Sail Away (2:32)

Cover of The Best of Randy Newman

From The Best of Randy Newman and 27 other releases

“Sail Away” is representative of Newman’s trademark unconventional and clever approach to songwriting: it takes the form of a “come on” or a “pitch” from an American slave trader to potential slaves. The slaver attempts to convince his listeners to climb aboard his ship and “sail away” with him to America (specifically Charleston), which he portrays as a land of happiness and plenty.

The lyrics contain several subtle references to the extreme ideological dichotomy going on in America at the time of the slave trade. For example, the slaver sings “In America, every man is free,” emphasizing the American ideal of liberty. However, after a caesura he quickly concludes that sentence with “to take care of his home and his family,” implying that every man in fact isn’t “free” in every sense of the word.


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In America you'll get food to eat
Won't have to run through the jungle
And scuff up your feet
You'll just sing about Jesus and drink wine all day

MetroLyrics Full lyrics at MetroLyrics


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  • silversurfer250

    This thoughtful, austere piano ballad about the slave trade finds Newman's slaver protagonist attempting to convince his African listeners to climb aboard his ship and "sail away" with him to the promised land of America. Newman explained to NPR in a May 8, 2013 interview: "I wrote about slave trade from the view of the recruiter from the slave trade. He is talking, you know, come to America and then talks about using that and I didn't another way to do it. I mean, you could say the slave trade is bad, horrendous or a great crime of the nation, but I chose to do differently."

    26 Jul 2014 Reply
  • nick_honest

    a masterpiece

    2 Feb 2014 Reply
  • semionato

    genius lyrics.

    17 Dec 2013 Reply
  • KommisarK

    We will cross the mighty ocean in the Charleston Bay.

    10 Nov 2013 Reply
  • Tron1276


    29 Jan 2013 Reply
  • Enokii

    you get food de ee (to eat)

    31 Dec 2012 Reply
  • nomoresongs

    Further to the below, if you like great singer/songwriters with truly meaningful and well-constructed lyrics, click on my NoMoreSongs icon and play my NoMoreSongs radio, containing Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell, Janis Ian, Harry Chapin, Julie Covington (singing Pete Atkin and Clive James songs) and so many more, including, of course, Randy Newman, whose eclectic cynicism I adore.

    11 Aug 2012 Reply
  • nomoresongs

    ctd55, I so much agree with what you say about irony. Here - and with most great Randy Newman songs like Political Science and That's Why I Love Mankind - there is a truly profound irony. So far from what the Tarantinites later claimed was irony and devalued the word completely.

    4 Aug 2012 Reply
  • ihavean_idea

    So many tears, joy and pain

    2 Aug 2012 Reply
  • robkjporter

    Good old Randy, just singing what he sees.

    19 Jul 2012 Reply
  • FluffyKat7

    i love his voice

    11 Jul 2012 Reply
  • muhqwahn

    Newman is beyond criticism.

    24 May 2012 Reply
  • SpiralOfWhite

    Wow... I am starting to think I never gave Randy Newman a chance... Been listening to Sail Away and its awesome... proper folk song with awesome lyrics in context.

    25 Feb 2012 Reply
  • kiteo

    Woah, not sure I like this re-recording, like him singing in your ear.

    8 Jan 2012 Reply
  • algenon50

    good raw if in the studio with him...

    4 Mar 2011 Reply
  • leekpie

    America sickens me.

    17 Nov 2010 Reply
  • algenon50

    would prefer the studio version, with strings.. from last fm

    30 Sep 2010 Reply
  • algenon50

    i love anything by randy.................

    3 Aug 2010 Reply
  • jakobdorof

    kind of like one of his other songs, "louisiana 1927."

    29 May 2010 Reply
  • tomolongo

    SAe him yesterday. A truly great American singer/songwriter

    20 May 2010 Reply
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