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 7" vinyl
Recorded October–November 28, 1972, Village Recorders, Santa Monica
Genre Rock
Length 3:18
Label Brother/Reprise
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"
Music sample

"Sail On, Sailor" is a song by American rock band the Beach Boys from their 1973 album Holland. It 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", and peaked at number 79 on the American singles charts.[1] A 1975 reissue (also backed with "Only with You") charted higher, at number 49.[2] According to Jon Stebbins, "It is perhaps the only perennial Beach Boys favorite to still thrive in the classic rock and album rock FM radio formats of the present."[3]


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, longtime Beach Boys collaborator Van Dyke Parks (then director of audio-visual services at the label) said that he had a tape of a song that he had recently co-written with Brian Wilson entitled "Sail On, Sailor".[4][5] The label then enjoined the Beach Boys to drop what the company perceived as the weakest track ("We Got Love")[nb 1] and replace it with the song. Band manager Jack Rieley contributed additional lyrics at this juncture.[7]

Parks explains: "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."[4] 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."[8] Parks has claimed that he developed much of the song without Wilson's assistance:

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 clear that I composed the bridge, played them, and taught them to Brian.[1][page needed]

In 2005, Parks elaborated upon Wilson's role in the compositional process to Domenic Priore, noting that "I went over to Brian's with my new Walkman and told him the name of the tune and sang those intervals, and he pumped out the rest of that song."[4] On the liner notes written for the 2000 reissue of Holland, Scott McCaughey wrote that the song was originally written by Brian, Almer, and Kennedy, and that Parks "structur[ed] the song and add[ed] a middle-eight" before Rieley contributed a last minute lyric revision.[9] In 2015, Wilson stated: "I remember writing 'Sail On, Sailor' with a guy named Ray Kennedy. I wrote the music and he wrote the lyrics."[10]

Wilson biographer Peter Ames Carlin has asserted that the song was essentially co-written by Wilson and Parks in 1971, with Kennedy and Almer's lyrical contributions dating from impromptu sessions at Danny Hutton's house during the epoch.[11] Kennedy commented on the subject in 2005, affirming that "Sail On, Sailor" had originally been intended by Wilson for Three Dog Night, and that Kennedy had written the song with Wilson and Hutton over the course of three days in 1970: "We went in and cut the basic tracks with Three Dog Night; we hadn't slept in about a week. Then Brian got up with a razor blade and cut the tapes and said, 'Only Ray Kennedy or Van Dyke Parks can do this song.' And he left. We all stood there looking at each other going, 'What?' He called me every day after that, and I wouldn't talk to him. Three or four years later, I heard it on the radio and went, 'Who's that?' It turns out the song came out on the Beach Boys' Holland album."[12][nb 2]


Vocals for "Sail On, Sailor" were recorded in late October 1972, some time after the Beach Boys had left Holland. According to Steven Gaines, Wilson initially "tinker[ed] with the song, trying to make it perfect as he had with 'Good Vibrations' and Smile"; following this bout of "procrastination", his bandmates "did not allow [him] to work on it at all."[15] This development left 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.[1] Brian acknowledged himself being "grossly incompetent" with the song, failing to show up at its backing vocals session, but giving some instructions by phone.[9]


Sourced from Scott McCaughey.[9]

The Beach Boys
Additional musicians

Use in media[edit]

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

Cover versions[edit]

Live performances


  1. ^ A live performance of the song was released on 1973's The Beach Boys in Concert)[6]
  2. ^ On the 1973 (REP 1138) and 1975 (RPS 1325) United States 7" single releases, Kennedy and Rieley are credited as the song's lyricists, while the music is attributed to Almer, Parks, and Wilson.[13][better source needed][14][better source needed]
  1. ^ a b c Badman, Keith (2004). The Beach Boys: The Definitive Diary of America's Greatest Band, on Stage and in the Studio. Backbeat Books. ISBN 978-0-87930-818-6. 
  2. ^ "Sail On Sailor awards". Allmusic. 
  3. ^ Stebbins, Jon (2011). The Beach Boys FAQ: All That's Left to Know About America's Band. Backbeat Books. p. 132. ISBN 9781458429148. 
  4. ^ a b c Priore, Dominic (2005). Smile: The Story of Brian Wilson's Masterpiece. Sanctuary Publishing Ltd. p. 142. ISBN 1-86074-627-6. 
  5. ^ Hoskyns, Barney (2007). Hotel California: The True-Life Adventures of Crosby, Stills, Nash, Young, Mitchell, Taylor, Browne, Ronstadt, Geffen, the Eagles, and Their Many Friends. John Wiley and Sons. p. 113. ISBN 978-0-470-12777-3. 
  6. ^
  7. ^ Stebbins, Jon (2011). The Beach Boys FAQ: All That's Left to Know About America's Band. Backbeat Books. p. 128. ISBN 9781458429148. 
  8. ^ Wilson, Brian (2002). Classics Selected by Brian Wilson (CD Liner). The Beach Boys. Capitol Records. 
  9. ^ a b c McCaughey, Scott (2000). Carl and the Passions – "So Tough" / Holland (CD Liner). The Beach Boys. Capitol Records. 
  10. ^ Slate, Jeff (March 24, 2015). "Brian Wilson's 10 Favorite Beach Boys and Solo Songs". Esquire. 
  11. ^ Carlin, Peter Ames (2006). Catch a Wave: The Rise, Fall, and Redemption of the Beach Boys' Brian Wilson. Rodale. p. 184. ISBN 978-1-59486-320-2. 
  12. ^ Locey, Bill (January 13, 2005). "Leader of the Jam". Archived from the original on August 10, 2007. 
  13. ^
  14. ^
  15. ^ Gaines, Steven (1995). Heroes And Villains: The True Story Of The Beach Boys. Da Capo Press. p. 256. ISBN 0306806479. 

External links[edit]