Suggest a Songfact / Artistfact
Album: Pet SoundsReleased: 1966Charted:
This is a traditional West Indies tune about a sunken boat. It was adapted in 1951 by Lee Hays of the Weavers (as "The John B Sails") and revived in 1960 by Lonnie Donegan. The Beach Boys' folk music buff, Al Jardine, turned Brian Wilson onto the Kingston Trio's recording of the song. For their updated version, Wilson added elaborate vocals and a 12-string guitar part. He also changed some of the lyrics, including "This is the worst trip since I've been born" to "...I've ever been on" as a wink to acid culture.
The song was popularized by The Kingston Trio, who adapted it from a version in poet Carl Sandburg's 1927 songbook The American Songbag
. The Kingston Trio's version stays true to the song's Calypso roots, and was released on their first album in 1958. Eight years later, The Beach Boys changed the title to "Sloop John B," and came away with a hit. Their debt to The Kingston Trio goes far beyond this song: The Beach Boys adopted the group's striped, short-sleeved shirts and wholesome persona as well.
This was the biggest hit from The Beach Boys landmark album Pet Sounds
. The album was the brainchild of Brian Wilson, and he got the title when Beach Boy Mike Love
suggested dogs were the only creatures that would like it. To keep the animal theme, Wilson put some barking dogs on the album.
With Wilson at the controls, the album was recorded at United Western Recorders in Los Angeles, in the studio known as "Western 3." Wilson coaxed a big sound out of the little room, which measured just 14' x 34'.
Brian Wilson hired 13 musicians to record this song on a midnight-3am session on July 12, 1965. The session players packed into United Western Recorders in Los Angeles that night were:
Hal Blaine (drums)
Carol Kaye (electric bass)
Al De Lory (keyboards)
Al Casey (guitar)
Lyle Ritz (upright bass)
Billy Strange (guitar)
Jerry Cole (guitar)
Frank Capp (Glockenspiel)
Jay Migliori (clarinet)
Steve Douglas and Jim Horn (flutes)
Jack Nimitz (sax)
Charles Britz (engineer)
Billy Strange did some guitar overdubs at another session on December 29, 1965.
According to pop historian Joseph Murrells, this was the Beach Boys' fastest selling record to date - over 500,000 within two weeks in the US alone.
During a discussion and performance at the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles in January 2009 Wilson said that Pet Sounds was named using Phil Spector's initials. Wilson's approach to the producing of the album was influenced by Spector's "Wall of Sound" technique.
In the movie Forrest Gump
, this plays when Forrest is in Vietnam, and the camera shows the latrines. The lines, "This is the worst trip I've ever been on... I wanna go home" are emphasized.
In the days before digital, recording engineers had a limited number of tracks to work with, so they would sometimes mix-down their recordings to free up extra tracks (losing a generation of recording quality every time). "Sloop John B" was mixed down twice, while all the other songs on the album had at most one mix-down.
In Paul Williams' Outlaw Blues, David Marks said that "Sloop John B" was made before all the other Pet Sounds songs, and was an attempt to give the Beach Boys a more masculine, virile image. At the time, Wilson was under fire from critics for making "wimp-rock."