTok star Nathan Evans’ recording of a New Zealand whaler song, Soon May The Wellerman Come, has more than three billion views.
Or, perhaps you discovered the sea shanty from watching the opening scene of the Blow the Man Down movie. The 2020 movie set in a Maine fishing village scores a 98 on Rotten Tomatoes.
Best Sea Shanties
After listening to many a shanty, we arrived at our 11 favorites. See what you think by having a listen below.
1.) Soon May The Wellerman Come by Nathan Evans
Also known simply as “Wellerman,” this is a popular wailing song. A Wellerman refers to supply ships that were run and managed by the Weller Brothers. “Sugar, tea, and rum” provided small luxuries to a crew more accustomed to drudgery and loneliness.
This version started as a single by Nathan Evans. But, it turned into a huge collaboration and remix.
2.) Roll the Old Chariot
Also known as “A Drop of Nelson’s Blood,” this sea shanty has roots in African-American spiritual music according to some sources. By the way, Nelson’s Blood is rum. It is believed that his body was returned to England in a barrel of spirits to preserve it.
3.) You Can’t Hold A Good Man Down by The Pirateers
A sea shanty can be haunting and this one is no exception. A tale of ghost ships, shipwrecks, buccaneer battles and boat sinkings.
4.) Leave Her Johnny by Johnny Collins
This chantey is the crew’s plea to not go out to sea. Their request might have to do with the poor traveling conditions, weather, or bad food. Also, as explicitly stated, “The voyage is long and the winds don’t blow.”
5.) The Kittyman Sea Shanty by the Trailer Park Boys
Well, here’s a unique take on the Soon May the Wellerman Come shanty. Oh, and this one is about kittens. The Trailer Park Boys is a Canadian TV series that takes a mockumentary approach. Four movies have been released on the same theme.
6.) Drunken Sailor – Mashup
Also known as “What Shall We Do with the Drunken Sailor?” this shanty was typically sun while hauling a rope while marching along the deck. “Ho! Ho! And up she rises” provides some instructions to the crew right in its lyrics.
Usually the answers to the title question involve ways to sober up the drunken sailor or punish him. The tune is Irish in its origination and comparable to a bagpipe melody.
It is one of the most popular shanties. Ringo Starr can be hears singing this song at the end of “You’re Sixteen.”
7.) The Scotsman Kilt by Nathan Evans
This was the song that was the trigger for the popularity of shanties on TikTok.
8.) Spanish Ladies
Insanely catchy and just about perfect for all you 1700s kids!
“We’ll drink and be jolly and drown melancholy,
And here’s to the health of each true-hearted lass.”
9.) Don’t Forget Your Old Shipmate
This is a traditional naval song that was used by the British Royal Navy in the Napoleonic Era. A version of this song was sung in the Master and Commander movie.
10.) Blood Red Roses
Sung by both British and American whaling ships’ crews in the 1800s. The song’s roots are in English folk tunes.
11.) The Seaman’s Hymn by David Coffin
At most shanty music festivals, typically, this is the last song sung at night. The theme of the song is a call for peace from fighting the wars of others. The song was loosely set to a Welsh song named Patience.
David Coffin is the singer of the sea shanty featured in the Blow the Man Down movie showed above.
FAQs About the Sea Shanty
Here are some frequently asked questions with answers about the sea shanty and its history.
What are sea shanties?
Sea shanties, also spelled sea chanties, are a type of work song sung by sailors during the 19th century. The songs go back to the mid-1400s and the days of the old, tall sailing ships. The shanties were usually sung to accompany the rhythmical labor aboard merchant sailing ships.
What is the appeal of sea shanties?
It brings in a lot of people to sing, and you don’t have to be all that accomplished of a singer to join in the fun. It’s community-based. A good lead singer can carry the group and the melodies are memorable. A sea shanty connects people. Perhaps, that is the reason in these current times that the tunes are so popular.
Many believe the popularity of pirate movies and video games has driven interest in the genre. The songs do not require any special vocal or musical training to sing. People sticking together during rough times is the core theme of many of these shanties. Pods of people sang these songs on the sea. Perhaps it only makes sense that they’d appeal to folks who are living in pods in their homes now.
With the current travel restrictions, some believe that the songs speak to people’s desire to travel the seas and see different countries.
Sea Shanties Meme
Who is Nathan Evans?
Nathan brought sea shanties front and center after posting several on TikTok in July of 2020. He is 26 years-old and hails from Airdrie, Scotland.
He recently signed a record deal with Polydor Records and quit his job as a postman. Evans’ rendition of the Wellerman reached number one on the UK charts. Not bad for a former postman.
Evans believes his accent adds to the songs. We’d concur with that assessment. In mid-January, Nathan realized he had to quit his postal work and move full time into the singing world.
We hope you enjoyed our deep dive into sea shanties.
Mike is the co-founder and editor of ListCaboodle.
You’re on our 11 Best Sea Shanties of All Time page.
You might like: