There will never be a shortage of words to describe the sea. Vast and endless, deep and mysterious, or calm and turbulent. It can soothe us or pull us under.
Despite the resources at our disposal, these are not enough to find out everything about this body of water. Thus, it remains a mystery that even songwriters are curious to know more about.
What’s more, the sea has become symbolic of certain aspects of our lives. And songwriters are not shy about exploiting it if it means coming up with songs that many people can relate to.
So welcome aboard as we sail through the sea of music and fish out 23 of the best songs about the sea and oceans. Enjoy reading!
1. “Yellow Submarine” By The Beatles
Just the colors alone and the short words in the lyrics will tell you that “Yellow Submarine” is a children’s song. It comes from The Beatles’ 1966 album Revolver.
According to The Beatles, there is no deeper meaning to dig behind the song. It’s just a simple story of living in a yellow submarine under the sea. Their friends are aboard as well, and bands play some music to make it more fun.
But take it from their fans to still assign meaning to the song. According to some, the yellow submarine stands for the hotel rooms where the members stayed as they rose to popularity. They were constantly under pressure. Yellow stands for happy times, and the sea of green symbolizes money.
2. “Sea Of Love” By Phil Phillips
The 1959 song “Sea of Love” comes from Phil Phillips’s album of the same name. This was his only hit and has been covered extensively, including a sublime version by Cat Power.
In this one, a man invites his lover to join him in the titular “sea of love.” This is a metaphor for plunging into the depths of love and being in it alone. The images called up by the lyrics as well as the music, are tropical vacations and sunset cruises.
Phillips apparently wrote this song to impress a girl. He didn’t get her. But he was discovered because of it, and the song made it to #2 on the US charts.
3. “Ocean Eyes” By Billie Eilish
It’s amazing how one can fall for a person through their eyes. Listen to Billie Eilish‘s “Ocean Eyes” from her album Don’t Smile At Me and see for yourself.
The lyrics describe a man with deep, arresting eyes that look as blue as the ocean. The song’s speaker tells us about his power over her with those eyes. In particular, his control over her and the dangerous possibilities she sees when she looks at him.
But she finds herself falling hard for him. It’s the kind of affection she had never felt with another before. Understandably, it scares her to keep falling for those ocean eyes.
4. “Dead Sea” By The Lumineers
Up next is a song with “sea” in the title. The Lumineers‘ “Dead Sea” comes from their 2012 self-titled debut.
In the song, we find someone who feels lost in life. He is looking, literally and figuratively, for where he belongs. He meets someone who feels the same, and she says he’s like her Dead Sea.
Because of the high salinity of the Dead Sea, everything is more buoyant, and people cannot sink. In the same way, she feels safe, comfortable, and secure with him. All in all, the song is not about finding a place for ourselves but being a place for someone else.
5. “(Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay” By Otis Redding
Though there is no mention of the sea anywhere in the song, the lyrics tell us that the singer hangs out by the sea. Otis Redding‘s “(Sittin’ on) the Dock of the Bay” is from his 1968 album of the same name.
As you listen to the song, you’ll know this one tackles loneliness and depression. In the first verses, we find the singer at the bay watching the ships roll in and away, morning to evening. He says he’s wasting time just watching the world move around him.
As it turns out, he left Georgia for San Francisco, the despair following him. He feels that he had nothing to live for, and still nothing good comes his way where he is now.
6. “Beyond The Sea” By Bobby Darin
Our next song on the list is “Beyond the Sea,” which appears on Bobby Darin’s 1959 That’s All album. The track is based on the original French song “La Mer.” It’s been covered by many other singers, but Darin’s version is the most popular.
This one is about a long-distance relationship. The singer’s lover lives across the sea, far away. He misses her like crazy and knows she’s waiting for his return. He fantasizes about her and the moment when they’ll finally stand together on the same shore.
It is a hopeful, romantic song of pining and waiting for a reunion. When they meet, they won’t be separated because he has no plans of leaving again.
7. “Under The Boardwalk” By The Drifters
If you want some feel-good music, The Drifters’ “Under the Boardwalk” is the one. This song appeared in the group’s 1964 album Under the Boardwalk.
This relaxing song is about enjoying the sea, the beach, and new love while hidden away from everyone else. The lyrics describe a seaside boardwalk in full sensory detail, making you feel like you’re there too.
The Drifters’ lead singer Rudy Lewis died the night before this song was scheduled to be recorded. The group pulled in former member Johnny Moore to sing the vocals. Their grief leaked into their performance, adding tones of nostalgia and sadness to the song.
8. “Oceans” By Pearl Jam
Like other songs on our list, our next song uses the sea literally and metaphorically. Pearl Jam released “Oceans” on their 1991 debut album Ten.
The band’s frontman, Eddie Vedder, was a fan of surfing, and this inspired him to write “Oceans.” He joked that the song was a love song for his surfboard before clarifying that it was for Beth Liebling, whom he would marry years later.
With abstract and cryptic lyrics, this song compares love to the ocean. There may be times of physical or emotional separation and distance from a partner. But if you relax, the currents will bring you back together.
9. “Octopus’s Garden” By The Beatles
As it turns out, we couldn’t do one sea song by The Beatles without doing the other. So up next is a song with “sea” in the lyrics. Their single, “Octopus’s Garden,” appeared on the 1969 album Abbey Road.
The speaker wishes to go into the sea with all his friends and live in an octopus’s garden. It’s pretty self-explanatory! Like “Yellow Submarine,” it’s about being with your friends and loved ones in a place where no one else can find or bother you.
This is one of the two songs Ringo Starr wrote for the band. He took inspiration from a boat trip where he learned that octopuses often make themselves a garden out of rocks and shiny things.
10. “Orinoco Flow (Sail Away)” By Enya
Discover places where you can sail away with Enya’s first hit, “Orinoco Flow,” from her Watermark album. This song talks about following where the currents take you. In the process, you allow them to move you, hoping and trusting they will take you to wonderful places you’ve never seen.
To clarify what the title is about, the Orinoco is a river in Venezuela that empties into the Atlantic. The water travels and takes a long time to get where it’s going.
The title also refers to the studio where the entire album was recorded. Even the producer is mentioned in the lyrics. So it’s also about hoping the song would bring success. And it did!
11. “Don’t Fight The Sea” By Al Jardine Ft. The Beach Boys
If you’re familiar with The Beach Boys, then you know they became popular with the cheerful song “Surfin’ USA.” However, “Don’t Fight the Sea” is a more mellow tune.
This one concerns the futility of fighting the sea or any force beyond your control. All you can do is ride the currents and see where they take you. There is nothing else you can do.
The rock band didn’t include this song in any of their albums. But in 2011, they worked with Al Jardine to re-record the song to raise money for those affected by the earthquake and subsequent tsunami in Japan.
While it might seem like this song is about resignation and helplessness, it is a song of hope and moving on for people touched by tragedy.
12. “At The Bottom Of Everything” By Bright Eyes
From the Bright Eyes 2005 album, I’m Wide Awake It’s Morning, comes a philosophical song about the sea called “At the Bottom of Everything.”
This song begins with a spoken story about strangers on a plane flying above “the largest ocean on planet earth.” They strike up a brief conversation before it becomes clear that the plane is about to crash.
The song then kicks off with a high-energy, folk-rock number about how “death will give us back to God.” Despite their fate, the singer ends the song by saying he’s happy because he found out that “I am really no one.”
13. “Captain Kennedy” By Neil Young
Up next on our list is Neil Young‘s “Captain Kennedy,” inspired by the real-life Captain Louis Kenedy. Young met him in the ’70s, during which Kenedy told him about the sinking of his wooden schooner by a German U-Boat.
The lyrics follow a young sailor who is headed to war. He thinks about what fighting means to him and the family he left. The second verse of the song shows us that the singer’s father is Captain Kennedy. The Germans capsized his schooner, embarrassing him among his peers.
The third verse recounts Young meeting Kenedy in Nassau. The latter is already old, but he still works to buy a schooner and sail it.
14. “Astronaut In The Ocean” By Masked Wolf
The lyrics here use the image of an astronaut under the ocean to make a statement about depression and feeling out of place. Masked Wolf pulls from his experience of facing hardships while finding his place in music. That’s his “down in the deep moment.”
The singer is doing the best he can to succeed despite the challenges. But he wants people to know what it’s like and that it isn’t easy.
15. “How Far I’ll Go” By Auli’i Cravalho
2016 single “How Far I’ll Go” by Auli’i Cravalho rose to popularity after appearing in the Disney movie and soundtrack for Moana.
The song tells the story of Moana, a chief’s daughter who has always been drawn to the sea despite warnings to stay away from it. But her curiosity to discover what’s beyond “the line where the sky meets the sea” is getting stronger than the will to follow those warnings.
The song and the movie are about finding the strength to be who you are and who you’re meant to be. That is, even though fear and your family might be holding you back.
16. “Lost Sailor” By Grateful Dead
The next song about the sea is Grateful Dead‘s “Lost Sailor.” The single comes from their 1980 album Go to Heaven.
The song tells the story of a sailor who has been sailing for a long time. While at sea, he has seen it all. When “the gales are howling” or when the sea is calm. But after being away for so long, now the shoreline is calling for him.
However, it’s not going to be easy. He’s been alone and feels that he doesn’t have a place in the world anymore. Being a drifter, his freedom doesn’t take too long to turn into loneliness.
17. “Across The Sea” By Weezer
In “Across the Sea” by Weezer, we are listening to a song based on lead singer Rivers Cuomo’s experience. A Japanese fan sent him a letter, and he responded by writing this song for her.
Cuomo admits that he lifted some lines from the letter to appear in the song. But when you listen to “Across the Sea,” it might sound a little creepy. The singer sounds a little obsessed as he relates how this Japanese fan wants to know his favorites.
They have never met personally, so the singer is relegated to imagining how she looks. He is frustrated that she lives across the sea. The song shows us the physical and cultural distance the sea represents and how those things can be “exotic” and fuel dreams and fantasies.
18. “Only The Ocean” By Jack Johnson
Coming up next on our list is a surfer’s song. Hawaii native Jack Johnson’s “Only the Ocean” appeared on his 2010 album, To the Sea.
Johnson dedicates this song to his late father, the famous surfer Jeff Johnson. It’s only fitting that the elder Johnson’s ashes were spread into the sea, his final home. Jack Johnson will always be grateful to his father for introducing him to the sea. In turn, it’s where he led his own children.
The song reflects how it feels to be one with the ocean. The verse “And all of these lines” refers to memories that will go away and “go out with the tide.” And every time Johnson goes to the sea, he’ll feel that he’s just visiting his father.
19. “In The Aeroplane Over The Sea” By Neutral Milk Hotel
Death is one thing that many are hesitant to talk about. But in Neutral Milk Hotel‘s “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea,” the singer realizes he’s going to die someday, accepts this fact, and celebrates it.
The song teaches listeners to appreciate life because of death. To take advantage of life while you are young. To look around you and “count every beautiful thing.”
Life’s impermanence makes every moment beautiful, precious, and worthy of living and celebrating. One day our time will come, and “our ashes will fly from the aeroplane over the sea.” Here, the sea works as a metaphor for returning to where we came from.
20. “Binary Sea” By Death Cab For Cutie
Our next entry is a song that mentions “sea” as a metaphor for the digital world. Death Cab for Cutie‘s “Binary Sea” closes out their 2015 album Kintsugi.
This commentary on the times describes Atlas realizing that the world he holds on his back is smaller yet somehow heavier than it used to be.
The song equates the internet and the digital world with the ocean. It’s deep and murky, and there are so many fish. It is critical about authentic connection and the fact that people use it to prove they’re real, to have validation for who they are, and how that ends up hurting us rather than connecting us.
21. “The Mariner’s Revenge Song” By The Decemberists
As we head towards shore, we’ll cast our nets for some of the best songs about the sea that indie music has to offer. “The Mariner’s Revenge Song” from The Decemberists makes the top of the list.
It tells the story of a mariner whose mother was conned by a drunk gambler. When he left her, his debts ruined her. She died, and the mariner lived on the streets until he could pull himself up. Now that he has a job on the sea, the mariner has committed himself to revenge.
At its core, this is a fun but dark revenge song. For a moment, it seems as if the theme will be a message about the monster of revenge ruining people, but it’s not. The mariner gets to do what he came all that way to do.
22. “Trains Across The Sea” By Silver Jews
We are almost at the end of our list, and we have “Trains Across the Sea.” The single was featured in Silver Jews‘ 1994 album, Starlite Walker.
If there’s anything we can say about this song, it’s abstract and cryptic. But then again, so is the sea. Essentially this is a song about depression and the wear and tear of life.
The speaker describes someone else’s sadness and then digs into his own. In the meantime, he dreams about trains running on tracks across the sea, a lonely, fantastical image of long journeys in isolation.
23. “Bathysphere” By Cat Power
Finally, we are at the last of our best songs about the sea. “Bathysphere” by Cat Power came from her 1996 album, What Would the Community Think?
Here we have another kid who is drawn to the sea. She begs her parents to take her there so she can live in a bathysphere, an old-fashioned, round, deep-sea submersible. Her father doesn’t think this is such a great idea because she doesn’t know how to swim.
This song perfectly captures how easy it is for others, especially parents, to crush our dreams. And while the desire for our dreams doesn’t go away, we stop chasing them.
Summing Up Our List Of Songs About Oceans
If there’s another thing that these songs about oceans showed us, it is that it’s both a good and a bad thing. The sea sustains us, but it separates us from the people we love. It nourishes us, but it can also pull us under and overpower us. What’s more, there is nowhere you can hide in the sea.
As you can see, the sea is a perfect metaphor for life, death, love, and everything in between. The singers on our list above demonstrate that in different ways, but all did it perfectly! For that reason, we hope you have more appreciation for this body of water.