Songs Of The Sea: Randy Dandy-O

Songs Of The Sea is a segment that tells the origins of different sea shanties and what makes them so timeless. From pirate ditties, to melancholy choruses about the realities of ship life, the sea shanty has left an enduring mark on popular culture. In particular, Randy Dandy-O does an excellent job of describing the harsh conditions of life at sea.

With tongue-in-cheek lyrics and a jaunty rhythm, Randy Dandy-O is a classic sailor’s tune.

Context

Randy Dandy-O is a traditional capstan shanty, which sailors sang during the laborious task of pushing capstan levers to lift heavy objects or raise a ship’s anchor. The song was led by a shantyman who organised a call-and-response structure, meaning that every time the shantyman called out, the crew joined in for the refrain. It provided a sense of connection between shipmates, helping them work together.

The story behind Randy-Dandy O is that it was used to mock naval officers and helped sailors voice their frustrations without being punished. This is indicated by the use of words like ‘rollicking’ which is a not-so-subtle replacement of the word ‘bollocking.’ In British English slang, a bollocking means be dressed down or told off.

‘Randy Dandy’ is a reference to dandies and fops, which is how many sailors viewed their commanding officers. As the officers were usually required to wear a uniform at sea, this did little to bond them to their crew, making it seem as if they were above the people they served with.

‘Parish rigged’ is another clear insult, which is slang for a poor equipped ship. This was often the work of a miserly captain. But compared to other versions of Randy Dandy-O, this insult was pretty tame!  

Lyrics

Now we are ready
To sail for the horn
Way hey, roll and go!
Our boots and our clothes,
Boys, are all in the pawn
To me rollicking Randy Dandy-O!

Heave a pawl, o heave away
Way hey, roll and go!
The anchor’s on board
And the cable’s all stored
To me rollicking Randy Dandy-O!

Soon we’ll be warping her out
Through the locks,
Way hey, roll and go!
Where the pretty young girls
All come down in their frocks
To me rollicking Randy Dandy-O!

Heave a pawl, o heave away!
Way hey, roll and go!
The anchor’s on board
And the cable’s all stored
To me rollicking Randy Dandy-O!

Come breast the bars,
Bullies, heave her away
Way hey, roll and go!
Soon we’ll be rolling her
Down through the Bay
To me rollicking Randy Dandy-O!

Heave a pawl, o heave away!
Way hey, roll and go!
The anchor’s on board
And the cable’s all stored
To me rollicking Randy Dandy-O!

Heave away, bullies, you parish-rigged bums
Way hey, roll and go!
Take you hands from your pockets and don’t suck your thumbs!
To me rollicking Randy Dandy-O!

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