Sailing (Sutherland Brothers song)

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Sailing by The Sutherland Brothers Band UK vinyl single A-side.jpg
UK vinyl release of the Sutherland Brothers version
Single by The Sutherland Bros. Band
B-side"Who's Crying Now"
ReleasedJune 1972
Songwriter(s)Gavin Sutherland
Producer(s)Muff Winwood
The Sutherland Bros. Band singles chronology
"The Pie"
"Lady Like You"

"Sailing" is a song composed by Gavin Sutherland of the Sutherland Brothers in 1972, best known as a 1975 international hit for Rod Stewart.

Sutherland Brothers original recording[edit]

"Sailing" was written and recorded by the Sutherland Brothers – a duo consisting of Gavin and Iain Sutherland – in a June 1972 session. The brothers provided their own backing with Gavin on bass drum and Iain on harmonium. They intended the song to have a "Celtic feel to it",[1] and overdubbed their vocals.[2] Gavin Sutherland said of the song, "Most people take the song to be about a young guy telling his girl that he's crossing the Atlantic to be with her." and with a grin, continued "In fact the song's got nothing to do with romance or ships; it's an account of mankind's spiritual odyssey through life on his way to freedom and fulfillment with the Supreme Being."[2]

Issued as a single, the song reached No. 54 in July 1972, and the single's sales were reportedly 40,000 units.[2] The Sutherland Brothers had recorded "Sailing" subsequent to completing the tracks intended for their upcoming album release Lifeboat, and that album was issued in November 1972 without the inclusion of "Sailing": included on the US edition of the Lifeboat album, "Sailing" by the Sutherland Brothers would make its UK album debut on the 1976 Sutherland Brothers' compilation album entitled Sailing.[2][3]

Rod Stewart version[edit]

Sailing by Rod Stewart UK vinyl A-side.jpg
UK vinyl release of the Rod Stewart version
Single by Rod Stewart
from the album Atlantic Crossing
B-side"Stone Cold Sober"
(US "All in the Name
of Rock 'N' Roll")
Released8 August 1975 (UK)[4]
GenreSoft rock[5]
Length4:30 (LP)
3:31 (single)
LabelWarner Bros.
Songwriter(s)Gavin Sutherland
Producer(s)Tom Dowd
Rod Stewart 1974–75 singles chronology
""Farewell" (UK)
"Let Me Be Your Car" (US)"
"This Old Heart of Mine (Is Weak for You)"
Music video
"Sailing" on YouTube


"Sailing" was recorded by Rod Stewart for his first album recorded in North America rather than Great Britain: Atlantic Crossing, which was recorded April – June 1975 at Muscle Shoals Sound Studio with Tom Dowd producing. The first single from the album, "Sailing" was an international hit, notably in the UK, where it was number 1 for four weeks in September 1975. It returned to the UK chart in 1976 and, with less success, in 1987. "Sailing" remains Stewart's biggest single hit in the UK. However, "Sailing" was not a hit in Stewart's newly adopted US homeland.


Stewart in 1972

According to Iain Sutherland the connection between the Sutherland Brothers and Rod Stewart which led to Stewart's recording of "Sailing" began when Stewart's live-in girlfriend Dee Harrington saw the Sutherland Brothers on the 20 June 1972 broadcast of the BBC2 music program The Old Grey Whistle Test: Harrington recommended the Sutherland Brothers as a musical act that would interest Stewart, and Stewart did indeed become a Sutherland Brothers fan after seeing them perform at the Marquee Club.[2][1] According to Gavin Sutherland, the Sutherland Brothers co-wrote two original songs with Stewart which Stewart hoped to record for Atlantic Crossing: however the only Sutherland Brothers tune Stewart would record for the album would be "Sailing" whose seemingly nautical theme complemented the album's title.[6]

Stewart would recall the recording of "Sailing" being a challenge: he was awoken in his hotel room by a 10 am phone call from Dowd at Muscles Shoals, in which Dowd said "Get down here in half an hour; we've mixed the track and need the vocal"; Stewart (quote): "I was like: 'You're joking, recording at 10:30 in the morning. I need a drink to calm the old nerves'...There was nothing [alcoholic] to be had anywhere and I was terrified to sing without [a drink]"..."I'd never sung anything in a studio without having a drink – let alone a big old anthem. And I'd never sung anything, anywhere that early in the morning. Got it in six or seven takes though."[7]

Impact and legacy[edit]

Despite his enthusiasm for the Sutherland Brothers, Stewart said that he "argued vehemently" against the release of "Sailing" as the lead single from Atlantic Crossing,[7] instead advocating his own composition "Three Time Loser".[7] Gavin Sutherland concurs: "I don't think Rod personally wanted ["Sailing"] put out as a single. He just saw it as a big ballady-kind of last track, side two, finish to Atlantic Crossing which had several other great tracks on it."[6] However "Sailing" had an August 1975 UK single release parallel with the album release of Atlantic Crossing: reaching No. 2 UK in its second week of release, Stewart's "Sailing" would have a four-week tenure at No. 1 UK.

Stewart's "Sailing" had a UK chart revival in 1976 as a result of the track being utilized as theme song for Sailor a documentary series on HMS Ark Royal which BBC1 aired for ten weeks from 5 August 1976: "Sailing" ranked at No. 50 on the UK chart dated 4 September 1976 and the track's renewed popularity continued even after the 7 October 1976 finale of the Sailor TV series, as "Sailing" reached its 1976 chart peak of No. 3 on the UK charts dated 16 – 23 October 1976, with the track remaining in the UK Top 50 into January 1977.[8] Stewart performed "Sailing" live on the Top of the Pops broadcast of 23 September 1976. "Sailing" remains Stewart's biggest-selling single in the UK: in November 2012 it was reported that "Sailing" by Rod Stewart had sold 1.12 million units in the UK with a resultant ranking at No. 112 of the 123 UK million-selling singles.[9]

In the US, where Atlantic Crossing had been issued in August 1975 without a single release, "Sailing" was issued as the album's lead single in October 1975 but failed to reach the Top 40 of Billboard, attaining a Hot 100 peak of No. 58.[10] Overall "Sailing" did afford Stewart a major international success reaching No.1 in Ireland, the Netherlands, and Norway; No. 2 in Australia, Belgium's Flemish Region, South Africa and Switzerland; No. 3 in New Zealand; No. 4 in Germany; No. 7 in Austria; No. 13 in Sweden.

The first music video for "Sailing" was filmed in the Port of Dublin and also featured footage shot on the major Dublin thoroughfare Moore Street: featuring Stewart and his partner Britt Ekland, the video aired on the Top of the Pops broadcast of 28 August 1975. Another music video for "Sailing" was shot in New York Harbor in 1978, and would become one of the first to be aired on MTV when it launched on 1 August 1981.[11]

As the British task-force sailed out of Portsmouth Harbour on 5 April 1982 – the third day of the Falklands War – the recording of Rod Stewart's "Sailing" was broadcast from the quay's public address system.[12][13]

In 1987 Rod Stewart's "Sailing" was reissued as a charity single after the Herald of Free Enterprise disaster off the Flemish port of Zeebrugge,[14] becoming a moderate hit in Belgium's Flemish Region (No. 24) and also the British Isles (No. 41 UK/ No. 30 Ireland) ("Sailing" would be the only charting Rod Stewart single in the British Isles in 1987).

Live performances[edit]

Although Stewart had been touring the US with the Faces at the time of the autumn 1975 single release of "Sailing" that tour's setlist was focused on Stewart's collaborations with the Faces, with "Three Time Loser" being the only Atlantic Crossing number to be included. "Sailing" would debut as a Rod Stewart concert number during his European tour of November 1976 – January 1977 with the song usually serving as each show's purported finale to be followed with "Stay With Me" as encore: Stewart's 1 November 1976 performance at the Trondheim Spektrum in Norway launched the tour which after dates in Scandinavia, Finland, Belgium and the Netherlands played nine cities in Great Britain including six nights (21 -24 December 1976/ 14–15 January 1977) at the Olympia London.[15]

Stewart's 1982 Absolutely Live concert album features a performance of "Sailing". He performed "Sailing" at the 20 June 1986 Prince's Trust All-Star Rock Concert – with Elton John on piano and Eric Clapton on guitar – and at the 1 July 2007 Concert for Diana memorial gala for Diana, Princess of Wales: both events were held at Wembley Stadium.[16]


Weekly charts[edit]