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 Vinyl
Recorded Village Recorders, November 28, 1972
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" was the final song recorded for the 1973 Beach Boys album Holland. The song 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." 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."[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 Wilson-Parks tune. The song eventually featured contributions (some dating back from 1971[citation needed]) from Ray Kennedy and Tandyn Almer, and underwent some lyrical revision from Beach Boys manager Jack Rieley.

Parks explains the writing:

Brian Wilson has said of the track:

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.[citation needed]

Parks later describes his contributions further:

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]

Live Versions[edit]

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.

Cover versions[edit]

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

The song was also covered by:

Soundtrack appearances[edit]

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


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


  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. 

External links[edit]