“Bildad, I say, might now be seen actively engaged in looking over the bows for the approaching anchor, and at intervals singing what seemed a dismal stave of psalmody, to cheer the hands at the windlass, who roared forth some sort of a chorus about the girls in Booble Alley, with hearty good will.”
- Moby Dick, by Herman Melville. Chapter 24 “Merry Christmas”
One More Day is a great worksong, and though it is a sea shanty- sung aboard ships to bring up the anchor, the sails or while manning the hand-pumps- it is a corker in any setting. I first heard it while working as a deckhand on schooners in Penobscot Bay in Maine, sung by Susan Hickey a co-worker of mine on the J&E Riggin. And it seems to be a well-enough known song- it’s on Mystic Seaport’s seminal album “American Sea Chanteys” and is in Stan Hugill’s classic book “Shantys of the Seven Seas.”
Hugill implies that the song probably came from the boats plying the rivers and canals of early America. Apparently it then made its way to the deepwater ships where he learned it. Nowadays it has been adapted with guitars, banjos- even hurtygurteys- but by far my favorite renditions are a capella with rousing choruses.
There seem to be two versions of the song, one a “Leaving Shanty” and the other a “Homeward Bound Shanty.” The lyrics of the songs give it away- one is about being just a day from home, the other being a day from leaving your lover for a long voyage. I like the homeward bound version better, but I’ve heard that the leaving shanty is older. It has the words “row me over” which apparently was specific to rowing people across rivers, where “rolling” (in the homeward bound verses) is a classic bit of old sailing terminology.
Whatever the case, here’s why I like it:
1. Super-simple response part in the melody: “One more day” Anybody can sing it, and you can’t forget it once you’ve heard it.
2. It’s authentic. As I said, this one comes from the great collection of simple call-and-response songs that were used on ships to help get through hard work on long journeys. If Stan Hugill sang it, it’s the real deal.
3. Interesting Melody. Something about the way the notes move in this one. It’s deceptively simple- it all rests within one octave and but for a few jumps it moves reliably down- but there is a statelyness to the melody and its rhythm that makes me want to sing it.
4. Great harmony possibilities The simplicity and dependability of the melody (it generally goes where you think it will) means that it’s really easy to sing harmonies, especially the final cadence.
5. Endless opportunities to invent verses The response line in the chorus gives song leaders a nice long breather to get creative and find that rhyme. And the response in the verse does the same thing, (only it’s shorter) in case you still haven’t got one! It’s this charitable quality that many sea shanties have for inventive song leaders.
Check it out: - Here is the link to my page for it on worksongs.org with lyrics, recordings, etc. - Here is more discussion on mudcat.org - Here is Stan Hugill’s seminal book “Shanties from the Seven Seas” - Also check out: Joanna C. Colcord's Songs of American Sailormen. - There is a great version on this CD: “American Sea Chanteys Featuring Forebitter” - I first heard sea chanteys being sung at Mystic Seaport - Maine has an incredible collection of wooden schooners, and music is still alive on some.
Holler back with any questions or ideas! And let me know if you decide to sing it...
PS. The Moby Dick quote at the beginning of this email isn’t about this song- it probably refers to the classic shanty “Haul Away for Rosie.” But I’ve been reading Moby Dick this week and came across this quote, which is from when they first left Nantucket harbor on their voyage.