My favorite of the many versions of this much-covered song, originally a hit for Frankie Ford in 1959. Robert Gordon was a guy out of New York City who came up during the late-seventies punk scene and made a bit of a name by applying the harder-faster-louder punk aesthetic back to the genre that invented it, rockabilly. This song begins full tilt, with a crazed guitar solo by Link Wray, an original rockabilly cat. The vocal isn’t literally out of breath but it seems that way, no time to pause, trying to cram all the fun into three minutes that he can. Gordon’s voice is high, not the usual lascivious growl you hear in rockabilly, which gives the song a kind of sweetness. “Ooo-wee, ooo-wee, baby,” he sings, so excited about the prospect of an ocean voyage with his baby that words fail him.
Speaking of failing words: I don’t want to come down to hard on the songwriter, Huey “Piano” Smith, since he already has a hard-luck story in relation to this song. The record company without his permission took his recording and erased his lead vocals and had a white singer, Ford, sing over Smith’s bands backing track. But I have to say that lyrically this is a truly lazy piece of work. The chorus runs “Come on let me take you on a sea cruise” but otherwise the song contains not a single mention of boats, oceans, or midnight buffets. He could just as well be saying “Come on let me take you to a trip to the mall.” The original hit version threw in nautical noises to try to supplement this lyrical vacuum, and Johnny Rivers in his excellent cover changed the line “I feel like jumping/Baby won’t you join me please” to “I feel like traveling.” Small adjustments like that are all it would have taken, Huey!
Or perhaps it’s metaphoric. There’s no “sea cruise” dance I’m aware of, so, hmm, what does that leave? Maybe…some barely-imaginable sex act with an aquatic element? Could be, could be, R+B music certainly got to this kind of slang long before the Internet, but again there’s little supporting evidence. If anything, “sea cruise” seems to be a metaphor for action, motion, which would put it in the firm rockabilly tradition of odes to motion or being about to go into motion. Could be sex, could be dancing, could be doing a bunch of situps.
I am leaving shortly on a completely non-metaphoric sea cruise of my own. I wouldn’t say my heart is beating rhythm like a knife in the back, but I am looking forward to some time away.