Sail On, Sailor

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"Sail on, Sailor"
Single by The Beach Boys
from the album Holland
B-side "Only with You"
Released January 29, 1973
March 10, 1975
Format 7" vinyl
Recorded October–November 28, 1972, Village Recorders, Santa Monica
Genre Rock
Length 3:18
Label Brother/Reprise
Writer(s) Brian Wilson, Van Dyke Parks, Tandyn Almer, Ray Kennedy, and Jack Rieley
Producer(s) Carl Wilson
The Beach Boys singles chronology

"Child of Winter (Christmas Song)"
"Sail On, Sailor"

"Sail On, Sailor"
"California Saga: California"

"Rock and Roll Music"

"Sail On, Sailor" is a song by American rock band the Beach Boys from their 1973 album Holland. It was written by Brian Wilson, Ray Kennedy, Tandyn Almer, Jack Rieley, and Van Dyke Parks. It was released as a single in 1973, backed with "Only with You", reaching 79 on the singles charts. "Sail On, Sailor"/"Only with You" was re-released in 1975, and ended up charting higher, at 49.[citation needed]


When the Beach Boys submitted the original version of Holland to Warner Brothers in October 1972, the album was rejected by the company for lacking a potential hit single. After discussion among Warner executives, an associate, Van Dyke Parks, said that he had a tape of a song that he had co-written with Brian Wilson entitled "Sail On, Sailor."[1] Warner then told the Beach Boys to drop what the company perceived as the weakest track, "We Got Love", and replace it with the song. Some lyric revisions were then made by Ray Kennedy, Tandyn Almer, and Jack Rieley.[citation needed]

Parks explains: "That was a tough moment for both Brian and me. I just went over to see how he was, and he wasn’t good. Of course, you couldn’t tell that from this song, because it represents such hope, but it came out of a very difficult time."[1] Brian has said of the track: "Van Dyke really inspired this one. We worked on it originally; then, the other collaborators contributed some different lyrics. By the time the Beach Boys recorded it, the lyrics were all over the place. But I love how this song rocks."[2] Parks added that the song was not really worked on by Wilson, but rather that Wilson gave him a few chords with a small melody. He states that part of the reason it was so heavily stressed to be a mostly Brian composition (indeed, Parks had to sue to gain any credits at all) is because Warner Brothers had demanded Wilson return to writing music and to the front of the band—something Wilson was not willing to do.[citation needed] As Parks explains further,

I came up with that lyric when I was working with Brian, as well as the musical pitches those words reside on. I did nothing with that tape until I saw The Beach Boys’ crisis at the company where I was working, earning $350 a week. Well, they recorded [“Sail on Sailor”], and it was a hit. And I’m glad that every one came out of their little rooms to claim co-writing credit on that song. But I never questioned it, just as I never questioned the various claims on the residuals. [...] On the tape, it’s clear from the contents that I authored the words and the musical intervals to “Sail on Sailor.” It’s also velar that I composed the bridge, played them, and taught them to Brian.[3]

Kennedy commented on the subject in 2005, claiming that "Sail On, Sailor" had originally been intended by Brian for Three Dog Night, and that he had written the song with Brian and Danny Hutton over the course of three days: "We went in and cut the basic tracks with Three Dog Night; we hadn't slept in about a week. Then Brian got up with a razor blade and cut the tapes and said, 'Only Ray Kennedy or Van Dyke Parks can do this song.' And he left. We all stood there looking at each other going, 'What?' He called me every day after that, and I wouldn't talk to him. Three or four years later, I heard it on the radio and went, 'Who's that?' It turns out the song came out on the Beach Boys' Holland album."[4]


Vocals for "Sail On, Sailor" were recorded in late October 1972, some time after the Beach Boys had left Holland. However, Brian Wilson was not involved at all with the song's recording sessions, leaving the basic track to be recorded by Brian's brother Carl and ex-Flame and then-Beach Boys members Ricky Fataar and Blondie Chaplin. The lead vocal was first attempted by Dennis Wilson, who sang the vocal once before leaving to go surfing. Carl was the next to attempt a vocal, but he then suggested that Chaplin make an attempt. After two takes, Carl decided that Chaplin's vocal would feature as the lead.[3]


The Beach Boys
Additional musicians
  • Daryl Dragon – Hammond B3
  • Tony Martin – pedal steel
  • Kevin Michaels – tambourine
  • JJ Parks – backing harmony vocals

Use in media[edit]

The song was featured in Martin Scorsese's Academy Award-winning film The Departed, and on the motion picture soundtrack CD.

Cover versions[edit]

The song has been covered by many musicians over the years.

The song was also covered by:


  1. ^ a b Priore, Dominic (2007). Smile: The Story of Brian Wilson’s Masterpiece. Bobcat Books. p. 200. ISBN 1860746276. 
  2. ^ Classics Selected by Brian Wilson
  3. ^ a b Badman, Keith (2004). The Beach Boys : the definitive diary of America's greatest band: on stage and in the studio (1. ed. ed.). San Francisco, Calif.: Backbeat. ISBN 0879308184. 
  4. ^ Locey, Bill (January 13, 2005). "Leader of the Jam". Archived from the original on August 10, 2007. 

External links[edit]