Sloop John B

Album: Pet Sounds (1966)
Charted: 2 3
Play Video


  • "Sloop John B" 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. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Rob - Birmingham, England
  • This was the biggest hit from The Beach Boys landmark album Pet Sounds. The album was the brainchild of Brian Wilson, who 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 - 3 a.m. 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. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Gary - Auckland, New Zealand
  • 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. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Natasha - Chico, CA
  • 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, Beach Boys associate David Anderle said "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."

Comments: 26

  • RonI don’t see any reference or supportive evidence to the claim that the line,” this is the worst trip I’ve ever been on” is a nod to acid culture. At this point to me it sounds like a baseless assertion by inference-COULD it have been? Most certainly. Was it indefinitely? That remains to be seen. To me (making an inference here based off of context, time period, and the artists repertoire) I think it fits better-not such a crowded room as The Kingston’s Trio’s line.

    Soli Deo Gloria
  • Rick C. from Los AngelesOne of their top ten songs. A masterpiece.
  • Jimmyplenderleith from Pittsburgh, Pa"when Beach Boy Mike Love suggested dogs were the only creatures that would like it"

    Its funny cause Mike Love is, as usual, delusional about what is good.
  • Pearson Hamm from Georgia This song is great. It is about a trip at sea gone wrong and he’s telling the captain to let him go home.
  • Pearson from Georgia This song kinda makes me sad since Mike says his grandfather and him got into a fight and he wants to go home and it’s worst trip he’s ever been on.
  • Sailgirl from FinlandA sloop is a single-masted sailing vessel. This song describes the hardships of the sea and when a voyage goes horribly wrong. The first mate is the second in command onboard, while the task of the cook is immensely important for the morale of the crew. As you really cannot exit the vessel at the high seas and swim ashore, I can easily understand why it becomes the worst trip ever for the young protagonist.
  • Theresa from OhI thought the about it being the worst trip was referring to the trip with his grandfather on the boat did not go as planned. i didn't/don't think of if as a drug trip. He said he drank all night, then got into a fight. Sounds to me like he is in trouble for fighting if nothing else. I guess you would have to ask the person who wrote the line.
  • Jon B Ramsay from Nassau, BahamasActually the sloop “John B” actually existed. “John B” was short for Johnny Bethel, the family that owned the sloop. It was used to transport pineapples from Governor’s Harbour, Eleuthera to a rendezvous with larger deep draught ships lying off the north coast of Eleuthera. Those bigger ships took the pineapples to the United States. Sherif John Stone (why don’t you leave me alone), was actually Johnstone, a common Bahamian name.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn March 27th 1966, "Sloop John B" by the Beach Boys entered Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart at position #68; five weeks later on May 1st, 1966 it would peak at #3 {for 1 week} and spent 11 weeks on the Top 100...
    It reached #1 in Norway, Sweden, and the Netherlands...
    Was the second of three straight Top 10 records the group; was preceded by "Barbara Ann" {#2 for 2 weeks} and succeeded by "Wouldn't It Be Nice" {8}...
    And all three of the above records spent 11 weeks each on the Top 100...
    R.I.P. Dennis Wilson {1944-1983} and Carl Wilson {1946-1998}.
  • Jb from Lyme, NhSheriff John Stone was the name of the Sheriff in charge of Columbine High School, located within Jefferson County, Colorado. and also mentioned in the song Sloop John B.
  • Steve Dotstar from Los Angeles, CaHow about the bass sound on this record?Pretty cool
    full tone...Carol Kaye?
  • Chris from Tulsa, OkThe song is a metaphor for life: a ship of fools on the uncertain seas of life; drug induced, paranoiac outbursts; with a wink at reincarnation thrown in for good measure.
  • Camille from Toronto, OhIn reference to the albumn title being "Pet Sounds", it was so named because these recordings were the groups "favorite" or "pet" sounds. You know, like a teacher's "pet" is the class favorite. Mike Love never made a comment about dogs being the only ones who'd like it! It remains a landmark albumn.

    From the albumn's liner notes: On the morning of Feb. 15, the group assembled in the Petting Zoo at the San Diego Zoo for the cover photo session. The photos of The Beach Boys feeding an assortment of goats was a play on the album's chosen title, PET SOUNDS. The title came from the idea that the sounds heard on the album were Brian's "pet," or favorite, sounds.

    Exactly who came up with the idea for the title is disputed. Brian has credited Carl. Carl, on the other hand, thought it was Brian: "The idea he had was that everybody has these sounds that they love, and this was a collection of [his] 'pet sounds.' It was hard to think of a name for the album, because you sure couldn't call it Shut Down Vol. 3."

    Mike also has laid claim to coming up with the title. "We were standing in the hallway in one of the recording studios, either Western or Columbia, and we didn't have a title," he recounted. "We had taken pictures at the zoo and ... there were animal sounds on the record, and we were thinking, well, it's our favorite music of that time, so [I said], 'Why don't we call it PET SOUNDS.'"
  • Sean from Chicago, IlMatt -- even "Solar System" is gorgeous?? :)

    Anyhoo...I have my doubts that Al Jardine is THE reason The Beach Boys recorded this song. I have a theory that it was always on Brian's radar screen, but a suggestion from Al might have further encouraged Brian. Dig: on the Surfin' USA album, there are covers of "Let's Go Trippin'" and "Misirlou," both of which appear on Dick Dale's Surfers' Choice album (the latter as "Misirlou Twist," which is similar to the one we know from Pulp Fiction but has a string section). The original version of "Help Me, R[h]onda" uses harmonica licks borrowed directly from "Fanny Mae," another instrumental from Surfers' Choice. Guess what other song is on Surfers' Choice!
  • Meredith from Atlanta, GaThis song is not about an acid trip. This really is a song about a trip at sea gone horribly wrong. My grandmother has many stories and photos of this exact ship, as it was her grandfather's.
  • Ron from Timaru, New ZealandThia song was also recorded be Johnny Cash - Ron Timaru NZ
  • Jerry from Brooklyn, NyThe bridge just before the last verse is one of the finest examples of four-part vocal harmony I have ever heard. Absolutely no doubt one of their finest recordings ever.
  • Teresa from Mechelen, BelgiumI don't know if "I can hear music" version Beach Boys was a big hit in the U.S. but over here they played it very often on the radio. I love it, it's a very good song.
  • Mark from Mchenry, IlThis is a great song. I'm not sure about the acid trip angle. The lyric "This is the worst trip I've ever been on" could easily refer to a sailing journey. It seems people often look for drug references in every song from the sixties. By the way, I agree with Teresa from Belgium: "I Can Hear Music" is my favorite Beach Boys song of all time. I've never heard anyone else say that. Whenever I say it, most people don't know what song I'm talking about.
  • Jordan from Toronto, CanadaDefinatly NOT one of the Beach Boys weaker songs. Among their finest for sure.
  • Z from Montreal, CanadaThis song has roots in Gospel.
  • Teresa from Mechelen, BelgiumGreat song, but my favorite one of the Beach Boys
    is "I can hear music", written by Phil Spector, Ellie Greenwich and Jeff Barry. Brian Wilson learned a lot working with Phil Spector and you can hear Spector's influence on many songs of the
    Beach Boys. Working with a great talent like Phil
    Spector must be an exceptionnel experience. Phil
    Spector,"Wall of Sound","Back to Mono": LOVE YOU.
  • Matt from Monroe, LaGreat song....all of the Beach Boys songs are gourgeous..
  • Sammy from New York, NyActually, the reference to an acid trip is correct. The original line was "This is the worst trip since I've been born"; Brian decided to change it to "This is the worst trip I've ever been on." In regard to the song, I feel it is one of the Beach Boys' weaker songs; other songs on Pet Sounds are much better.
  • Natasha from Chico, CaI used to think that "the worst trip" was referring to a bad acid trip, but I think I was wrong...
  • Maddie from Yakima, WaIt was Al Jardine (A folk music lover) of the group that suggested recording this song.
see more comments

Editor's Picks

Evolution Of The Prince Symbol

Evolution Of The Prince SymbolSong Writing

The evolution of the symbol that was Prince's name from 1993-2000.

Def Leppard Quiz

Def Leppard QuizMusic Quiz

Can you name Def Leppard's only #1 hit in America? Get rocked with this adrenalized quiz.

Kelly Keagy of Night Ranger

Kelly Keagy of Night RangerSongwriter Interviews

Kelly Keagy of Night Ranger tells the "Sister Christian" story and explains why he started sweating when he saw it in Boogie Nights.

Muhammad Ali: His Musical Legacy and the Songs he Inspired

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.

James Bond Theme Songs

James Bond Theme SongsMusic Quiz

How well do you know the 007 theme songs?

Don Felder

Don FelderSongwriter Interviews

Don breaks down "Hotel California" and other songs he wrote as a member of the Eagles. Now we know where the "warm smell of colitas" came from.