Welcome aboard, me hearties! My name at the moment is Pirate Dan, and I work as a professional writer and historian.
Shanties of the Old Sea Dogs
Haul Away Joe: This song is your perfect work song with easy-to-remember lyrics and an excellent beat to stomp your feet to. With a hundred different incarnations, there's a version to suit every budget. Try the version by a local Pittsburgh group The Plunder Doggs, who frequent my home away from home, the Pittsburgh Renaissance Festival.
Fifteen Men on a Dead Man's Chest: Since appearing as central to Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island, this deranged ditty about a derelict full of corpses continues to be a favorite for all contemporary pirates. Probably my favorite version of this one so far is Craig Toungate's from the recently-made Pirates of the Caribbean: Swashbuckling Sea Songs album. It's not the most accurate, but the way they blend fiddle and flute really captures the mood of a raucous buccaneer gathering.
Spanish Ladies: Most of us know this little tune thanks to Steven Spielberg's Jaws franchise and Robert Shaw's haunting performance as the hellbent old sailor Quint. But it's a sea song older than your great-great-granddaddy going back to the days of the tall ships. While not necessarily an exclusively pirate song, it belongs in any mariner's collection. It even makes a good serenade for the wenches!
The Mermaid: The sighting of the mermaid, those sprites of the lonely seaman's dreams, has long been considered a sign of doom. This song represents that very well, describing the untimely demise of a shipload of young men after seeing a sea-lady brushing her hair on a rock. While not one of my favorites, it's one every pirate knows!
Get up, Jack; John, Sit Down!: This little ditty tells the exploits of your typical drunken sailor being routinely welcomed into taverns, drinking away his money, and then getting booted out. While this may sound like your sophomore year of college, the song remains a favorite among sailors.
Drunken Sailor: An early nineteenth-century shanty often used in navies and whaling vessels, this classic tune has come to be one of the most well-known sea songs of all time. It consists of several verses describing all the things to do with a sailor who got drunk and fell asleep. These verses usually talk about increasingly harsh pranks, mentioning everything from throwing him into a longboat to slipping him into the bed with the captain's daughter. For added fun, a group of sailors often add their own customized verses.
Shenandoah: Another invention in the 1800s, this sailor song talks about the Shenandoah River. Used by several respected learning institutions as a theme song, this soothing melody makes fine background music as you whisper sweet nothings to your favorite strumpet.
All for Me Grog: Fun fact about grog—it was actually invented as a cheaper way of giving navy crew members their liquor rations in a diluted state. Grog was a mixture of liquor and water, often throwing in additional ingredients such as lemon juice or cinnamon to add more flavor. This song, describing a particular drunken man's gradual loss of clothing and possessions, is a long favorite of every sort of mariner!
Two Hornpipes: This old tune is the epitome of pirate ambiance! Usually starting with a single fiddle and accordion, this tune gets gradually faster and more upbeat until it makes every pirate in the room want to dance!
Blow the Man Down: Another old ditty from the nineteenth century with a variety of customizable verses, this song is one of those which can be sung by anyone for any occasion, though I recommend it for accompaniment as you prod your enemy out onto the plank!
Contemporary Pirate Music
Captain Dan and the Scurvy Crew's Seven Seas: This is one of those groups with an interesting concept, tiny budget, and a ton of heart! Captain Dan does pirate hip-hop using clever lyrics and the occasional swear words, incorporating some traditional instruments into the mix for a real funny audio treat whether cruising in yer dingy or doing a drive-by broadside!
Zakas' Terror of the Sea: Bringing a little heavy metal to the captain's table, Zakas brings us a tune heavy on the guitars worthy of Batholomew Roberts' best musician. Terror of the Sea was a tune I discovered during my college days, lyrics describing the basic tenets of the pirate round and their reckless but perversely honorable way of life.
Yo Ho, Yo Ho, a Pirate's Life for Me!: The classic song from the Walt Disney World ride Pirates of the Caribbean remains one of the most popular, especially since being brought back to prominence with the recent film of the same name. It is the perfect pirate drinking song, upbeat and bouncy and suitable for pillagers of all ages!
Scissorfight's The Gruesome Death of Edward Teach: Punk rock is represented with this song in which a lad with continuous belch voice tells the story of Edward Teach's final battle. Teach, otherwise known as Blackbeard, went out the way a pirate deserved. He died literally swinging after taking dozens of wounds in an epic battle. The mood of his finals moments is caught in this somewhat menacing portrayal.
Steven Goodman's Lincoln Park Pirates: Tow truck drivers: have ye ever known a more scurvy bunch of knaves than those car-stealin', code-enforcing jack-a-napes?! Well, here's a fella who finally took that concept and ran with it. The result? the Lincoln Park Pirates, a humorous little number following the exploits of tow truck drivers and all the vehicles they took.
Skip Henderson's Billy Bones: This might be the most perfect pirate song of all time. It has everything: the salty pirate vocalist, the accordion, the Treasure Island inspired lyrics, even the pirates pub noise in the background! It tells the tale of a pirate mocking his old shipmate (and possible enemy) Billy Bones, whose dead body is down to bleached bones on the beach. While Skip Henderson's album contains a lot of moderately good music, this song is totally genius. It is a must for any musically inclined pirate.
Pirates at the Movies
Muppet Treasure Island: Several years before Disney gave us the masterpiece of Pirates of the Caribbean, this little gem held all contemporary pirates over with its wit, storytelling, and wonderful music! My favorite songs include "Shiver My Timbers", "Professional Pirate" and "Sailing for Adventure". It's a perfect pirate adventure with the craziest crew of all time: the Muppets!
Hook: While I do not necessarily always agree with Steven Spielberg's style of film, I always had a fondness for this film which explored the old question: What would happen if Peter Pan grew up? While the music in this film is not always the most pirate-y, what with its dedication to whimsy and child-friendly adventure, the music attached to the character of Captain Hook himself is just the right mixture of malice and eccentricity. In probably one of the most elaborate introductions ever, it plays triumphantly in the minute leading up to Hook's appearance.
Pirates of the Caribbean: In much the way that Johnny Depp's Jack Sparrow reinvented the pirate in popular culture, Hans Zimmer made an absolutely beautiful soundtrack for the Pirates of the Caribbean films which mixed epic adventure, terrifying danger and quirky wit. He reinvented pirate music and led us through the pirate culture through the Black Pearl, among undead pirates, into the grip of the Kraken and even as far as Singapore! Definitely music no pirate should be without.
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