Friday Five: Shipwrecks

Juli Thanki | October 1st, 2010

While there are several good country and folk songs about sinking ships including Johnny Horton’s “Sink the Bismarck” and Woody Guthrie’s song about the USS Reuben James (torpedoed in October ’41), today we’ll be concentrating on ships that weren’t attacked. It’s slightly cheerier.

  • Nickel Creek5. “The Lighthouse’s Tale” – Nickle Creek

    This one’s from the trio’s self-titled album. It’s a story about a lighthouse keeper who falls in love. It doesn’t end well: her ship is tossed around on a stormy sea and she finally meets her end after being dashed upon the rocks. Then he flings himself off the lighthouse’s edge. (YouTube)

  • People Take Warning! Murder Ballads & Disaster Songs 1913-19384. “The Titanic” – Ernest V. Stoneman

    Sample lyric: “It was sad when the great ship went down.” Pop Stoneman: master of understatement.

  • The Sacred Shakers3. “Titanic” – The Sacred Shakers

    “Titanic” is also known as “God Moves on the Water,” recorded in 1929 by Blind Willie Johnson. The Boston-based Sacred Shakers, which include Eilen Jewell, turn the blues song into a pretty cool rootsy/alt-country groove.

  • Folk Music Of The World (Digitally Remastered)2. “House Carpenter” – Pete Seeger

    This song, which is also known as “The Daemon Lover,” or “James Harris” is a Child Ballad. Basically, if some guy offers to take you away on his fleet of well-stocked ships, don’t leave your babies and your carpenter husband and go. That guy is (in many versions of the song, anyway) the devil, and when the ship sinks, you’re bound for hell. If you’re lucky, you just sink to the bottom of the sea. Numerous artists have covered this song (Tim O’Brien’s “Demon Lover” on Two Journeys is fantastic), but I think my favorite version comes from Joan Baez.

  • Church Street Blues1. “Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” – Tony Rice

    “Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” is such a wonderful song, and bluegrass guitarist Tony Rice’s cover is flawless. The album it’s on, Church Street Blues, also includes “House Carpenter” if you’re interested in a twofer.

  1. Waynoe
    October 1, 2010 at 12:42 pm

    I am sounding too agreeable on here lately, but this list is good. The “Edmund Fitzgerald” cannot be beat no matter who sings it, but Lightfoot sets the standard.

    “The Lighthouse’s Tale” was the first song I ever heard Nickle Creek sing. I was never so astounded by my first listen of an act as this one. Remains my favorite to this day of theirs.

  2. Howard
    October 1, 2010 at 3:02 pm

    Seems like they largely stopped writing songs about ships sinking after WWII. Not sure why as there have been some pretty nasty ones in the last couple of decades. ‘Erika’ and ‘Prestige’ are some recent examples which caused some serious havoc and have lead to some reshaping of the shipping industry. Anyway, how about ol’ Woody Guthrie and ‘the sinking of the reuben james’. A mighty fine song.

  3. luckyoldsun
    October 1, 2010 at 5:22 pm

    I’d say it’s a tie between “The Sinking of the Reuben James” (“Tell me what were there names?”)by Woody Guthrie and “Were You There When The Ship Hit The Sand” by Jimmy Dickens

  4. Paul W Dennis
    October 1, 2010 at 7:48 pm

    I’ve always been partial to “The Irish Rover” which has been sung by Burl Ives, every Irish folk troup, and nemerous country acts

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