Originally posted as a thread on @firstname.lastname@example.org.
Note that the “definition of sea shanty” part might be inacurrate; for a more in-depth explanation see the excellent video by Adam Neely, “The Music Theory of Tik Tok Sea Shanties”
Apparently TikTok made sea shanties a thing now. Awesome! Because I’m a sea shanty nerd, I decided to make an “explainer”. If you’re new to sea shanties, or just want some recs, follow the thread!
First: some people will complain that “it’s not sea shanties, it’s just Wellerman!” and “Wellerman isn’t even a sea shanty!”. If you meet those, I recommend smiling, nodding, and then ignoring the fuck out of those people. Shanties are a folk genre experiencing a revival - not only is it music that organically evolved, but is actively adapted and adopted by a new generation of singers and fans. There is no one true definition of a sea shanty!
Sea shanties are songs of sailors: in the navy, the merchant marine, on whaling ships, etc. In the narrowest sense, specifically WORKING SONGS sung to keep rhythm. They often have a call-and-response pattern.
A great example is “Pump Her Dry” as sang by the Exmouth Shanty Men
“Fire Down Below”, sung by The Jolly Rogers, is another good one
Aside from these, there are also “leaving songs”: these are about leaving for a voyage, or leaving the ship after return. (Sometimes they’re still also working songs.)
“Bonny Ship the Diamond” is about leaving the port (a whaler song like the Wellerman, btw)
“Leave her Johny” is about leaving the ship (sung by Johnny Collins)
“Don’t forget your old shipmate” as well (Jerry Bryant and Starboard Mess)
Obviously, there are also sea shanties in other languages! My favorites:
German: “Männer mit Bärten” (Men with Beards), here by Die Streuner
French: “Guerre, guerre, vente vent” is beautiful
And a Dutch one! “Daar Was Eens een Meisje Loos” - be sure to read the description here, you’ll get a taste of what digging into a folk genre is like! :D
– people on Mastodon had some more good recs!
- “Trasna na dtonnta” (Across the waves), a song of homecoming (recced by @email@example.com)
- “Au 31 du Mois d’août” (recced by @firstname.lastname@example.org)
Last but not least, there’s what I call “modern sea shanties”, or sea-shanty-adjacent. Some bands create completely new songs, adapt them into different genres, or are their own thing while being beloved by sea-shanty fans. Some examples:
“Northwest Passage”, a famous song by the Canadian folk singer Stan Rogers
“When the Boat Comes In”, an English folk song (here by Friends of The Shipyard and Fisherman’s Fayre)
“Hoist the Colors”, from Pirates of the Carribean
“Twiddles” by Misbehaving Maidens - warning, very NSFW!
“Keelhauled” by Alestorm (metal)
One tip: if you’re looking for long playlists of sea shanties, look for Assassins Creed! Shanties first appeared in AC III and became such a hit that they became a mainstay of the series. (BTW many current shanty fans got into them through AC, so if you’re here because of TikTok don’t worry about not being “real” fans :P)
AC: Odyssey has absolutely beautiful all-woman Greek songs
And a final rec: if you get hooked on sea shanties, check out this BBC documentary about maritime songs. It’s really charming and has a ton of interesting tidbits (gutter girls!!!)
I hope this will be useful for someone! It’s hilarious that shanties are blowing up like this, I hope it will get a lot more people to listen and sing and have fun with them.