Bitch Tapes: Songs about Sailors

Maybe it's Fleet Week (or perhaps Pride Week?), but I themed this playlist around sailors. Plus I've always found something very Romantic (with a capital R, if you didn't notice) about the sea and sailors--longing for someone who's not only far away, but far away indefinitely. As quirky a (loosely-based) theme as it seems, it led to some great tracks, from surprising covers to traditional folk tunes.There's something about the way love lost at sea combines dark tragedy with unrequited romance that inspires good tunes!

1. Camera Obscura - French Navy. The first song off of Camera Obscura's new album has been stuck in my head every day since I first heard it. AND I DON'T GIVE A DAMN.

2. The Blow - Why Don't You. There's nothing in this song about the briny sea wind mingling with your tears, but it is about long distance love, and I think rolling vocals keeping beat in the background kinda conjure up the waves! It's like a seashell up to your ear, but sad.

3. The Be Good Tanyas - Lakes of Pontchartain This traditional song always gets me! A marauder finds brief love in Louisiana only to find that she herself longs for a sailor. I'll drink all health to that!

4. The Sabras - La Bamba Whenever I'm tired of listening to Los Lobos (rarely), I turn to the Sabras, an Israeli-American band from the '60s! Make no mistake though, they're no son marineros, son capitanes! (Interesting fact: this is not the only Israeli surf rock in my music collection).

5. Ida - Boots of Spanish Leather This is a Bob Dylan song that used to make me cry just thinking about the dang thing, and has been covered by many other performers, including a great version by Nancy Griffith (thanks, my mom's music collection!). I like this version because of the kind of dialogue that emerges.

6. The Magnetic Fields - Deep Sea Diving Suit Is there a playlist the Magnetic Fields can't find themselves on? (No.)

7. The Get Up Johns - Deep Blue Sea. Another traditional little ditty that sounds way more cheery and upbeat than the lyrics, which deal with gut-wrenching pain and heartache.

8. Nina Simone - Suzanne The third and final cover featured here is the one and only Nina Simone beautifully transforming Leonard Cohen's ballad "Suzanne" (I know, right? You didn't even think that was possible!). This song is upbeat, but still very moving. I mean, Jesus was a sailor, I think Suzanne is too, there are children in the morning OH GOD IT'S ALL SO BEAUTIFUL.


Do you have any favorite sea-faring shanties? Old or new?

by Kjerstin Johnson
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Kjerstin Johnson is a writer and editor in Portland, Oregon. She is the former editor in chief of Bitch. She tweets at @kajerstin

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12 Comments Have Been Posted

great choices! may i suggest

great choices!
may i suggest cat power - "islands"?


You need to add Regina

You need to add Regina Spector's Sailor Song. One of my favorites...

its Spektor... but i most

its Spektor... but i most definitely agree... I was about to write that :) She is so amazing


I shoulda thought of that! It plays on a radio station here in Portland all the time! dooo doo do da doo!

But I will try and compile all these suggestions and make a Songs about Sailors II on our 8tracks account!


What about "The Mariner's Revenge Song" by the Decemberists?


My favorite sailor's song!


You forgot "Sailor Man" by

You forgot "Sailor Man" by Turbonegro


the ocean by dar williams

How about "Fish and Bird" by

How about "Fish and Bird" by Tom Waits? So heartbreakingly beautiful! And beautifully heartbreaking.

Oh Oh Oh!

I LOVE the Bitch tapes! Bitch should have a radio station! Feminism riding the air waves all day long! and Kjerstin should run it! Really though, do you all know of any feminism focused radio or radio shows? I see a bright ans shining future...

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