“The Mariner’s Revenge Song”
This song is nine straight minutes of knock-you-on-your-ass. I first came across it late one night when I was compulsively researching sea shanties. This song is said to have been inspired by the centuries old form, which consisted primarily of call and response performed aboard ships to sync crew movements during repetitive tasks. Forthwith, I dialed it up on songza.com, which is a free Internet jukebox that has pretty much any song you can imagine. The song’s opening bars are enough to remove you from your immediate surroundings; a phenomenon that grows as the song—in both its instrumental and narrative arcs—unfolds. The song’s narrator tells the object of his vengeance, with whom he is trapped in a whale’s belly, how they know each other. The narrator was a little boy when his counterpart married his widowed mother, subsequently philandering, gambling her money away and leaving her in debt and dying of consumption. As the song’s drama heightens so too does the intensity of the instrumentation, culminating in a most creepy and haunting manner as the avenging narrator closes in on his prey. Fucking jawdropping. In fact, the entire record this song belongs to, Picaresque, is pure dynamite.
Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich
“The Wreck of the Antoinette”
While it predates the above-mentioned tune by nearly four decades, “Antoinette” is a bit more accessible. The British rock band didn’t get much airplay in the U.S. during its ’60s heyday. The reason for their relative obscurity is a mystery given the caliber of songs like this. It’s a solid rock and roll song with a scorching guitar lead laid over the first few bars. The song surges forward much like the ill-fated vessel for which it is named. What makes this song especially killer is the melody, which sounds like it was pulled straight from the high seas. It’s obvious that sea shanties inspired the tune, which the boys then injected with bear adrenaline and fed about four Jager bombs. The song’s melody, tightness and exuberance are what make it worthy of mention, but its lyrics don’t exactly detract from the tune. The story line revolves around a dude who names his ship after his lady. The ship embarks on a voyage, then it sinks. I discovered this one on Pandora.com by way of a radio station I created based on British ’60s rock band the Move.
“Orange Claw Hammer”
If “Yellow Submarine” ate an entire sheet of brown acid the product would not be dissimilar to this tune. With a voice like sandpaper, Captain Beefheart (Don Von Vliet) tells the story of reuniting with his fictional estranged daughter. The chord progression is played in a choppy manner that parallels the tune’s surreally poetic, beer-soaked, salt-weathered lyrics: “Take you down to the foamin’ brinin’ water/and show you the wooden tits on the goddess with a pole out, full sail/that tempted away your pegleg father.” I discovered this tune during a mass acquisition of Frank Zappa music. The two were friends and used to perform together, and you can hear Zappa’s voice at the opening of the track. Warning: the version you want to hear is the one from the Grow Fins compilation and not the creepy a cappella version featured on Trout Mask Replica (on which he sounds certifiable and not unlike a seawater schwilling hobo). You can find it on Songza.com.