Music, going to sea, and the Merchant Marine

There isn’t much else that connects us to the sea than the music we travelled with and remember. If music was our only stimulus our senses were aware of, we could easily fall back to remembering many experiences of our life going to sea. The beat, the lyrics remind us of events, thoughts, and circumstances which have connected to our lives in ways, we don’t necessary clearly understand. 

These days we can travel anywhere with hundreds of hours of music (and videos) right on our phone, slip on some buds, a headset or link to a blue tooth speaker and we are all set to rock.  Yeah, you youngsters,  I mean under 40 crowd, didn’t get to go through the whole evolution of how music is stored and played (nor the expense of it) so I will give you a very brief history

Now I am a young man, 63, so I cant go all the way back, so I will only mention reel to reel tapes which I have seen on ships in my early days, I’ll simply start off in the early 70’s.  Initially, back when it was the 8 tracks, each about the size of a paperback, you could fill up a room with what you now have on your phone. Sometimes when you ejected an 8 track, well that tape just unraveled and you had to cut it out of the player. From there, we went to cassettes, usually these cassette players were included in huge combination radios (aka Ghetto Blasters) which were larger than brief cases and heavier. Well thank God, these quickly evolved, because it was just more shit to carry. Then, Sony Walkman’s came along, small players with headphones, yet we still had to carry individual cassette albums. So, of course, when came compact discs came a long we thought we were in heaven, but the drawback of these were you still needed a fairly, large player and speakers. A few years later, USB’s & IPODS finally broke into the market, and from there things quickly evolved so we now have our Smart Phones producing music in zero’s and ones..

Here is some of this old sea dogs music which refers to the sea.   Try it, you might like it. Right click the hyperlink to open in new tab.

Grand Funk Railroad – Closer to home (I’m your Captain)

Van Morrison – Into the Mystic

Looking Glass – Brandy (You’re a fine girl)

David Gray – Sail away with me

Jackson Browne – Rock me on the water

Jimmy Buffet – A pirate looks at forty

Jimmy Buffet – Changes in Latitude Changes in Attitude

Bob Seger – Ship of Fools

Grateful Dead - Lost Sailor

Crosby Stills and Nash – Southern Cross

Styx – Come sail away

Blue October – Into the Ocean

Frank Sinatra – Somewhere beyond the sea

Gordan Lightfoot – Sundown

Gordon Lightfoot – Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald

Jimmy Buffet – Landfall



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  • Tom O'Donnell on

    Another good post, Keith. I spent just about the entire year of 1977 on my Calhoon “Sea Year”. I carried an acoustic guitar I bought at a pawn shop up off Charles st, and placed a dozen or more cassettes inside the sound hole to maximize space utilization.. Those albums bring back memories of those days when I play them today. I had a single speaker short wave/AM/FM radio, and a small cassette player utilizing a self made connection to listen to my music. On our last trip to Subic Bay, I bought a counterfeit Gibson Les Paul electric guitar, and gave the acoustic to a Mess Girl on the ship. I managed to get the guitar to play thru the radio speaker, albeit poorly, but I thought I was Peter Frampton for a while!

  • john kenneth doherty on

    Nice music selections you listed. When I started, 1962, about all we had was our radios and each other. We had full crews, typically around 40 men. We’d sometimes talk about Soviet Union ships that had some women in their crews, maybe, even (hard to believe) in the black gang. Once in a great while we have a woman in the crew. One of the officers would have his wife and she would sign articles as the ship’s
    ‘librarian’. Our libraries were lockers with books and magazines on the shelves, brought on board by crew members would would read them and put them in the library for others to read. I found lots of good books and read about every thing on the ship, including the manuals I could find for our equipment (often they were not to be found). I’m getting red lines. Maybe I’m ramabling…

  • Barry Hempstead on

    Like your web site. Myself, been bye the sea most of my life, joined the Navy, Eight years, joined the merchant marine s , haven’t looked back. Yes being at sea is the only way I can live, land life Sucks! The Blue waters of the world, what a Beautiful thing.
    Thanks again.

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