Monday, 11 August 2014

My Top Ten Shipwreck Songs

Until someone lays down a record about The Poseidon Adventure, these are my favourite shipwreck songs...

10. IAMX - The Great Shipwreck of Life

Ex-Sneaker Pimp Chris Corner has made some interesting records under his new IAMX identity. This is one of the strongest.
Release cold gender bombs,
on chromonial closets, middle England.

Stay with me.
I'll be Peter Pan and you just be pretty.
But no, I've no idea what 'chromonial' means either.

9. Neil Diamond - Captain of a Shipwreck

Neil Diamond's stripped back Rick Rubin renaissance wasn't quite as successful as Rubin's glorious re-invention of Johnny Cash, but it did produce a couple of interesting albums. And Neil's voice is still dynamite.

8. Julian Cope - The Shipwreck of St. Paul

Julian gets biblical on our arses. That's like the First of the Fallen giving Sunday School classes. Scary stuff!

7. Woody Guthrie - When That Great Ship Went Down

A US marine in WWII, Woody Guthrie worked in the mess, washed dishes and sang songs to keep the crew's spirits up. Although none of the ships he served on actually sank, one hit a mine and another was torpedoed during the D-Day invasion of Normandy. So I guess he knows what he's talking about more than the rest of the people on this list.

6. Kirsty MacColl - Titanic Days

Probably this week's most tenuous link, but any excuse to dig out some Kirsty. We'll return to this "unsinkable" ship a little later...

Tragically, Kirsty MacColl lost her life in a boating "accident". Her family fought long and hard to see justice done in her name.

5. The Divine Comedy - The Wreck Of The Beautiful

A - ahem - beautiful and haunting tale of an old ship consigned to the breaker's yard along with all her ghosts.
I thought I heard her call, maybe I heard nothing at all.
I thought I heard her call from the wreck of the Beautiful.
4. Jim O'Rourke - Ghost Ship in a Storm

Speaking of haunting... and beautiful.

Jim O'Rourke's ghost ship must surely owe something to MacArthur Park too...
It’s just my luck
I get hit by a car
While carrying a cake

Dripping cherries
Onto pavement
Bride and groom on my face

I’m not there like a ghost ship in a storm
Another damned cake left out in the rain.

3. Harry Chapin - Dance Band on the Titanic

Harry's tribute to the most famous shipwreck ever. A great story song, telling how the band kept playing to help calm panicked passengers right up until the last minute. All those brave musicians went down with their ship.

2. Gordon Lightfoot - The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald

Probably the most famous song ever written about a shipwreck (what do you mean you've never heard it?), Lightfoot's Canadian classic. A true epic, even Lightfoot thinks it's his best song, it was memorably covered by the Dandy Warhols and Laura Cantrell, among others.
In a musty old hall in Detroit they prayed
In the Maritime Sailors' Cathedral
The church bell chimed 'til it rang twenty-nine times
For each man on the Edmund Fitzgerald
The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down
Of the big lake they call Gitche Gumee
Superior, they said, never gives up her dead
When the gales of November come early
1. George Harrison - Wreck of the Hesperus

Another one from my teenage years, though it's actually a song about growing old. The Wreck of the Hesperus is a grimly tragic poem by Longfellow and Harrison uses it here as a metaphor for his advancing years. While he feels "old as Methuselah", he at least consoles himself that he isn't yet as decrepit as the titular ship.
I'm not a power of attorney
But I can rock as good as Gibraltar
Ain't no more no spring chicken
Been plucked but I'm still kicking
But it's alright, it's alright
So exactly how old was George when he wrote this song?


Two years older than I am now.

But I know where he was coming from. Call it Mid-Life Crisis if you will, but I've been feeling my age a lot lately. Lifting and carrying Sam - and while he's still less than year, he is - officially - the tallest baby in the Colne Valley (people often mistake him for a 2 year-old) has brought on all sorts of aches and pains. My back was never that good anyway, but now I ache all over... don't even start me on my knees. Or the grey hairs which have multiplied over the last 12 months. I wouldn't be without any of these ailments, they're all worth it... but 42 ain't that old, neither was 44 George.

Of course, George Harrison died in 2001, aged just 58. So technically, 44 was well-past middle-aged for him. However, by the age of 44, he'd lived more than I could in ten lifetimes. Louise tells me that my own life expectancy is 100+ (and she works in pensions, so she has to know these things) while Sam could well live to 120, barring a zombie apocalypse. So it's all relative. And it doesn't matter anyway as nobody ever reads these bits, so it's not like I'm expecting you to counsel me through my MLC or anything. Sometimes it just helps to get these thoughts down on the page. Writing has always been my confidante, and this blog is just about the only writing I do these days, bar lesson planning. 
But it's alright, it's alright
It's alright, alright
It's alright

Which one is your iceberg?


  1. Captain Of Your Ship - Reperata & The Delrons : equating a bizarre love affair with a shipwreck.

    The Wreck Of The Antoinette - Dave Dee, Dozy, Mick & Tich : Never name your boat after your girlfriend.

    1. Thank you, Matthew, your lost 60s classics are always welcome round here. I obviously never listened to Captain Of Your Ship closely enough.

  2. XTC - wait till your boat goes down.

    wanted 'don't pay the ferryman' but I don't think Chris deBurgh actually drowns which may (or may not) be a good thing!!!

    1. His eyebrows would keep him afloat.

  3. Rather obscurely all I can think of is Tony Slattery seranading Mike McShane on Whose Line Is It Anyway in the 80's with the immortal lyrics: "I want to shipwreck in your pointy-out nips...!"

    1. Your long-term memory is disturbing.

  4. Over on facebook, Adrian just reminded me of The Irish Rover.

    Damn it, that should have been Top 3.

  5. Ballad of the Yarmouth Castle

  6. Well it's four o'clock in the afternoon and the anchors have been weighed
    Form Miami to Nassau she's bound across the waves
    She's heading south through Biscayne Bay across the open sea
    The Yarmouth Castle she's a-dyin' and don't know it.

  7. Well it's four o'clock in the afternoon and the anchors have been weighed
    Form Miami to Nassau she's bound across the waves
    She's heading south through Biscayne Bay across the open sea
    The Yarmouth Castle she's a-dyin' and don't know it.

  8. May I suggest that you add "Isaac Lewis" by Tom Russell to your list?

  9. Number One should be Good Morning Captain by Slint

  10. Check out "The Mary Ellen Carter" for a tale of wreck and redemption.


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