I Saw Three Ships
|I Saw Three Ships|
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"I Saw Three Ships (Come Sailing In)" is a traditional and popular Christmas carol from England. The earliest printed version of "I Saw Three Ships" is from the 17th century, possibly Derbyshire, and was also published by William Sandys in 1833.
The lyrics mention the ships sailing into Bethlehem, but the nearest body of water is the Dead Sea about 20 miles (32 km) away. The reference to three ships is thought to originate in the three ships that bore the purported relics of the Biblical magi to Cologne Cathedral in the 12th century. Another possible reference is to Wenceslaus II, King of Bohemia, who bore a coat of arms "Azure three galleys argent". Another suggestion is that the ships are actually the camels used by the Magi, as camels are frequently referred to as "ships of the desert".
An arrangement by Martin Shaw appears in the Oxford Book of Carols. The Carols for Choirs series of carol books features arrangements of the carol by both Sir David Willcocks and John Rutter. Organist Simon Preston and former conductor of the Choir of King's College, Cambridge, Sir Philip Ledger, have also written arrangements that the choir have performed at the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols in recent years. This carol is also featured in the musical Caroline, or Change, but as a counterpoint. Adapted by Jon Schmidt on Jon Schmidt Christmas album. John Renbourn has arranged it (in a rather free adaptation) for guitar. The song appears on Nat King Cole's 1960 album The Magic of Christmas (l/k/a "The Christmas Song"), arranged by Ralph Carmichael.
- English musician Sting recorded a version for the compilation album A Very Special Christmas 3 in 1997.
- Progressive rock singer Jon Anderson released a version as the title track of his album 3 Ships in 1985.
- Keyboardist Keith Emerson recorded a instrumental rock adaptation version on his The Christmas Album. (1988)
- Mannheim Steamroller recorded the song on their first Christmas album
- In 1995, Glen Campbell recorded the song on his Christmas album Christmas with Glen Campbell.
- Blackmore's Night recorded the song on their 2006 Christmas-themed album Winter Carols.
- Sufjan Stevens recorded a version of the song in 4/4 time for his album Hark!: Songs for Christmas, Vol. II.*
- The main refrain is used as the outro for the Half Man Half Biscuit song "It's Cliched to be Cynical at Christmas" from the album Trouble over Bridgwater
- "I saw three ships come sailing by on New Year's Day" is a 19th-century version, which mentions three pretty girls in the ship entertaining at a wedding held on New Year's Day.
In popular culture
- In Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode 318, Star Force: Fugitive Alien II, Joel and the bots perform a medley of songs from the movie, during which Tom Servo starts singing this song.
- The song is featured in the South Park episode Mr. Hankey's Christmas Classics, as sung by Shelly Marsh.
- In a That Mitchell and Webb Look sketch, a magic green clarinet makes people do a jig and sing about their most embarrassing secrets to the tune of this song.
- In Edward Scissorhands (1990) Alan Arkin's character sings this song while decorating.
- Three sailing ships appear to an instrumental version of the song in a segment of Teletubbies.
- Cecil James Sharp (2008) The Morris Book: With a Description of Dances as Performed by the Morris Men
- Website describing the carol and giving secondary references
- Camden Roll, dated c.1280, entry 11 and Heralds' Roll, dated c.1280 entry 18.
- The Oxford Book of Carols (1928) p.36.
- Connolly, Dave. "Jon Anderson: Three Ships: AllMusic Review". AllMusic. Retrieved 19 November 2016.
- "The Christmas Album". Amazon.com. 2000. Retrieved 2016-12-24.
- Crane, Walter (1877). The Baby's Opera: A Book of Old Rhymes with New Dresses. Frederick Warne & Co. pp. 18–19. Retrieved 7 October 2010.
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