Though the Beach Boys recorded and released eight studio albums in the ‘70s, the endless sessions produced few classics. The quality of the music was dragged down by drug use, infighting and Brian Wilson’s crushing mental illness. These days, the albums play more like historical time-pieces than essential listening.
One of the rare highlights from the era is “Sail on, Sailor,” the opening track on the 1973 album Holland. It features the lead vocals of Blondie Chaplin, a South African musician who played on two studio albums and one live album with the band. With its rousing chorus and tales of the high seas, it serves as a sequel to the band’s fabled cover of “Sloop John B.”
While the track has not appeared on many of the Beach Boys’ best-selling compilations over the years, it has found new life in live performances in the last decade. The group revived the song on its 50th Reunion Tour in 2012 and released a version on the ensuing live album and DVD. Chaplin has even rejoined Brian Wilson on tour in recent years to perform the track.
Singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist A.J. Croce is the latest to cover “Sail On, Sailor.” The son of folk pop legend Jim Croce, A.J.’s list of collaborations reads like a who’s who of American musical greats. He has toured with B.B. King and Ray Charles, and played with Willie Nelson, the Neville Brothers, Béla Fleck and Ry Cooder. “Sail On, Sailor” appears on his latest album, a collection of covers entitled: By Request.
“Sail On, Sailor” opens with a slow, pulsating bassline. At first listen the intro reminded me of the opening from Journey’s “Lovin’ Touchin’ Squeezin’,” so much so that I found myself going back and forward between the tracks. He plays “Sail On, Sailor” in a slow bluesy, piano-driven style. Croce sings in a raspy voice as if he’s performing in a dockside saloon. He provides a solid update to a tune from an era of Beach Boys’ history that’s been mostly relegated to the bargain bin.
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