Ships In The Night

Album: Sunburst Finish (1976)
Charted: 23

Songfacts®:

  • Be-Bop Deluxe was a 1970s English prog-rock band fronted by virtuoso guitarist Bill Nelson. Sunburst Finish was the group's third studio album and is notable for featuring their biggest commercial hit, "Ships in the Night." It's also Nelson's least favorite track on the release.

    "EMI were looking for something they could release as a single, and I'd never considered the band to be anything but an album band," he told Mix magazine in 2019. "I considered hit singles as belonging to the domain of ephemeral pop acts, rather than the currency of a 'serious' rock band."
  • Nelson started out with the song title and worked up the tune at home on his Wurlitzer electric piano. Andy Clark, who officially joined the band as full-time keyboardist on Sunburst Finish, plays the spacey electric piano riff on the track. Lyrically, the song finds Nelson incomplete without love, like a "harp without its strings" or "a bird that has no wings."
  • The band recorded the album at Abbey Road Studios in London. Nelson wanted to produce the album himself, but the label wasn't having it. They offered John Leckie, a tape operator who worked on all four of the Beatles' solo albums in 1970 and was ready to make the leap to producer. Leckie, who would go on to helm albums from Simple Minds and Radiohead, and Nelson hit it off right away.

    "I had musical and arrangement ideas, and John knew the board and had sound experience," said Nelson, who is listed as a co-producer on the album. "He was a facilitator in a big way. If I could imagine something, John would know how to pull it out of the hat. The idea was that we could cross-fertilize, teach each other what we were good at."
  • The band was having trouble capturing the reggae feel of Simon Fox's drums in the remodeled Studio 3, its new drop ceiling and carpeting messing with the acoustics. Luckily, they found a small corridor with a linoleum floor. Leckie told Mix: "It was the only 'ambient' space at that time, since Studio 3 was so dead. In addition to the other mics, I set up a pair of ambient microphones, to pick up more of that live sound, particularly for Simon Fox's snare drum. He was so perfectly tuned, and the resonance of his snare hits the melody and voice just right. That's why Simon Fox is a great drummer."
  • Nelson's younger brother, Ian, plays saxophone on the track.

Comments

Be the first to comment...

Editor's Picks

Dino Cazares of Fear FactorySongwriter Interviews

The guitarist/songwriter explains how he came up with his signature sound, and deconstructs some classic Fear Factory songs.

Muhammad Ali: His Musical Legacy and the Songs he InspiredSong Writing

Before he was the champ, Ali released an album called I Am The Greatest!, but his musical influence is best heard in the songs he inspired.

Mick Jones of ForeignerSongwriter Interviews

Foreigner's songwriter/guitarist tells the stories behind the songs "Juke Box Hero," "I Want To Know What Love Is," and many more.

Charlotte Caffey of The Go-Go'sSongwriter Interviews

Charlotte was established in the LA punk scene when a freaky girl named Belinda approached her wearing a garbage bag.

Jonathan Edwards - "Sunshine"They're Playing My Song

"How much does it cost? I'll buy it?" Another songwriter told Jonathan to change these lyrics. Good thing he ignored this advice.

Let Me Be Your Teddy Bear: Teddy Bears and Teddy Boys in SongsSong Writing

Elvis, Little Richard and Cheryl Cole have all sung about Teddy Bears, but there is also a terrifying Teddy song from 1932 and a touching trucker Teddy tune from 1976.