From high seas to complete shipwrecks: the best and worst sea shanty covers – rated!

From Glass Animals to, erm, Gary Barlow – everyone's getting on board with sea shanties, with variable results…

Lockdown might be a boring, dreary drudge, but one upshot is this – the surreal and nonsensical renaissance of the sea shanty. The whole thing spiralled when postman Nathan Evan covered The Long Johns’ version of the 19th-century sea shanty ‘Soon May The Wellerman Come’ on TikTok and quickly went viral. Now, he’s quit his day job, signed a record deal with Polydor and looks set to chart in the UK top 10.

READ MORE: Sea shanty don Nathan Evans talks vying for a Number One: “I get seasick so there’ll be no gigs on boats”

There’s something in the sea air, it seems – and since then bands, presenters and other TikTok’ers have been giving some other well known tracks the shanty treatment. Ahoy there!

Nickelback and The Lottery Winners, ‘Rockstar’

@nickelback

@thelotterywinners #nickelback #seashanty #rockstar #firstpost #fyp

♬ Rockstar Sea Shanty – nickelback

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Nickelback know a fair few things about putting together a half-decent parody, it turns out. Before the Canadian band that everyone pretends to hate scaled to the gravellY heights of ‘How You Remind Me’, they started life as a covers band called Village Idiot.

Accordingly, when the bunch of aspiring seamen’s (no sniggering at the back) sails caught wind of The Lottery Winners’ shanty-flavoured version of ‘Rockstar’, the band sportingly clambered aboard for a collab. Mainly, this one stands out for its surprisingly high production valueS – we’re talking split screens, stock images of ships, at least two anoraks, a pipe, and a captain’s hat seemingly stolen from a rowdy stag do.

How many sails out of five? Despite hailing from the incredibly land-locked town of Hanna, Alberta, it’s a strong effort – four sails for the lads.

Jimmy Fallon and the Roots, Olivia Rodrigo’s ‘Driver’s License’

A meta embodiment of 2021 thus far, Jimmy Fallon and The Roots’ own sea shanty effort manages to house a viral trend within a viral trend. In the three days following its release, Olivia Rodrigo’s ‘Driving License’ was streamed a whopping 21 million times – and so, naturally, somebody was going to turn it into a rousing sea shanty sooner or later. Though we’ll have to dock a couple of points for authenticity (‘Mariner’s License’ might’ve been a better title) it’s certainly quite a stirring rendition, largely thanks to The Roots’ sombre backing vocals.

How many sails out of five? A valiant rendition missing one vital component – Jimmy Fallon’s desk is the perfect prop for a percussive fist-thump, but was sorely overlooked. Three sails.

Gary Barlow and Ronan Keating, ‘Soon May The Wellerman Come’

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With the HMRC tax return deadline fast approaching, Gary Barlow‘s naturally been busy recording his own sea shanty instead – with none other than Ronan ‘Life Is A Rollercoaster’ Keating as his capable second in command. With headphones tightly clamped over a heavy-duty beanie, Gary seems to have taken style inspiration from George Clooney in maritime disaster movie The Perfect Storm, but somewhat ruins the effect with a tracksuit. Unfortunately, he’s mostly let down by some pitiful dance moves, and spends much of Ronan’s verse angrily wagging his finger about like a supply teacher who just got locked in the stationary cupboard.

How many sails out of five? One sail feels quite generous.

Glass Animals, ‘Heat Waves’

Remember back when ‘pints with the lads’ was a legal reason to leave the house? Fishing out some super-skinny jeans and a nice top before heading into the city centre for a night of totally unwarranted Jagerbombs feels like a distant fever dream these days, and so thank the Lord for ‘four lads in jeans’  – a group of mates who saw their pre-pandemic Birmingham night out turned into a meme.

And so naturally Glass Animals – also known for sporting a well-fitting jean on occasion – decided to superimpose themselves onto the photo in question with the help of Twitter user @will_robins_. Not only that, but the video shows the band with slightly sinister, Thunderbird-esque hinged mouths, performing an inexplicable sea-shanty version of ‘Heat Waves’. Why on earth, you might ask. The real question here is why not?

How many sails out of five? A solid artistic direction for the next Glass Animals record – it’s a full house. Five sails!

Goldie Lookin’ Chain, ‘Wellend’

Blending the traditional folk song with the contemporary diss track, Goldie Lookin’ Chain also got in on the sea shanty action, and the creatively-named ‘Wellend’ goes out to the particularly enthusiastic fans of Paul Weller who have attempted to copy his mod-style haircut. Naturally it takes its melody from ‘Wellerman’, the New Zealand sea shanty which spawned this entire monster in the first place. It was a pun waiting to happen, really.

How many sails out of five? Inadvertently this is a cutting condemnation of lockdown haircuts everywhere – for aren’t we all just one ill-judged chop away from resembling The Jam’s frontman these days? Three sails!

The US Navy Band, Taylor Swift’s ‘We Never Ever Ever Getting Back Together’

In a warped sense, the navy are vaguely similar to sailors in that they do sail ships – but with less swashbuckling and more warring at sea. Perhaps that’s why the US. Navy Band opted to join in? Anyway, to put it lightly, there’s quite a lot going on in this cover of Taylor Swift’s ‘We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together’ – which includes a brief interlude into ‘I Knew You Were Trouble’, a fairly frightening impersonation of a chicken, and a referential spoken-word aside.

How many sails out of five? A solid endeavour – especially by the violinist – but far, far, far too menacing. Overwhelming. One sail.

Hunter Evenson, Smash Mouth’s ‘All Star’

@hunterevenson16

I think it works! #DailyVlog #shanty #pirate #rock #music #sing #challenge #duet #yoho #allstar #smashmouth

♬ All Star Pirate Shanty – Hunter Evenson

When it comes to turning pop songs into sea shanties Hunter Evenson, a choir teacher from Wisconsin, is really putting in the legwork. So far, he’s covered Rick Astley, Toto, The Cranberries, ‘Baby Shark’ and the Pokemon theme tune on TikTok in a maritime style – but the true jewel in his captain’s crown has to be his emotive cover of Smash Mouth. By the time he’s finished, it’s genuinely staggering that ‘All Star’ wasn’t originally composed as an uplifting and motivational anthem to bid sailors farewell.

How many sails out of five? Somehow, the sea shanty version of ‘All Star’ is on par with the original – five sails, obviously.

Hunter Evenson, Cardi B & Megan Thee Stallion’s ‘WAP’

@hunterevenson16

Reply to @thereallovelieejames what’s next? #MyStyle #DailyVlog #shanty #pirate #pop #wap #cardib #seashanty #sing #music #duet #yoho

♬ WAP Pirate Shanty – Hunter Evenson

Another Hunter Evenson special, this seaward cover of ‘W.A.P’ doesn’t just shy away from using the word “pussy” – it also dodges clear of the more radio-friendly, but equally filthy clean lyric “wet and gushy” too. Setting sail for the wet A.P? Absolutely not.

How many sails out of five? So much potential, but no wind in its sails. One.

Sam Pope, Queen’s ‘Another One Bites The Dust’

Inspired by the aforementioned TikTokker Hunter Evenson, Kent-based musician Sam Pope’s cover of Queen’s ‘Another One Bites the Dust’ imbues a CPR-tempo pop-rock classic with an unsettling sense of impending doom – and of all the sea shanty parodies out there, this one puts most gusto into the delivery and conveys Freddie Mercury’s words with ample drama. Highly captivating stuff.

How many sails out of five? Genuinely quite suspenseful, with a decent narrative arc – fair play. Four sails.

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