New recommendations from the Port City Futures Team and Port City Music on Spotify

Yvonne van Mil

Port cities speak to the imagination of people around the world as special places where land meets the sea, where goods and people arrive or depart, and where cultures mix. Many artists including painters, directors, authors, poets, singers and songwriters are inspired by ports and port cities feeling attracted to the atmosphere, culture or ambiance of the port. As a follow-up to the blog by Hilde Sennema (posted on April the 1th, 2020) about different forms of port city culture, the Port City Futures Team made a list of music recommendations and favorite songs concerning ports and port cities. These include songs that glorify port cities such as Antwerp, Rotterdam and Hamburg, or ones in which the port serves as a symbol of freedom, romance, nostalgia, or desire, or yet others that include criticism of the working conditions of dockers, sailors or prostitutes.

Get carried away from the comfort of your chair and discover port city culture by listening to the lyrics and sounds from the Port City Futures Team recommendations. Need more musical distraction? Listen to the Port City Music playlist on Spotify.

(Sittin' On) the Dock of the Bay by Otis Redding
Maurice Jansen (EUR) recommends a classic by Otis Reading: Sitting on the dock of the bay. He writes: “The lyrics relate to my personal memories when I went on my bicycle to the waterside to look at the ships passing by in the Rotterdam port.”

Sittin' in the mornin' sun
I'll be sittin' when the evenin' comes
Watchin' the ships roll in
Then I watch 'em roll away again

I'm sittin' on the dock of the bay
Watchin' the tide, roll away
I'm sittin' on the dock of the bay
Wastin' time

The last ship by Sting
Another pick by Maurice Jansen is The last ship by Sting. “Sting made a musical and wrote the lyrics of the album with the same name. The song tells the story about a local shipyard which is closing down. This relates to his personal experience, as Sting grew up in a shipyard community in the village of Wallsend near port-city Newcastle, UK.”

Oh the roar of the chains and the cracking of timbers,
The noise at the end of the world in your ears,
As a mountain of steel makes its way to the sea,
And the last ship sails.

Great Big Sea
Sarah Hinman (Leiden University) urges you to listen to the Canadian band Great Big Sea. Much of their music focuses on living in Newfoundland, Canada and the collapse of the fishing industry there. Given the history of the province, there is a lot of Irish influence in their music. The lyrics narrate of a coastal lifestyle.

Ballad of Easy Rider by The Byrds
Sabine Luning (Leiden University) writes: “This is an emblematic road song. It tells the tale of travels from town to town, from upstream to down. It is a song of flows, celebrating movements connecting upstream hinterlands, deltas and port cities. The lyrics remind us of the connections between port cities and wider regions.”

The river flows, it flows to the sea
Wherever that river goes that's where I want to be
Flow river flow, let your waters wash down
Take me from this road to some other town

All he wanted was to be free
And that's the way it turned out to be
Flow river flow, let your waters wash down
Take me from this road to some other town

Flow river flow, past the shady trees
Go river go, go to the sea
Flow to the sea

Yellow Submarine by The Beatles
Tianchen Dai (TU Delft) recommends Yellow Submarine by The Beatles as a metaphorically sea/port- related song. “There have certainly been various interpretations about this song, but for me, it reminds me of a children’s call for peace and simple happiness. Submarines are essentially built for war but the yellow color makes it look more like a funny vehicle for children to escape from the world of adults. Maybe the 1968 British animated film inspired by the music is also interesting. The film showed science and monsters, and the pepperland, the cheerful, music-loving paradise under the sea....”

In the town where I was born
Lived a man who sailed to sea
And he told us of his life
In the land of submarines
So we sailed up to the sun
'Til we found a sea of green
And we lived beneath the waves
In our yellow submarine

We all live in a yellow submarine
Yellow submarine, yellow submarine
We all live in a yellow submarine
Yellow submarine, yellow submarine

Vieni al Mare by Maria Ferrente-Oh
The Italian song Vieni al Mare by Maria Ferrente-Oh is recommended by Asma Mehan: “If you are in love with Italian Opera as I am, this is an agile high soprano voice singing about the sea, ‘the Silvery moon that shines over the sea, the little breeze Blows and tides of the sea.’ It depicts the beautiful scene of the port city as it is a typical Napolitan song.”

E rassomigli all’onda
Che bacia il cielo a muor

Deh! Quanti flutti ha il mare
Io tanti baci avessi

Vorrei lasciar con essi
Sulle tue labbra il cor

Vieni sul mar by Andrea Bocelli
Another Italian song recommended by Asma Mehan is Vieni sul mar by Andrea Bocelli. “’Trust in the boat of your sailor, come to the sea, come to the sea. Come for a row.’ This beautiful song about sea, love and sailors reminds me of the Ernest Hemingway book’s The old man and the Sea.”

The Sea by Nima Chehrazi
Asma Mehan also recommends the Iranian song The Sea by Nima Chehrazi. “This is an old song in the social memory of the Iranian people whether you can link it with Caspian Sea (in the North) or the Persian Gulf (in the south). This sad folklore song starts a dialogue with sea. It also connects the sea as a metaphor to broader concepts like migration, departure and new skylines.”

Port d’Amsterdam by Jacques Brel
Reinout Rutte (TU Delft) and Hilde Sennema (EUR) recommend Port d’Amsterdam by Jacques Brel. Hilde writes “Brel wrote the song overlooking the hustle and bustle of the port of Roquebrune-Cap-Martin, thinking of the port of Antwerp. Since ‘port d’Anvers’ didn’t fit with the rhythm, it became Port d’Amsterdam, even though that city hasn’t had a waterfront since the Central Station was built in 1889.” Le Port d'Amsterdam has been covered many times in many languages, French, English, Dutch, etc., as well as by well-known and lesser-known artists. One of the best-known covers is Amsterdam by David Bowie. Reinout advises you to listen to Brel's famous and exciting 1964 performance in The Olympia, Paris.

Dans le port d'Amsterdam
Y a des marins qui chantent
Les rêves qui les hantent
Au large d'Amsterdam
Dans le port d'Amsterdam
Y a des marins qui dorment
Comme des oriflammes
Le long des berges mornes

De Hamborger Veermaster
Carola Hein (TU Delft) comments: “Hamburg’s port and its rivers Elbe and Alster are topics of many traditional songs and sea shanties, often with accordion music. As a child I played the accordion, often using music inherited from my mother that included a lot of traditional songs. One of the classics is De Hamborger Veermaster (1850) (Hamburg’s Four Master), the lyrics were adapted from a text that critiques the working condition on trading ships in the 19th century. The song appears to have been adapted from an American song of the gold rush period, ‘There is plenty of Gold, so I've been told, on the banks of Sacramento’.”

Ich liebe diese Stadt by Rolf Zuckowsky
Carola Hein also recommends another song about Hamburg “which celebrates the city as ‘having the wind of freedom blowing through.’ This song by Rolf Zuckowsky (mostly known for his children’s songs) links many port cities from around the world:

Ich liebe diese Stadt
Durch die der Wind der Freiheit weht
Ich liebe diese Stadt
In der mein Leben weitergeht
Ich liebe diese Stadt
Zu jeder Zeit, in jedem Licht
Und all die Sprachen, die man in ihr spricht

Zukowsky continues the song comparing Hamburg to many other (port) cities around the world.

Gewiss ist London voller Trubel
Und Paris hat seinen Charme
Rio de Janeiro ist im Winter mollig warm
New York ist voller Power
Voll Geschichte ist Athen
Geheimnisvoll ist Tokio
Und doch: Zum Glücklichsein
Muss ich mein Hamburg wiedersehen

Thinking a port city in terms of global networks may be a particularity of port cities. When you think of another song on Hamburg, such as C’est à Hambourg by Edith Piaf, there is also a reference to other port cities.

C'est à Hambourg, à Santiago
A White Chapel, ou Bornéo
C'est à Hambourg, à Santiago
A Rotterdam, ou à Frisco...

While Zukowsky’s song is about livability, Piaf’s song includes a very different theme as it references the pleasure districts of port cities. Together they do raise the question if there is a certain awareness of global networks in port city songs.”

De Hoaven van Delfziel by Ede Staal
Hilde Sennema (EUR) suggests listening to another song about Hamburg. “This song is about a man who has travelled a lot and ‘knows all the bars by heart’, but is happiest when he returns to his home port, the port of Delfzijl on the Eems. It is sung in the Groninger Low-Saxon dialect, that has a lot of similarities with the Low-German dialects that are spoken in the ports of Emden, Bremen and Hamburg.

'K Heb overaal al zwurven
En voak zo'n zet van hoes
Ik ken de krougen oet mien kop
Mor naargens vuil 'k mie thoes

Al snaren ze over Hamburg
Hou goud dat 't doar beviel
Ik wil 't laifst veur anker
In d'Hoaven van Delfziel

Rotterdam (or anywhere) by Beautiful South
Paul van der Laar (EUR) and Lucija Ažman Momirski (University of Ljubljana) picked the song Rotterdam (or anywhere), since it’s a poem about the port city, but also about the global networks Carola mentioned before.

This could be Rotterdam or anywhere
Liverpool or Rome
‘Cause Rotterdam is anywhere
anywhere alone
anywhere alone

The whole place is pickled
The people are pickles for sure
And no-one knows if they've done more here
Than they ever would do in a jar

Thanks for all the musical suggestions and recommendations to the LDE PortCityFutures team and for all comments and reviews to Sarah Hinman and Carola Hein.