Sail Away (Randy Newman song)
|Single by Randy Newman|
|from the album Sail Away|
Lyrics and interpretation
"Sail Away" takes the form of a "come on" or a "pitch" from an American slave trader to potential slaves. The slaver attempts to convince his listeners to climb aboard his ship and "sail away" with him to America (specifically Charleston), which he portrays as a land of happiness and plenty.
The lyrics contain several subtle references to the extreme ideological dichotomy going on in America at the time of the slave trade. For example, the slaver sings "In America, every man is free," emphasizing the American ideal of liberty. However, after a caesura he quickly concludes that sentence with "to take care of his home and his family," implying that every man in fact isn't "free" in every sense of the word.
The song is written in the key of F major, and performed in that key on the album. The original album recording features an ostinato piano part, played by Newman (who also sings the lyrics), accompanied by a full orchestra (strings, winds and brass) for harmonic and melodic fills. It features a set of relatively simple (for Newman) chord changes in the blues-country-rock-gospel progression that Newman is so well known for.
"Sail Away" has been widely praised by critics and Newman fans as one of his finest works. It is often cited among the best tracks on one of his best albums. Like many Newman songs, the relative simplicity and "hominess" of the music contrast powerfully with the emotional fortitude of the lyrics.
"Sail Away" has been covered by many artists in live performances, notably, Ray Charles, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, Etta James, Frankie Miller, Roseanna Vitro, Bobby Doyle, Linda Ronstadt, Ann Wilson, Dave Van Ronk, Harry Nilsson and Dave Matthews. On her first solo album, Gladys Knight covered it as part of a medley with Allen Toussaint's song Freedom for the Stallion, which shares themes of slave trade.
Bobby Darin covered the song on his last album before he died in 1972 - Motown's Bobby Darin. Newman later said, "Bobby Darin could sing, but he did "Sail Away", and, well... I don't think he understood it. He did it like was a happy song about coming to America."
- "Billboard Album reviews". Billboard. August 19, 1972. Retrieved May 10, 2015.
- "Randy Newman's 20 essential songs". The Telegraph. September 18, 2015.
- "The Rolling Stone 500 Greatest Songs of All Time". Rock List Music. Retrieved May 2, 2010.