Sea shanties are the superior music genre

By Anna Popnikolova

As I write this editorial, I am listening to “Santiana,” by The Longest Johns, from their Between Wind and Water album. Earlier this year, the song “Wellerman,” originally covered by The Longest Johns went viral on all social media platforms, specifically the short-video sharing platform TikTok. It began from a single cover of the song by a user on the app, and later blossomed into an entire orchestral collection of covers. The singer was duetted by other singers who added harmonies, musicians with their musical instruments, percussionists and even translators. The memorable section of the song which was stuck in, I’m sure, everyone’s heads for weeks, was the first 40 seconds of the song, which go:

(Verse 1) 

“There once was a ship that put to sea,

And the name of the ship was the Billy of Tea,

The winds blew hard, her bow dipped down,

O blow, my bully boys, blow! (Huh)


Soon may the Wellerman come

To bring us sugar and tea and rum

One day when the tongin’ is done,

We’ll take our leave and go. (Huh!)

(Verse 2) 

She had not been two weeks from shore

When down on her a right whale bore

The captain called all hands and swore

He’d take that whale in tow (Huh)


Soon may the Wellernman come

To bring us sugar and tea and rum

One day when the tongin’ is done,

We’ll take our leave and go!”

The song is perfect. A catchy tune, a memorable chorus. Every verse is finished with an enthusiastic Huh!, my personal favorite part. After hearing the song for the first time, I could not get it out of my head. So, naturally, I looked it up on YouTube. I learned the band’s name, The Longest Johns. They are a Bristol-based band (if you hadn’t noticed from the hundreds of times when Bristol is mentioned in their music) and they are an acapella band group, singing mostly folk and shanty music. Before their song went viral on TikTok, they were not a particularly well-known group. Now, however, their videos have millions of views and their multitudes of fans are spread across the world.

Originally, sea shanties were sung on ships to create an entertaining pastime while sailors were going about their day and their duties on the ship. They are generally repetitive and easy to learn, with a short chorus that makes up the majority of the song. Mainly, the songs are about hauling or blowing, rum or women. The Longest Johns write and cover folk music, whaling songs, and sea shanties. 

Personally, these shanties have taken over most of my music taste these days. I find that my YouTube recommended, which used to be mostly Harry Styles and “Hamilton,” has recently been dominated by The Longest Johns and all their content. I’ve even gotten my younger sisters into it. I’m not sure how my parents feel about that part; my two little sisters singing the “Wellerman” with me while I load the dishwasher after dinner and playing it on their Alexa while playing with their Barbies. But it truly is the perfect music genre. Most importantly to me, you don’t have to be a good singer to sing shanties. They aren’t made for a great singing voice, they are made just to bring people together and make the work pass faster. 

Recently, The Longest Johns have started putting together what they call community projects. The first one I saw was their “Leave Her Johnny” project, which was open to submissions from the public. The project got more than 500 submissions, and they edited together a “mass choir community video project” with everyone’s video feed playing at the same time, while all the singing audio played. The first time I listened to it, I got chills. It felt like a big hug, a group of people all singing along with me. 

Yesterday, they released their second big community project, this time with the “Wellerman.” They got 6500 submissions, and their video was a huge success. The sea shanty community really pulled through, and they continue to pull through. This was a community formed in the midst of the pandemic, when we were all quarantining and staying home. This is an entirely online community, and I believe an incredibly amazing community at that.

To anyone just beginning to listen to shanties, I highly recommend The Longest Johns. My personal favorites are “Oak & Ash & Thorn,” “Santiana,” “Haul Away Joe,” “Spanish Ladies” and “General Taylor.”

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