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Sloop John B

This article is about the Beach Boys' recording. For the original 1917 composition and other versions, see The John B. Sails.
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"Sloop John B"
File:Beach Boys - Sloop John B.jpg
Single by The Beach Boys
from the album Pet Sounds
B-side "You're So Good to Me"
Released March 21, 1966 (1966-03-21)
Format 7-inch single
Recorded July 12 (12-07)–December 29, 1965 (1965-12-29),
United Western Recorders, Hollywood
Genre Folk rock
Length 2:58
Label Capitol 5602
Writer(s) trad. arr. Brian Wilson
Producer(s) Brian Wilson
The Beach Boys singles chronology

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Music video
"Sloop John B" on YouTube

"Sloop John B" is a song by the Beach Boys and the seventh track on their 1966 album Pet Sounds. It was originally a traditional West Indies folk song, "The John B. Sails", taken from Carl Sandburg's 1927 collection of folk songs, The American Songbag. Brian Wilson sang, produced, and arranged the Beach Boys' recording. Released as an A-sided single two months before Pet Sounds, it peaked at number 3 in the US and number 2 in the UK. In several other countries, the single was a number one hit.

The group's folk rock[1] adaptation of "Sloop John B" was ranked #271 on Rolling Stone's list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.[2]


The Kingston Trio's 1958 recording of "The John B. Sails" recorded under the title "The Wreck of the John B"[3] was the direct influence on the Beach Boys' version. The Beach Boys' Al Jardine, who was a keen folk music fan, suggested to Brian Wilson that the Beach Boys should do a cover version of "Sloop John B". As Jardine explains:

"Brian was at the piano. I asked him if I could sit down and show him something. I laid out the chord pattern for 'Sloop John B.' I said, 'Remember this song?' I played it. He said, 'I'm not a big fan of the Kingston Trio.' He wasn't into folk music. But I didn't give up on the idea. So what I did was to sit down and play it for him in the Beach Boys idiom. I figured if I gave it to him in the right light, he might end up believing in it. So I modified the chord changes so it would be a little more interesting. The original song is basically a three-chord song, and I knew that wouldn't fly. So I put some minor changes in there, and it stretched out the possibilities from a vocal point of view. Anyway, I played it, walked away from the piano and we went back to work. The very next day, I got a phone call to come down to the studio. Brian played the song for me, and I was blown away. The idea stage to the completed track took less than 24 hours."[4]

Working in the key of A-flat major, Jardine updated the chord progression by having the IV (D♭ major) move to its relative minor (B♭ minor) before returning to the tonic (A♭ major), altering a portion of the song's progression from IV — I to IV — ii — I. This device is heard immediately after the lyric "into a fight" and "leave me alone". Wilson elected to change some lyrics: "this is the worst trip since I've been born" to "this is the worst trip I've ever been on", "I feel so break up" to "I feel so broke up", and "broke into the people's trunk" to "broke in the captain's trunk". The first lyric change has been suggested by some to be a subtle nod to the 1960s psychedelia subculture.[2][5][6]


The instrumental section of the song was recorded on July 22, 1965 at United Western Recorders, Hollywood, California, the session being engineered by Chuck Britz and produced by Brian Wilson. The master take of the instrumental backing took fourteen takes to achieve with Hal Blaine on drums, Ron Swallow on tambourine, Lyle Ritz on string bass, Carol Kaye on electric bass, Al Casey, Jerry Cole and Billy Strange on guitars, Al De Lory on organ, Frank Capp on glockenspiel, Jay Migliori on clarinet, Steve Douglas and Jim Horn on flute and Jack Nimitz on baritone saxophone.[citation needed]

The vocal tracks were recorded over two sessions. The first was recorded on December 22, 1965, at Western Recorders, produced by Wilson. The second, on December 29, added a new lead vocal and Billy Strange's 12-string electric guitar part. Jardine explained that Wilson "lined us up one at a time to try out for the lead vocal. I had naturally assumed I would sing the lead, since I had brought in the arrangement. It was like interviewing for a job. Pretty funny. He didn't like any of us. My vocal had a much more mellow approach because I was bringing it from the folk idiom. For the radio, we needed a more rock approach. Wilson and Mike ended up singing it."[7] On the final recording Brian Wilson sang the first and third verses and Mike Love sang the second.

During the summer of 1965 Wilson met future Smile collaborator Van Dyke Parks after he (Parks) was invited by David Crosby to listen to an early mix of "Sloop John B".[citation needed]


The single, backed with the B-side "You're So Good to Me", was released on March 21, 1966. It entered the Billboard Hot 100 chart on April 2, and peaked at #3 on May 7, remaining on the chart, in total, for 11 weeks. It charted highly throughout the world, remaining as one of the Beach Boys' most popular and memorable hits. It was #1 in Germany, Austria, and Norway—all for five weeks each—as well as Sweden, Switzerland, the Netherlands, South Africa, and New Zealand. It placed #2 in the UK, Ireland (where it was the group's highest charting single), Canada, and in Record World. It was the fastest Beach Boys seller to date, moving more than half a million copies in less than two weeks after release.[8]

Pet Sounds context

"Sloop John B" closes the first side of Pet Sounds, an album commonly interpreted as a romantic and introspective concept album. This decision is argued by many to contradict the album's lyrical flow, as author Jim Fusilli explains: "It's anything but a reflective love song, a stark confession or a tentative statement of independence like the other songs on the album. And it's the only song on Pet Sounds Brian didn't write." However, Fusilli posits that the track fits musically with the album, citing the track's chiming guitars, doubletracked basses, and staccato rhythms.[9]

Author Jim DeRogatis suggested that the song does fit in the album due to its key lyric "I want to go home" reflecting other songs themed around an escape to somewhere peaceful — namely "Let's Go Away for Awhile" and "Caroline, No".[10]


Charts (1966) Peak
Australian Singles Chart[11] 17
Canada RPM Singles Chart 2
UK Singles Chart[12] 2
U.S. Billboard Hot 100 3

Alternate releases

In 1968, the recording's instrumental was released on Stack-O-Tracks. Along with sessions highlights, the box set The Pet Sounds Sessions includes two alternative takes, one with Carl Wilson singing lead on the first two verses, and one with Brian singing all parts. As a solo artist, Jardine recorded new versions of "Sloop John B" for Live in Las Vegas (2001) and A Postcard from California (2010).

Cover versions

Brian Wilson's arrangement has since become the basis for many subsequent versions of "The John B. Sails".


  1. ^ Unterberger, Richie. "Great Moments in Folk Rock: Lists of Aunthor Favorites". Retrieved 2011-01-26. 
  2. ^ a b "Rolling Stone 500 Greatest Songs of All-Time". 
  3. ^ Gilliland, John (1969). "Show 18 - Blowin' in the Wind: Pop discovers folk music. [Part 1]" (AUDIO). Pop Chronicles. 
  4. ^ The Pet Sounds Sessions: "The Making Of Pet Sounds" booklet, pg. 25-26
  5. ^ Matthew, Jacobs (April 16, 2013). "LSD's 70th Anniversary: 10 Rock Lyrics From The 1960s That Pay Homage To Acid". Huffington Post. 
  6. ^ Mojo Staff (April 24, 2015). "The Beach Boys’ 50 Greatest Songs". MOJO. 
  7. ^ The Pet Sounds Sessions: "The Making Of Pet Sounds" booklet, pg. 26
  8. ^ Murrels, Joseph (1978). The Book of Golden Disks. Barrie & Jenkins. ISBN 978-0214205125. 
  9. ^ Fusilli, Jim (2005). Beach Boys' Pet Sounds. Bloomsbury Publishing. ISBN 978-1-4411-1266-8. 
  10. ^ DeRogatis, Jim (2003). Turn on Your Mind: Four Decades of Great Psychedelic Rock. Hal Leonard Corporation. p. 35. ISBN 978-0-634-05548-5. 
  11. ^ "Australian Single Charts". Retrieved 9 November 2007. 
  12. ^ "The Official Charts Company - God Only Knows by The Beach Boys Search". The Official Charts Company. 4 April 2014. 

External links