Classic Songs About Shipwrecks

While much has been written, recorded, and exploited about the sinking of the Titanic over a hundred years ago, other shipwrecks have gotten little attention. A few have gained some notoriety through films, although all but one of those flicks has basically disappeared.

One famous sea disaster owes its renown not to a movie, but a song. The Edmund Fitzgerald, which sank on November tenth exactly forty years ago, was the subject of a smash hit for Canadian folksinger Gordon Lightfoot.

The song narrates quite precisely what happened to the freighter on the day it capsized in Lake Superior. It was transporting a heavy load of iron ore from Superior, Wisconsin when it was caught in hurricane force winds. All twenty one of the men aboard perished when it capsized, only two hours from its destination.

Like the Edmund Fitzgerald, the story of other ships have been told in songs. The Titanic has been, of course, the most often used, most recently by legendary songwriter Bob Dylan on his album The Tempest. There is also an excellent bluegrass tune about the Titanic, “The Great Ship” by an Ohio group called the Dry Branch Fire Squad.

Here are five other songs that refer to shipwrecks, none of which ever came close to the chart success of Gordon Lightfoot’s “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.”

“The Thresher” by Phil Ochs

This U.S. Navy submarine, which was destroyed 220 miles east of Boston on April 10 of 1963, resulted in the loss of all 129 of the people aboard. The folk singer wrote about the world’s worst submarine disaster for a song on his album All the News That’s Fit to Sing.

“Ruben James” by the Kingston Trio

In 1941 a German U-Boat torpedoed this Navy destroyer, resulting in the deaths of 100 lives even before the United States had entered World War II. The folk trio managed to turn the event into a popular ballad with a catchy chorus.

“The Scorpion Departs But Never Returns” by Phil Ochs

Officially known as the Yew, this ship nicknamed after a spider was transferred to the French Navy in 1944. Although it did not sink until two years after his death, Ochs’ ballad from his Rehearsal for Retirement album referred to the ship’s leaving the United States to never return.

“Andrea Gail” by the Cobblestones and “Fishermen’s Song” by Jari Makala

Both of these tunes concern the vessel made famous by The Perfect Storm, the Academy Award film starring George Clooney. The first is a rock song, while the other mixes touches of Irish and Scottish music.

“Lord Grenville” by Al Stewart

The ship in this opening tune from The Year of the Cat was named the Revenge, on which the title Vice Admiral was commander. He steered the ship in direction of Spanish treasure in 1591, only to become separated from the rest of the fleet. An all-night battle with fifteen Spanish ships discouraged his men to the point where his crew surrendered. Although Grenville had been mortally wounded, the 49 year old explorer was taken prisoner and died aboard an enemy ship.