Sloop John B
|"Sloop John B"|
|Single by The Beach Boys|
|from the album Pet Sounds|
|B-side||"You're So Good to Me"|
|Released||March 21, 1966|
|Recorded||Instrumental track: July 12, 1965
Vocals: December 22, 1965
New lead vocals and 12-string electric guitar overdub: December 29, 1965
High harmony lead and additional backing vocals: January 1966
|Writer(s)||Traditional, arranged by Brian Wilson
Al Jardine (uncreditied)
|The Beach Boys singles chronology|
"Sloop John B" is the seventh track on The Beach Boys' Pet Sounds album and was also a single which was released in 1966 on Capitol Records. It was originally a traditional West Indies folk song, "The John B. Sails," taken from Carl Sandburg's 1927 collection of folk songs, The American Songbag.
The John B. was an old sponger boat - presumably a sloop - whose crew were in the habit of getting notoriously merry whenever they made port. It was wrecked and sunk at Governor's Harbour in Eleuthera, The Bahamas, in about 1900.
Beach Boys version
Idea for the song
Alan Lomax made a field recording of "The John B. Sails" in Nassau, 1935, under the title "Histe Up the John B. Sail." This recording appears on the album Bahamas 1935: Chanteys And Anthems From Andros And Cat Island. The song was adapted by The Weavers member Lee Hays and they recorded it as "The Wreck of the John B." The Kingston Trio's 1958 recording of the song, also under the title "The Wreck of the John B.," was the direct influence on the Beach Boys' version. Johnny Cash recorded the song in 1959 as "I Want To Go Home." Jimmie Rodgers recorded the song in 1960 as "The Wreck of John B.", which reached #64 on the Billboard pop chart. Dick Dale and His Del-Tones recorded a surf rock version of the song on the album Surfers' Choice in 1962.
- "Brian was at the piano. I asked him if I could sit down and show him something. I laid out the chord pattern for 'Sloop John B.' I said, 'Remember this song?' I played it. He said, 'I'm not a big fan of the Kingston Trio.' He wasn't into folk music. But I didn't give up on the idea. So what I did was to sit down and play it for him in the Beach Boys idiom. I figured if I gave it to him in the right light, he might end up believing in it. So I modified the chord changes so it would be a little more interesting. The original song is basically a three-chord song, and I knew that wouldn't fly. So I put some minor changes in there, and it stretched out the possibilities from a vocal point of view. Anyway, I played it, walked away from the piano and we went back to work. The very next day, I got a phone call to come down to the studio. Brian played the song for me, and I was blown away. The idea stage to the completed track took less than 24 hours."
Choosing the lead vocalist
Al Jardine then explains that Brian "then lined us up one at a time to try out for the lead vocal. I had naturally assumed I would sing the lead, since I had brought in the arrangement. It was like interviewing for a job. Pretty funny. He didn't like any of us. My vocal had a much more mellow approach because I was bringing it from the folk idiom. For the radio, we needed a more rock approach. Brian and Mike ended up singing it. But I had a lot of fun bringing the idea to the band. It was very rewarding in every way but one: I was never given label credit for my contribution." On the final recording, Brian Wilson sang the first and third verses, while Mike Love sang the second verse. The box set The Pet Sounds Sessions includes two alternative takes, one with Carl Wilson singing lead on the first two verses, and one with Brian Wilson singing all parts.
Brian Wilson changed the lyrics in three of the lines of the song. He changed the lyric "This is the worst trip since I've been born" to "This is the worst trip I've ever been on." He also changed the lyric "I feel so break up" to "I feel so broke up." At 0:57 on the master recording one member of the band sings the original lyric (0:55 on the Acappella recording from the Pet Sounds Sessions). The line "Broke into the people's trunk" was also changed to "Broke in the captain's trunk."
The instrumental section of the song was recorded on July 22, 1965, at Western Recorders, Hollywood, California, with the session being engineered by Chuck Britz and produced by Brian Wilson. Highlights of these sessions can be heard on the 1997 box set The Pet Sounds Sessions as well as the master take. The instrumental part of the song took fourteen takes to achieve what is the master take of the song. Present on the day of the instrumental recording were Hal Blaine on drums, Ron Swallow on tambourine, Lyle Ritz on string bass, Carol Kaye on electric bass, Al Casey, Jerry Cole and Billy Strange on guitars, Al De Lory on organ, Frank Capp on glockenspiel, Jay Migliori on clarinet, Steve Douglas and Jim Horn on flute and Jack Nimitz on baritone saxophone.
The vocal tracks were recorded over three sessions. The first session was recorded on December 22, 1965, at Western Recorders with the session being produced by Brian Wilson. The second session was recorded on December 29 for a new lead vocal. Billy Strange played a 12 string electric guitar during that time. The third session was recorded in January 1966 for the high harmony lead and additional backing vocals. The song features six voices on the track. Brian Wilson and Mike Love are featured on lead vocals, with Al Jardine, Carl Wilson, Dennis Wilson and Bruce Johnston featured on backing vocals. Brian used the production technique of double-tracking his and Mike's voices, so that his voice is simultaneously singing the same part twice, to give the vocal a fuller and richer sound; Brian Wilson used this technique often during the recording of Pet Sounds.
The single, backed with the B side "You're So Good to Me," was released on March 21, 1966. It entered the Billboard Hot 100 chart on April 2, and peaked at #3 on May 7, remaining on the chart, in total, for 11 weeks. It also charted highly throughout the world, remaining as one of the Beach Boys' most popular and memorable hits. It was #1 in Germany, Austria, and Norway—all for five weeks each—as well as Sweden, Switzerland, The Netherlands, South Africa, and New Zealand. It placed #2 in the UK, Ireland (where it was the group's highest charting single), Canada, and in Record World. According to music archivist Joseph Murrells in 1978, it was the fastest Beach Boys seller to date, moving more than half a million copies in less than two weeks after release.
The song has been recorded by many artists, including Rainy Day, The Les Humphries Singers, The Kingston Trio, Ulfuls, Joseph Spence, Tom Fogerty, Roger Whittaker, Jerry Jeff Walker, Waylon Jennings, Dick Dale, Catch 22, The Ventures, Me First and the Gimme Gimmes, Relient K, Dan Zanes, Okkervil River (adapted to be part of a song, "John Allyn Smith Sails," about the life and death of poet John Berryman), David Thomas, Barry McGuire, Gary Lewis and the Playboys, Tom McRae, and Hull City manager Phil Brown. A portion of the song appears on Carbon Leaf's live album 5 Alive!. A choral arrangement was performed in episode 3 of the BBC Drama All the Small Things. It was arranged by Colin Hanson-Orr and Chris O'Hara.
Lonnie Donegan's 1960 version was called "I Wanna Go Home".
Jerry Butler recorded a version for his 1961 Folk Songs LP.
In 2001, Voltaire used the melody and basic lyrical layout for the song "Screw the Okampa! (I Wanna Go Home)," outlining the plot of the Star Trek: Voyager television series on his EP Banned on Vulcan.
In 2009, Simple Minds resurrected a version of this song during recording sessions for their 2009 album Graffiti Soul, and released it along with other covers in the deluxe version of that album.
Michael Dunn and Phoebe Dorin (playing recurring characters Dr. Miguelito Loveless and Antoinette) sing this song during "The Night of the Raven", a second season episode of the TV series The Wild Wild West.
- Dr. Miguelito Loveless, in the TV series The Wild Wild West sang a version of this in a duet with Antoinette in the episode titled "The Night of the Raven" (original air date 30 September 1966).
- Bill Mumy as Will Robinson and Marta Kristen as Judy Robinson, sang a version of this song in the "Castles in Space" episode of the TV series Lost in Space (original air date 20 December 1967).
- During the BBC programme Three Men in Another Boat with Griff Rhys Jones, Dara Ó Briain and Rory McGrath, McGrath is heard singing the popular song whilst out sailing in the English Channel.
- In the 2002 film "Glory Glory (2000 film)", the piano player in the bar is playing Sloop John B as the main characters are flirting with the posse.
- In the 2003 film Calendar Girls, the instrumental track is used as the press swoops down on the little village of Knapely after the calendar comes out.
- In the 2007 film Full of It, the main character Sam and his family sing the song while driving Sam to school.
- In Alan Dean Foster's book Spellsinger, the main character sings this song as a spell to conjure up a boat, but he also succeeds in making himself drunk, facing a horrible storm, and just missing his chance to get back to his own dimension.
- In Sarah Vowell's book Assassination Vacation, the author sings it while experiencing severe seasickness traveling to the Dry Tortugas by boat.
- The song can also be heard in the Tom Hanks film Forrest Gump whilst Lieutenant Dan is addressing Forrest at a Vietnam base.
- The UK band Mono briefly homages this song on their single "High Life".
- In the Sports Night season 1 episode The Sword of Orion, it plays over the closing montage.
- Circa 1980 the phrase and melody of 'I Want To Go Home' appeared on a drunk driving Public Service Announcement on Los Angeles area television stations in a humorous ad depicting golf balls with the intoxicated driver as the ball rolling erratically and singing the phrase, being pursued by a plain white ball with a single black stripe accompanied by a siren sound effect.
- In many Jewish communities, the poem ”Dror Yikra” by Dunash ben Labrat is sometimes sung to the tune of ”Sloop John B” because of its similar meter.
In English football
The song was first sung en masse by the fans of Liverpool Football Club after their 2005 Champions League win to celebrate their fifth triumph in the competition. since then it has been popular amongst English football fans since the mid-2000s. It was adopted by the supporters of English non-league team F.C. United of Manchester as a club anthem in 2007.
Since then more high profile teams have followed suit, usually with different lyrics for their own teams, most notably Watford, with Newcastle, Blackpool, Middlesbrough and Hull also adopting the song as their own. It was perhaps most famously sung by Phil Brown, the manager of Hull City FC, shortly after Hull had avoided relegation from the Premiership in 2009.
The tune from the song's chorus is often sung with alternative lyrics, particularly "He scores when he wants", "You know what you are", "We know what we are", and the most widespread version "[Town]'s a shithole, I wanna go home".
- Elliott, Brad (August 31, 1999). "Pet Sounds Track Notes". beachboysfanclub.com. Retrieved March 3, 2009.
- Unterberger, Richie. "Great Moments in Folk Rock: Lists of Aunthor Favorites". www.richieunterberger.com. Retrieved 2011-01-26.
- "The RS 500 Greatest Songs of All Time". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 2008-09-21.
- The Pet Sounds Sessions: "The Making Of Pet Sounds" booklet, pg. 25-26
- The Pet Sounds Sessions: "The Making Of Pet Sounds" booklet, pg. 26
- Murrels, Joseph (1978). The Book of Golden Disks. Barrie & Jenkins. ISBN 978-0214205125.
- "LFCsongs". Retrieved 2013-08-19.
- Conn, David (May 9, 2007). "FC United rise and shine on a sense of community". The Guardian (London).
- FC United of Manchester - Sloop John B Retrieved 09-21-11
- Phil Brown singing Sloop John B