THE BEACH BOYS: Is “Sloop John B” as innocent as it sounds?

JOSHUA ENGEL:

It’s not really the Beach Boys’ song. It’s a Caribbean folk song dating to at least the 19th century, and maybe older.

They weren’t even the first popular recording of it. It had already been done by the Kingston Trio, and by The Weavers before that.

I wouldn’t say it sounds “innocent”. It’s about a very bad boat trip, where people get drunk and do stupid things. The popular lyrics exclude a line about “My girl’s hat ain’t got no tail”; I have no idea what it means but doesn’t seem especially prurient in context.

But if you’re looking for some sort of hidden message, the way people sought dirty lyrics in Louie Louie (a song with a somewhat similar theme)… no. A sailor is having a rotten time and wants to go home.

If you’re looking for not-innocent, there is that 1916 Harper’s article that brought the song to the attention of Americans. Holy crap, that article is racist as f***

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