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Classic Songs About Shipwrecks

While much has been written, recorded and exploited about the sinking of the Titanic over a hundred years ago, other wrecks have received little attention. A few achieved some notoriety through films, although all but one of these films have all but disappeared.

A famous maritime disaster owes its fame not to a film, but to a song. The Edmund Fitzgerald, which sank on November 10 exactly forty years ago, was a resounding success for Canadian singer Gordon Lightfoot.

The song tells quite accurately what happened to the freighter the day it capsized in Lake Superior. It was carrying a heavy load of iron ore from Superior, Wisconsin when it was caught in hurricane-force winds. All twenty-one men on board perished when it capsized, just two hours from its destination.

Like the Edmund Fitzgerald, other ships’ stories were told in song. The Titanic has, of course, been used most often, most recently by legendary songwriter Bob Dylan on his album Storm. There’s also a great bluegrass track on the Titanic, “The Great Ship” by a band from Ohio called the Dry Branch Fire Squad.

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

“The Thresher” by Phil Ochs

This US Navy submarine, which was destroyed 220 miles east of Boston on April 10, 1963, resulted in the loss of all 129 people on board. The folksinger wrote about the world’s worst underwater disaster for a song on his album All news that is worthy of singing.

“Ruben James” by the Kingston Trio

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

“The Scorpion Goes Away But Never Returns” by Phil Ochs

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

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

These two tunes are about the ship made famous by The perfect Storm, the Oscar-winning 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 of The year of the cat was appointed the Revenge, over which the title of vice-admiral was commander. He steered the ship towards the Spanish treasury in 1591, to separate 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 was mortally wounded, the 49-year-old explorer was taken prisoner and died aboard an enemy ship.

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