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"Sailor" (original title: Seemann (Deine Heimat ist das Meer)) is a song written by Werner Scharfenberger (de) and Fini Busch (de) which via a 1959 recording by Lolita became an international hit, with its #5 peak on the Hot 100 chart in Billboard making "Sailor" the most successful American hit sung in German until "99 Luftballons" by Nena in 1984.
With English lyrics written by Norman Newell (credited as "David West") the song also provided a comeback vehicle for two UK vocalists: Petula Clark and Anne Shelton whose respective versions of "Sailor" were both musical milestones for each singer; marking Clark's first #1 on the UK Singles Chart and Shelton's final chart appearance.
A schlager-style number, "Sailor" in its original German lyric addresses a seafaring love object with an acceptance of his wanderlust: the English-language version inverts this sentiment turning the song into a plea for the sailor to return. The song is sometimes sung by male vocalists from the point of view of the sailor with the lyrics adjusted accordingly.
Prior to "Seemann...", Viennese singer Lolita had based her career on schlager numbers with Latin or Polynesian themes. Making her recording debut in 1957, Lolita had had four Top 20 hits on the German charts notably with "Der Weiße Mond Von Maratonga" (#2/ 1957) her evident career record as in 1958-59 Lolita's seventh through eleventh single releases all peaked outside the Top 20.
"Seemann..." was recorded by Lolita in a December 15, 1959 session in Vienna. The song's composers Werner Scharfenberger - who was the regular conductor on Lolita's recordings - and Fini Busch had written "Der weiße Mond von Maratonga" and other songs previously recorded by Lolita: however it was another track from the December 15 session which was intended to be Lolita's next A-side release: a cover of the Italian single "Quando la luna" by Corrado Lojacono entitled "La Luna", "Seemann..." having been expediently written to provide a B-side for "La Luna". However it was "Seemann..." which entered the German Top 20 in March 1960: peaking at #2 that June, the single was in the Top 20 for ten months and was the fourth biggest German hit of the year. ("La Luna" would have a belated turn as A-side reaching #30 on the German charts in December 1960.)
"Seemann..." was picked up for US release by Kapp Records in August 1960 in the belief that the track would appeal to Americans of Germanic descent. In fact the single, re-entitled "Sailor (Your Home is On the Sea)" garnered sufficient attention from Top 40 radio to debut at #76 on Billboard magazine's Hot 100 dated October 24, 1960: the impact of "Sailor..." in the US has been attributed to the then-current immense US media interest in Germany due to the political situation in Berlin and also Elvis Presley's being stationed on a West German airbase. Kapp Records rush released an augmented pressing of the original Lolita single, a spoken word English translation of the song's lyric by British singer Maureen René being added in a Hamburg studio on November 4, 1960, and "Sailor..." rose as to a #5 Hot 100 peak in December 1960, becoming the first German-language song to rise to the US Top Ten, a feat repeated only in 1984 by the #1 hit "99 Luftballons" by Nena.
"Sailor..." also afforded Lolita a hit in Australia (#14), Japan (Top 20) and New Zealand reaching #8 in the latter territory despite the #1 ranking achieved there by the Petula Clark English-language rendering "Sailor" (for details of which click here). "Seemann" by Lolita also reached the Top Ten in the Netherlands and in Flemish Belgium - co-ranked with Petula Clark's English rendition - Lolita's "Seemann" reached #12. The track had its most intense chart impact in Norway where it was #1 for nine weeks in the spring of 1961 with sales of 50,000 units recognized that October with the awarding of a Gold Disc. In Sweden "Seemann..." reached #5 in an in tandem charting with the local cover version "Sjöman" by Towa Carson. Estimate for global sales of "Seemann (Deine Heimat Ist Das Meer)"/ "Sailor (Your Home is the Sea)" by Lolita is two million units.
Lolita can be heard singing "Seemann..." on the soundtrack of the film Schick deine Frau nicht nach Italien (de) which premiered September 22 1960.
The 1984 #1 hit "99 Luftballons" by the group Nena would oust Lolita's "Seemann..." as the highest charting US hit sung in German: in 2008 the former vocalist of that group who's pursued a solo career as Nena would record "Seemann..." as "Seemann, lass das Träumen" for a multi-artist album of nautical-themed songs entitled Captains Club - Bis Ans Ende der Welt. "Seemann..." has also been remade by Manuela as "Seemann, deine Heimat ist das Meer" for her 1964 self-titled album, by the Günter Kallmann (de) Chor as "Seemann" for their 1965 album Serenade am Meer, by Freddy Quinn as "Seemann deine Heimat ist das Meer" for his 1969 album Freddy auf hoher See, by United Balls (de) as "Seemann (deine Heimat ist das Meer)" for their 1982 album Lieder fremder Völker, by Klaus & Klaus as "Seemann (Deine Heimat ist das Meer) on a 2007 EP, by Géraldine Olivier as "Seemann, deine Heimat ist das Meer" for her 2009 album Maritime Welthits der 50er und 60er, and by Andrea Berg as "Seemann, deine Heimat ist das Meer" for her 2011 concert album Schwerelos Live (Tausend Und Eine Nacht-Tour). The Swedish dansband Vikingarna used the German title "Seemann" for the instrumental version of the song featured on their 1977 album Kramgoa Låtar 5.
When Petula Clark charted in her native UK with the English-language rendering of "Sailor" - see Section 2.3 of this article for details - reaching #1 in February 1961 she ended a UK chart absence of almost three years. However during those same three years Clark did enjoy a string of hit singles in France and she expediently rendered her UK hit "Sailor" with French-language lyrics - by Jean Broussolle (fr) - with the resultant track "Marin" becoming Clark's eighth French chart hit, its #2 peak - reached in May 1961 - matching Clark's previous best French charting that being with "Java Pour Petula" #2 in 1959. The follow-up to "Marin": "Roméo", would be the first of Clark's five French #1's.
"Marin" reached #10 on the charts for the French-speaking sector of Belgium and the single also entered the Montreal charts (as "Sailor") in January 1961 peaking at #13 marking Clark's first appearance on an accredited North American chart almost four years before her breakout hit "Downtown". A cover version of "Marin" - so entitled - was recorded by Québécois singer Pierrette Roy and was ranked at #22 on the annual tally of Québécois hits for 1961.
"Marin" was also recorded by Alain Morisod (fr) & Sweet People for their 2009 album which is entitled Marin.
"Sjømann" was recorded in 1960 by Jan Høiland and also by Franz Løberg (no): Høiland's version rose as high as #2 on the Norwegian charts for the first and second week of February 1961 being kept from #1 by the original "Seemann..." by Lolita (see Section 1.1 for details). "Sjømann" was later recorded by the Kjell Karlsen Orkester for their 1973 album Spanske Øyne, the vocalist on the track being We-Be Karlsen (no).
"Sjöman" was first recorded by Thory Bernhards (sv) in an October 12 1960 session, the Swedish lyrics being the work of Åke Gerhard whose composition "Ann-Caroline" - first sung by Bernhards - had coincidentally developed into "Lay Down Your Arms" the career record of Anne Shelton who would have a Top Ten UK hit with "Sailor". Bernhards' rendition of "Sjöman" was utilized in the soundtrack of the German film Schick deine Frau nicht nach Italien (de) in its Swedish release replacing Lolita's German-language original "Seemann (Deine Heimat ist das Meer)" (see Section 1.1 for details). The hit recording of "Sjöman" was that by Towa Carson which first charted in Sweden in tandem with "Seemann..." by Lolita with a #5 peak with a subsequent charting as a double A-sided hit with "Sista Dansen" (i.e. "Save the Last Dance for Me") reaching #9 in June 1961. "Sjöman" was also recorded in 1960 by Inger Jacobsen.
Croatian • "Mornar" recorded by Anica Zubović (hr) in 1968.
Danish • "Sømand, mon du drømmer?" recorded in 1960 by Katy Bødtger with Ole Mortensen (da) conducting the orchestra.
Dutch • In the autumn of 1960 "Zeeman" by Caterina Valente charted in the Netherlands and reached #10 on the charts for the Flemish region of Belgium: a 1981 remake by Ciska Peters (nl) - as "Zeeman, Je Verlangen Is Dezee" - reached #19 in the Netherlands. "Zeeman" has also been recorded by the Fouryo's (nl) and also by Lisa Del Bo, appearing on the 1999 Lisa Del Bo album Best of the Sixties.
Estonian • "Meremees, kus on su kodu?" has been recorded by Vello Orumets (et) and also by Toivo Nikopensius (et).
Finnish • "Merimies, kotimaasi on meri" was first recorded by Ritva Mustonen (fi) in 1960: recorded in 1961 by Laila Kinnunen, "Merimies..." has since been remade by Eino Grön (fi) for his 1983 album Merellä ja Kotisatamassa, by Lea Laven for her 1988 album Bluebird, and by the Charlies (fi) for their 1999 album Kauneimmat Hetket.
Italian • "Sailor (La tua casa e' il mare)" recorded by Lucia Altieri (it) in 1962.
Spanish • "Marinero" recorded by Patrick Jaque in 1963.
Lyricist Norman Newell would recall that his publisher phoned him on a Friday requesting he write English lyrics for Lolita's hit ""Seemann..." (see Section 1.1 of this article): although Newell agreed to prepare the lyrics over the weekend the assignment slipped his mind until a messenger arrived Monday morning to pick up Newell's work. "I sent [the messenger] to the canteen and wrote the lyric 'Sailor' in ten minutes."
The first recording of the English version of "Sailor" was made by Anne Shelton: the session for Shelton's version was arranged and conducted by Wally Stott and featured guitarist Big Jim Sullivan who'd also play on the version by Petula Clark.
Shelton had spent four weeks at #1 UK with "Lay Down Your Arms" in 1956 but had since only had one further chart record: "The Village Of St. Bernadette" #27 in 1959, when her version of "Sailor" reached #10 in January 1961. Although she'd been recording since 1943 "Sailor" was only her fifth UK chart appearance as her most intense period of popularity had pre-dated regulated record-sales chart formatting in the UK, and "Sailor" would mark Shelton's final chart appearance.
Shelton's strongest association was as an entertainer of the forces in World War II: while this made "Sailor" a good thematic choice for her this association also probably made her seem outmoded despite her only being four years senior to Petula Clark whose version of "Sailor" would best Shelton's. Although Shelton's version of "Sailor" and Clark's both debuted on the UK Top 50 for 28 January 1961 there was immediate preference apparent for Clark's version at #18 over Shelton's at #27. The 4 February chart had Clark rise to #4 for the first of six weeks in the Top Five three of them at #2 and one at #1, while Shelton's version in its second week rose to #19 and in its third week to #10 which proved to be its peak as it subsequently descended the charts over the next five weeks for a total eight-week chart span: Clark's version had almost double the chart span at fifteen weeks.
Alan A. Freeman, who regularly produced Petula Clark, suggested she record "Sailor" and produced Clark's recording in a session which featured guitarists Vic Flick and Big Jim Sullivan. Freeman was assisted with the production of "Sailor" by Tony Hatch marking the first collaboration between Clark and her future hit making mentor. The arrangement of Clark's recording of "Sailor" is notable for its featuring a harmonica.
"Sailor" debuted at No. 18 in the UK singles Chart dated 28 January 1961, becoming Clark's first UK chart entry since "Baby Lover", No. 12 in March 1958, an intermittent ten single releases having failed to chart. A sales total of 250,000 units for Clark's "Sailor" was announced by Pye Records the week of 18 February 1961 when the single was in its second week at No. 2: on the chart for the following week: that of 23 February 1961, Clark's "Sailor" moved to the No. 1 position of the UK chart, besting Clark's previous strongest UK charter: the No. 4 "With All My Heart" (1957). Although "Downtown" was to become Clark's signature song its UK chart peak would be No. 2: the second Petula Clark single to reach No. 1 in the UK Singles Chart would be "This is My Song" in 1967.
Clark's "Sailor" became the third hit version of the song in the Netherlands (#13) and - in a tandem ranking with ""Seemann (Deine Heimat Ist Das Meer)" by Lolita (see Section 1.1 for details) - reached #12 on the chart for the Flemish Region of Belgium. "Sailor" was #1 in New Zealand and Israel in respectively March and September 1961. A hit in Denmark (#9) and Spain (Top 20), "Sailor" reached #2 in South Africa in 1961 and when re-released there as the follow-up to "This is My Song" in 1968 reached #9. Both of Clark's UK #1 hits would compete with rival versions: "Sailor" would be a #10 hit for Anne Shelton while Harry Secombe's version of "This is My Song" would rise as high as #2. (The relevant recordings by both Shelton and Secombe have Wally Stott perform arranging and conducting duties.)
For details of Petula Clark's recording of the French-language rendering of "Sailor" entitled "Marin" see Section 1.3 of this article.
"Are You Lonesome Tonight?"
by Elvis Presley
|UK number one single|
(Petula Clark version)
February 23, 1961 (1 week)
Walk Right Back" b/w "Ebony Eyes"
by The Everly Brothers
Besides the versions by Anne Shelton and Petula Clark detailed above, two other acts had UK single releases of "Sailor" in January 1961: veteran American vocal trio the Andrews Sisters and also American stage musical actress Eileen Rodgers, the latter's version being entitled "Sailor (Your Home Is In [sic] The Sea)". The Andrews Sisters, who were in London for an engagement at the Talk of the Town, made a one-off single for Decca Records (UK) comprising "Sailor" backed by "Goodnight and Sweet Dreaming"; the tracks, which featured Bernard Ebbinghouse conducting his orchestra, were recorded 29 December 1960.
Bobby Helms recorded the song as "Sailor (Your Home Is The Sea)" for his 1966 album I'm the Man.
In 1974 actor Peter Gilmore, then renowned for his sea-captain role in the BBC-TV series The Onedin Line, recorded the album James Onedin Songs of the Sea from which his rendition of "Sailor" - entitled "Sailor (Seemann)" - was issued as a single (the album was recorded and released in the Netherlands).
Louise Morrissey recorded "Sailor" for her 2008 album release The Gift.
An instrumental version of "Sailor (Your Home Is The Sea)" appears on the 1961 album Songs Of The Soaring '60s Volume 1 by Roger Williams: the track later served as B-side for Williams' 1965 single release "Summer Wind".