Song: “I’m Shipping Up to Boston”

With lyrics by Woodie Guthrie, this 2:20 gem does the city of Boston proud.

In 2004, Ken Casey, one of the lead singers of the Boston-based Celtic punk band Dropkick Murphys, was invited by Woodie Guthrie’s family to look through the songwriter’s archives. He came across a scrap of paper with a few striking lines scrawled on it, and — most importantly — it mentioned the city where Casey lives:

I’m a sailor peg
And I lost my leg
Climbing up the top sails
I lost my leg!

I’m shipping up to Boston, whoa
I’m shipping up to Boston, whoa
I’m shipping up to Boston, whoa
I’m shipping off
To find my wooden leg

Crazy lyrics from a legendary American songwriter. But what to do with them?

Casey related the rest of the story in a 2021 article:

[Guthrie] was ahead of his time. I mean, he even wrote a song, “Old Man Trump,” about Donald Trump’s father being a slum lord. Around the time we were writing [an] instrumental, we got an invite from Woody Guthrie’s daughter, Nora, who runs the Guthrie Archives. She told us: ‘If my father had been born in your era he would have been playing music like you.’ Which was such a huge honor. . . .

She told us her father had thousands of songs that were never put to music, just pieces of paper torn from notebooks. I said: ‘My God, I’d love to come down to the archives.’ I had to put on special white gloves, and I held these pieces of paper in the palms of my hands like I was holding a newborn child.

So I’m going through these lyrics, which are deep, political, rebellious, heartfelt. All of a sudden I stumble on “I’m Shipping Up To Boston,” which is only five lines long. I was just, like: ‘What the fuck is this?’ It was so out of left field. But within seconds I said: ‘My God – that’s the lyric.’ The words fell right into our instrumental. And the Guthrie estate were ecstatic, because it was giving life to a song that would otherwise have just sat in a folder somewhere.

The song evolved from a rough scratch recording to an initial recording released on one album to a polished recording which became the hit song made even more famous when it was featured in the Martin Scorcese film, The Departed.

The song is often associated with Boston sports teams, and has been played in myriad sports settings, from Super Bowls to NBA Finals.

On St. Patrick’s Day 2020, the Murphys had to cancel their usual slate of St. Patrick’s Day concerts because of the coronavirus outbreak, so they played a free online concert called “Streaming Up From Boston” that was streamed on Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube. Hundreds of thousands tuned in to watch.

Asked about having to play the song every time the band performs, Casey said:

People ask me if I get sick of that song. No, I never have. The beauty of “I’m Shipping Up To Boston” is that it’s only two minutes long. It leaves you wanting more.