Tune of the Day: Spanish Ladies
This capstan shanty (a shanty sung as the capstan was turned to raise the anchor) describes the story of British navy men sailing north from Spain and along the English Channel.
A ballad by the name of “Spanish Lady” was registered in 1624 with the Stationers' Company, and it is possible that it is related to this tune or one of its variants. The oldest mention of the present song, however, does not appear until the 1796 logbook of HMS Nellie, making it more likely a Napoleonic era invention.
The song has been found in several different minor and major keys, but folk music collector Cecil Sharp considers the version in minor keys to be the original. Several variants exist that use the same melody but substitute different lyrics. “Brisbane Ladies” is an Australian tune about drovers instead of sailors; a significantly modified version called “The Ryans and the Pittmans”, widely known as “We'll Rant and We'll Roar”, is from Newfoundland; and there is an American variant called “Yankee Whalermen”. The melody is also used for “Streets of Laredo”, a 19th-century American cowboy ballad.
“Spanish Ladies” is mentioned in the 40th chapter of Melville's Moby-Dick, and appears in Spielberg's 1975 film Jaws. It was also sung in the 2003 film Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, and in the 2007 film Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End.
Thanks to Steve for suggesting this tune!