One of the oldest known Anglo-Saxon sea shanties, having been sung in the Indiamen of the Honorable John Company, "Drunken Sailor" was the only song the Royal Navy allowed its crew members to sing on board. A work song, mainly sung on bigger ships with large crews, it was often chanted by sailors, with all hands roaring out the song in unison, as they hoisted the sail or raised the anchor, hence the chorus: "Wey, hey, up she rises."
The air was taken from a traditional Irish dance and march tune, "Oró Sé do Bheatha 'Bhaile" (Translated as "Óró, you are welcome home") The music was first reproduced in printed form in 1824 in Cole's Selection of Favourite Cotillions published in Baltimore. Its lyrics are much older, and comprise several verses full of various unpleasant things that could be done to sober up an inebriated sailor, including "stick him in the scrubber with a hosepipe on him" and "shave his belly with a rusty razor."
Successive generations of performers have recorded arrangements of the song, including the King's Singers, James Last, The Swingle Singers, Terrorvision and Pete Seeger. In 2005, Toyota used it in a US television commercial.