Pirate Ballads, Sea Songs and Chanteys

Aye, this is a CD I shall be purchasin’.

Leering, full of menace and the threat of pain, “15 Men on a Dead Man’s Chest” is arguably the most famous pirate song ever committed to tape (and thanks to its refrain, “Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum,” it also ranks among the more pro-booze sing-alongs in the children’s section of the music store).

But as a genre, pirate music remains obscure even by musicologists’ standards. To spotlight a genre that has all but disappeared — as well as cannily promote their summer blockbuster “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest” — Johnny Depp and director Gore Verbinski commissioned an expansive compendium of such seafarer music, “Rogue’s Gallery: Pirate Ballads, Sea Songs and Chanteys,” due Aug. 22 on Anti- Records. Its 43 tracks include contributions from Sting, Bono, Lucinda Williams, Lou Reed, Loudon Wainwright III, Van Dyke Parks and Bryan Ferry among an eclectic roster.

I need to be thinkin’ about restorin’ Pirate Mode here, too. The place is gettin’ too…lubberly.


  1. Joe Shelby says

    There’s plenty of pirates doing shanties and other nautical and Irish songs that’ll probably sound a lot better, certainly a lot more authentic, than this rock treatment.

    If really curious, look around for The Corsairs (Texas), The Pirates Royale (Maryland), The Ship’s Company (Maryland), and others. Many perform at Renaissance festivals around the country.

  2. Ichthyic says

    hmm, will ye be a bringin’ back some good ‘ol fashioned keel-haulin’ for the trolls?

    My hull could use the back of a few of your creobots to be scrapin’ the barnacles off.

  3. Ichthyic says

    Me hull could use th’ aft o’ a wee o’ yer creobots t’ be scrapin` th’ barnacles off.

    Works great!


    Ya horn swogglin’ scurvy cur!

  4. Graculus says

    I heartily recommend The Arrogant Worms’ classic “The Last Saskatchewan Pirate” to round out any such collection..

    And it’s a ho, hey!, hi, hey!, farmers bar yer doors
    When you see the Jolly Roger on Regina’s mighty shores.

  5. says

    Brian Ferry doing sea shanties? Wow. I thought I had a good imagination, but this is not something I can get my brain around.

  6. bernarda says

    For comic book stories of pirates, look up artist S. Clay Wilson who was a buddy of R. Crumb at Zap Comix and others.

    Warning: it is pretty hardcore stuff.

  7. says

    wow, the line-up is quite something!!! i’ll look for this cd.
    let’s not forget canada’s stan rogers, probably THE ultimate for sea farin’ songs.

  8. Ichthyic says

    ah, this thread brings back memories.

    I used to teach maritime history and marine biology on board the only replica of the Pilgrim (think: Two Years Before the Mast). We used to rig it up to look like the Beagle and have kind of an ‘evolution camp” for kids on board ship. Otherwise it was strict maritime history via re-enactment of the Pilgrim’s primary mission, which was shipping cattle hides from the CA coastline.

    It was a blast, and many a sea chanty were sung.

    man, that was so long ago now… 1988 IIRC. I guess they still do it:


  9. GD says

    Stan Rodgers had an acapella tune called “Barret’s Privateers” that’s got to be the anthem for the down and out pirate. That one always had everyone up and singing along with the courus at the Rose & Crown pub in Ottawa.

    “God damn them all!
    I was told we’d cruise the seas
    For American gold
    We’d fire no guns
    Shed no tears!
    I’m a broken man on a Halifax pier,
    The last of Barret’s Privateers”

  10. says

  11. Lee Brimmicombe-Wood says

    Pirates? No privateer or letter of marque shall be permitted passage by a vessel of the King’s navy!

    Signal to engage more closely! Wear about, Mister Myers, and fire as she bears!

  12. A Pang says

    And it’s a hee, ho, hi, ho, comin’ down the plains
    Stealin’ wheat and barley and all the other grains…

  13. Betsy Hutchins says

    There are many Sea Shanty fans out here actually. If you want to find some good ones easily, just search Amazon for ’em. I have lots of CDs of Shantys that I got on amazon with those wonderful birthday gift certificates!

  14. Dawn says

    As a NY Ren Faire fan, I love the Crimson Pirates; they do sea chanties and other songs. I have all of their CDs. And, if you enjoy parodies, there is a performer at the NYRF who, on her second and third CDs, has songs that relate to the Pirate of the Caribbean movies (www.catpedini.com has the lyrics to one of them, a parody on Barrett’s Privateers). Yo Ho Ho…

  15. says

    It has been said that if you stand at Toronto’s main intersection, Yonge & Bloor, and start singing “Barrett’s Privateers,” passers-by will join in.

    Edward Hoagland said:

    “When I was young, I thought no man was complete without a parrot on his shoulder.”

  16. says

    All you aspiring shantymen and shantywomen may wish to attend your local shanty sing. I learned my repertoire of shanties at the one in San Francisco[1] and now attend (more or less) the one in San Pedro.

    Also, in addition to those previously mentioned, check out the Johnson Girls, John Langstaff and the Revels, and the Sons of the Buccaneers. Canadian supergroup Great Big Sea also do lots of shanties. And, of course, whatever they’re selling at your local Sea Music Festival.

    Yo ho!

    [1] It’s held aboard ship (formerly on the C.A. Thayer, but, as she is in drydock, currently on the Balclutha) at the San Francisco Maritime Museum, and featuring dirty shanties after 11 PM. It’s free, but you must call ahead so they know to let you in. As it’s a National Park Service event, headed by an NPS guy (ranger Peter Kasin–a hell of a guy), there’s no booze-ahol allowed.