Sloop John B
"Sloop John B" (originally published as "The John B. Sails") is a Bahamian folk song from Nassau. A transcription by Richard Le Gallienne was published in 1916, and a version was included in Carl Sandburg's The American Songbag in 1927. Since the early 1950s there have been many recordings of the song with variant titles including "I Want to Go Home" and "Wreck of the John B".
|The John B. Sails|
The 1966 folk rock adaptation by the Beach Boys was produced and arranged by bandleader Brian Wilson and served as the lead single off their 11th studio album, Pet Sounds. The song peaked at number three in the US on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, number two in the UK, and number one in several other countries. It remains one of the group's most successful recordings of their mid-1960s period, containing an elaborate a cappella vocal section not found in other pop music of the era.
"The John B. Sails" was transcribed by Richard Le Gallienne, with five verses and the chorus published in his article “Coral Islands and Mangrove-Trees” in the December 1916 issue of Harper’s Monthly Magazine (pp. 81–90). The first two verses and chorus were also published in Chapter IV of Gallienne's 1917 novel Pieces of Eight.
Carl Sandburg included the first three verses and chorus of "The John B. Sails" in his 1927 collection of folksongs, The American Songbag. He states that he collected it from John T. McCutcheon (a political cartoonist from Chicago) and his wife, Evelyn Shaw McCutcheon, who at the time owned Blue Lagoon Island, a Cay off of Nassau. The McCutcheons told him:
Time and usage have given this song almost the dignity of a national anthem around Nassau. The weathered ribs of the historic craft lie imbedded in the sand at Governor's Harbor, whence an expedition, especially sent up for the purpose in 1926, extracted a knee of horseflesh and a ring-bolt. These relics are now preserved and built into the Watch Tower, designed by Mr. Howard Shaw (ed. note: Evelyn Shaw McCutcheon's father) and built on our southern coast a couple of points east by north of the star Canopus.
The Beach Boys versionEdit
|"Sloop John B"|
|Single by The Beach Boys|
|from the album Pet Sounds|
|B-side||"You're So Good to Me"|
|Released||March 21, 1966 (US)|
April 15, 1966 (UK)
|Recorded||July 12–December 29, 1965|
|Studio||United Western Recorders, Hollywood|
|Songwriter(s)||Traditional, arranged by Brian Wilson|
|The Beach Boys singles chronology|
The Kingston Trio's 1958 recording of "The John B. Sails" was recorded under the title "The Wreck of the John B." It was the direct influence on the Beach Boys' version. The Beach Boys' Al Jardine was a keen folk music fan, and he suggested to Brian Wilson that the Beach Boys should record the song. As Jardine explains:
Brian was at the piano. I asked him if I could sit down and show him something. I laid out the chord pattern for 'Sloop John B.' I said, 'Remember this song?' I played it. He said, 'I'm not a big fan of the Kingston Trio.' He wasn't into folk music. But I didn't give up on the idea. So what I did was to sit down and play it for him in the Beach Boys idiom. I figured if I gave it to him in the right light, he might end up believing in it. So I modified the chord changes so it would be a little more interesting. The original song is basically a three-chord song, and I knew that wouldn't fly.
Jardine updated the chord progression by having the subdominant (D♭ major) move to its relative minor (B♭ minor) before returning to the tonic (A♭ major), thus altering a portion of the song's progression from IV — I to IV — ii — I. This device is heard immediately after the lyric "into a fight" and "leave me alone".
So I put some minor changes in there, and it stretched out the possibilities from a vocal point of view. Anyway, I played it, walked away from the piano and we went back to work. The very next day, I got a phone call to come down to the studio. Brian played the song for me, and I was blown away. The idea stage to the completed track took less than 24 hours.
Wilson elected to change some lyrics: "this is the worst trip since I've been born" to "this is the worst trip I've ever been on", "I feel so break up" to "I feel so broke up", and "broke up the people's trunk" to "broke in the captain's trunk". The first lyric change has been suggested by some to be a subtle nod to the 1960s psychedelia subculture.
Context in Pet SoundsEdit
"Sloop John B" closes the first side of Pet Sounds, an album commonly interpreted as a romantic and introspective concept album. This decision is argued by many to contradict the album's lyrical flow, as author Jim Fusilli explains: "It's anything but a reflective love song, a stark confession or a tentative statement of independence like the other songs on the album. And it's the only song on Pet Sounds Brian didn't write." However, Fusilli posits that the track fits musically with the album, citing the track's chiming guitars, doubletracked basses, and staccato rhythms.
Author Jim DeRogatis suggested that the song does fit in the album due to its key lyric "I want to go home" reflecting other songs themed around an escape to somewhere peaceful — namely "Let's Go Away for Awhile" and "Caroline, No".
The instrumental section of the song was recorded on July 12, 1965, at United Western Recorders, Hollywood, California, the session being engineered by Chuck Britz and produced by Brian Wilson. The master take of the instrumental backing took fourteen takes to achieve.
The vocal tracks were recorded over two sessions. The first was recorded on December 22, 1965, at Western Recorders, produced by Wilson. The second, on December 29, added a new lead vocal and Billy Strange's 12-string electric guitar part. Jardine explained that Wilson "lined us up one at a time to try out for the lead vocal. I had naturally assumed I would sing the lead, since I had brought in the arrangement. It was like interviewing for a job. Pretty funny. He didn't like any of us. My vocal had a much more mellow approach because I was bringing it from the folk idiom. For the radio, we needed a more rock approach. Wilson and Mike ended up singing it." On the final recording, Brian Wilson sang the first and third verses and Mike Love sang the second.
Kent Hartman, in his book The Wrecking Crew, described Billy Strange's contribution to the song. Brian Wilson called Strange into the studio one Sunday, played him the rough recording, and told him he needed an electric twelve-string guitar solo in the middle of the track. When Strange replied that he did not own a twelve string, Wilson responded by calling Glenn Wallichs, the head of Capitol Records and owner of Wallichs Music City. A Fender Electric XII and Twin Reverb amplifier were quickly delivered (despite the shop they were ordered from being closed on Sundays), and Strange recorded the guitar part in one take. Wilson then gave Strange $2,000 to cover the cost of the equipment.
The Beach Boys
- Brian Wilson – lead and backing vocals
- Mike Love – lead and backing vocals
- Dennis Wilson – backing vocals
- Al Jardine – backing vocals
- Carl Wilson – backing vocals
- Bruce Johnston — backing vocals
Additional musicians and production staff
- Hal Blaine – drums
- Chuck Britz – engineer
- Frank Capp – glockenspiel
- Al Casey – acoustic rhythm guitar
- Jerry Cole – 12-string lead guitar
- Steve Douglas – temple blocks
- Carol Kaye – electric bass
- Al De Lory – tack piano
- Jay Migliori – flute
- Jim Horn – flute
- Jack Nimitz – bass saxophone
- Lyle Ritz – string bass
- Billy Strange – 12-string lead guitar, overdubbed 12-string lead guitars
- Tony (surname unknown) – tambourine
A music video set to "Sloop John B" was filmed for the UK's Top of the Pops, directed by newly employed band publicist Derek Taylor. It was filmed at Brian's Laurel Way home with Dennis Wilson acting as cameraman.
The single, backed with the B-side "You're So Good to Me", was released on March 21, 1966. It entered the Billboard Hot 100 chart on April 2, and peaked at No. 3 on May 7, remaining on the chart, in total, for 11 weeks. It charted highly throughout the world, remaining as one of the Beach Boys' most popular and memorable hits. It was No. 1 in Germany, Austria, and Norway—all for five weeks each—as well as Sweden, Switzerland, the Netherlands, South Africa, and New Zealand. It placed No. 2 in the UK, Ireland (where it was the group's highest charting single), Canada, and in Record World. It was the fastest Beach Boys seller to date, moving more than half a million copies in less than two weeks after release. It had a three-week stay at number 1 in the Netherlands, making it the "Hit of the Year".
In 1968, the recording's instrumental was released on Stack-O-Tracks. Along with sessions highlights, the box set The Pet Sounds Sessions includes two alternate takes, one with Carl Wilson singing lead on the first verse, and one with Brian singing all parts.
In popular cultureEdit
- In many Jewish communities, the Shabbat table song "D'ror Yikra" is sometimes sung to the tune of "Sloop John B" because of its similar meter.
Television and filmEdit
- 1966 – Dr. Miguelito Loveless, in the TV series The Wild Wild West sang a version of this in a duet with Antoinette in the episode titled "The Night of the Raven" (original air date 30 September 1966).
- 1967 – Bill Mumy as Will Robinson and Marta Kristen as Judy Robinson, sang a version of this song in the "Castles in Space" episode of the TV series Lost in Space (original air date 20 December 1967).
- c. 1980 – The phrase and melody of "I Want To Go Home" appeared on a drunk driving Public Service Announcement on Los Angeles area television stations in a humorous ad depicting golf balls with the intoxicated driver as the ball rolling erratically and singing the phrase, being pursued by a plain white ball with a single black stripe accompanied by a siren sound effect.
- 1994 – Featured in the film Forrest Gump, when Forrest first arrives in Vietnam.
- 1999 - Featured in the closing scene of Season 1, Episode 18 of Aaron Sorkin's Sports Night (ABC Television)
- 2000 – In the film Glory Glory, the piano player in the bar is playing "Sloop John B" as the main characters are flirting with the posse.
- 2003 – In the film Calendar Girls, the Beach Boys instrumental track is used as the press swoops down on the little village of Knapely after the calendar comes out.
- During the BBC programme Three Men in Another Boat with Griff Rhys Jones, Dara Ó Briain and Rory McGrath, McGrath is heard singing the popular song whilst out sailing in the English Channel.
- 2007 – In the film Full of It, the main character Sam and his family sing the song while driving Sam to school.
- 2009 – A choral arrangement was performed in episode 3 of the BBC Drama All the Small Things. It was arranged by Colin Hanson-Orr and Chris O'Hara.
- 2013 – The film The Wolf of Wall Street prominently features the cover of "Sloop John B" by Me First and the Gimme Gimmes.
Since then more high-profile teams have followed suit, usually with different lyrics for their own teams, including Watford, with Newcastle, Blackpool, Middlesbrough and Hull also adopting the song as their own. It was sung by Phil Brown, the manager of Hull City FC, shortly after Hull had avoided relegation from the Premier League in 2009.
The tune from the song's chorus is often sung with alternative lyrics, particularly "He scores when he wants", "You know what you are" and "We know what we are".
List of recordingsEdit
All versions titled "Sloop John B", except where noted.
- 1935 - Cleveland Simmons Group - "Histe Up the John B. Sail" (recorded by folklorist Alan Lomax in the Bahamas)
- 1950 - The Weavers - "(The Wreck of the) John B" 
- 1952 – Blind Blake (Blake Alphonso Higgs) – "John B. Sails"
- 1958 – The Kingston Trio – "(The Wreck of the) John B"
- 1959 – Johnny Cash – "I Want To Go Home"
- 1960 - Bud & Travis (Bud and Travis in Concert 1960)
- 1960 – Lonnie Donegan – "I Wanna Go Home (Wreck of the John B)"
- 1960 – Jimmie Rodgers - "Wreck of the John B"
- 1961 – Jerry Butler
- 1962 – Arthur Lyman Group - "(The Sloop) John B."
- 1962 – Dick Dale and his Del-Tones
- 1962 - Keith and Enid - "Wreck of the John B"
- 1963 – The Brothers Four - "The John B. Sails"
- 1963 – Jon & Alun - "John B" (Relax Your Mind)
- 1965 – Barry McGuire
- 1966 – The Beach Boys (Pet Sounds)
- 1966 - The Merrymen featuring Emile Straker - "Wreck of the John B" (Caribbean Treasure Chest)
- 1966 – Cornelis Vreeswijk and Ann-Louise Hansson - "Jag hade en gång en båt" ("Once I Had A Boat")
- 1966 - The Ventures
- 1967 - Gary Lewis & The Playboys - “Down on the Sloop John B.”
- 1967 - Marta Kristen and Billy Mumy sing a version in Lost in Space
- 1970 – Chet Atkins and Jerry Reed - "Wreck of the John B" on album Me & Jerry
- 1972 – Joseph Spence (Good Morning Mr. Walker)
- 1979 - Bill Sharkey
- 1979 - The Irish Rovers (Tall Ships and Salty Dogs)
- 1981 – David Thomas & the Pedestrians
- 1984 – Rainy Day, featuring members of Rain Parade, The Dream Syndicate, and The Three O'Clock (Rainy Day)
- 1997 – Arjen Anthony Lucassen Strange Hobby
- 1998 – Jerry Jeff Walker
- 1999 - Tom Fogerty (The Very Best of Tom Fogerty)
- 2000 – Catch 22 - "Wreck of the Sloop John B"
- 2001 – Me First and the Gimme Gimmes
- 2003 – Ulfuls - "Sleep John B" (Japanese)
- 2004 – Dan Zanes & Festival Five Folk (Sea Music)
- 2004 – The Dicey Doh Singers (Classic Maritime Music from Smithsonian Folkways)
- 2007 – Relient K
- 2007 – Okkervil River - "John Allyn Smith Sails"
- 2007 - Kilkenny Krew
- 2009 – Simple Minds (Graffiti Soul, deluxe edition)
- 2010 – Westminster Chorus (It Only Takes a Moment)
- 2011 – Bounding Main (Kraken Up)
- 2012 – Tom McRae (From The Lowlands)
- 2012 – Al Jardine (A Postcard from California)
- 2012 - Dwight Yoakam (at The Live Room)
- 2012 – Aurelio Voltaire - "Screw the Ocampa" (BiTrektual)
- 2014 – Jay Malinowski & The Deadcoast (Martel)
- 2016 – Triángulo de Amor Bizarro - "A cantiga de Juan C"
- 2017 – AJR – “Call My Dad”
- 2018 - Josh Turner Guitar - "Sloop John B (Live From The Bus)" 
This section needs additional citations for verification. (October 2020)
Weekly singles charts
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- Le Gallienne, Pieces of Eight, p. 30: " 'And you, boys, there; haven't you got a song you can put up? How about 'The John B. sails?' ' And I led them off, the hiss and swirl of the sea, and the wind making a brisk undertone as we sang one of the quaint Nassau ditties."
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