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
|Recorded||Village Recorders, November 28, 1972|
|Writer(s)||Brian Wilson, Van Dyke Parks, Tandyn Almer, Ray Kennedy, and Jack Rieley|
|The Beach Boys singles chronology|
It was released as a single in 1973, backed with "Only with You." However, the single only reached #79 on the singles charts. "Sail On, Sailor"/"Only with You" was re-released in 1975, and ended up charting higher, at #49.
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." Warner then told the Beach Boys to drop what the company perceived as the weakest track, "We Got Love," and replace it with the Wilson-Parks tune. The song eventually featured contributions (some dating back from 1971) from Ray Kennedy and Tandyn Almer, and underwent some lyrical revision from Beach Boys manager Jack Rieley.
Parks explains the writing:
|“||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.||”|
Brian Wilson 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.||”|
However, Parks has insisted that the song was not really worked on by Wilson, but rather that Wilson gave him a few chords with a small melody. Parks states that part of the reason it was so heavily stressed to be a mostly Wilson 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.
Parks later describes his contributions 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.||”|
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.
The song has rarely been performed live. Blondie Chaplin performed the song during the 1973 tour. In later years the song was performed by longtime backing musicians Billy Hinsche and Bobby Figueroa. When neither was present Carl Wilson would sing lead vocals on the song. During the 50th Anniversary Tour in 2012, Brian Wilson handled lead vocals. Despite Brian singing lead during the 50th Anniversary Tour for his 2013 tour with Al Jardine and David Marks backing member Scott Bennett sang lead as he had done on previous Wilson solo tours. However for his tour with Jeff Beck in late 2013 Wilson again retook the lead of the song at least at shows where special guest and original vocalist Blondie Chaplin was not present to provide the lead.
- In 1976 the failed supergroup KGB, named after Kennedy, Goldberg, and Bloomfield, released their version. The group was made up of Mike Bloomfield on guitar, Barry Goldberg on keyboards, and Ray Kennedy (co-writer of "Sail On, Sailor") on lead vocals, with a rhythm section of Rick Grech on bass and Carmine Appice on drums. Authorship of this version is credited only to "Wilson-Kennedy," and the performance has a bluesy, darker feel, suiting Ray Kennedy's original cocaine-related lyrics.
- Steve Hunter included a version on his 1977 album Swept Away.
- In 1980 Ray Kennedy again released a version of "Sail On, Sailor" on his self-titled album for Mercury, again credited only to "Wilson-Kennedy."
- Sting together with Lulu had a version on Lulu's 2002 album "Together"
- Golden Earring cover it on their 1995 album, Love Sweat.
- Shawn Colvin recorded a version that was heard during the opening credits of the 1996 film "Head Above Water".
- Darius Rucker and Matthew Sweet sang a cover version at An All-Star Tribute to Brian Wilson (2001).
- It was covered by British band The Bluetones as a B-side of their 2002 single "After Hours". It was also included on the band's 2006 compilation A Rough Outline: The Singles & B-Sides 95 - 03.
The song was also covered by:
- Rick Danko on bass and Paul Butterfield on harmonica in 1979 during their Danko/Butterfield Band tour with Blondie Chaplin on lead vocals. Danko and Butterfield also contributed backup harmonies. It was performed again in the 1980 Danko/Richard Manuel tour. It was later performed during a 1985 tour by Gene Clark and Friends, which included Gene Clark, Blondie Chaplin, Rick Danko, Richard Manuel and Michael Clarke.
- Jimmy Buffett on his 2003 hits compilation Meet Me In Margaritaville: The Ultimate Collection.
- Mark Ronson with Sean Lennon at the 2007 BBC Electric Proms.
- Ray Charles at the Beach Boys' 25th anniversary in Hawaii.
- Chris Robinson Brotherhood on their 2012 tour.
- Shy Nobleman on his 2012 Tour.
- The Beach Boys
- Blondie Chaplin - lead, harmony and backing vocals; bass guitar
- Ricky Fataar - harmony and backing vocals; drums
- Carl Wilson - harmony and backing vocals; lead guitar; Fender Rhodes
- Additional musicians and production staff
- Daryl Dragon -Hammond B3
- Tony Martin - pedal steel
- Kevin Michaels - tambourine
- JJ Parks - backing harmony vocals
- Priore, Dominic (2007). Smile: The Story of Brian Wilson’s Masterpiece. Bobcat Books. p. 200. ISBN 1860746276.
- Classics Selected by Brian Wilson
- 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.