20 Of The Best Songs About Water Of All Time

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Written by Laura Macmillan
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Water is the lifeblood of human civilization. It keeps us alive, sustains our planet, and is a universal symbol of life. It’s no surprise that even in songs, you’ll find water as the subject matter.

Musicians have been singing about their connection to water for decades. Songs abound about the ocean, rivers, bays, waterfalls, and even tears. Some of these songs have a positive vibe to them, while others show that water represents sadness or pain.

And so, we have come up with a list to get you started. Here are 20 of the best songs about water. Have fun reading!

1. “Water Under The Bridge” By Adele

Let’s start this list with Adele‘s 2015 hit song “Water Under the Bridge” from her album 25. Quite simply, the song tackles forgiveness and tells about what someone is willing to do to keep a relationship working.

The title of the song alludes to something that is no longer important. In this case, the woman pleads for him not to see their love as water under the bridge. The track starts with a verse full of hopelessness, full of questions that point to her preferring him over being single.

The chorus of the song finds her knowing what could happen and not wanting it to hurt. He may still love her, so she asks him to be true to himself and not to pretend he doesn’t love her. After all, their love is not “water under the bridge.”

2. “Waterfalls” By TLC

The rhythm and blues pop sensation TLC released “Waterfalls” from their album CrazySexyCool in 1995. It became one of the most memorable songs in music history. “Waterfalls” had two Grammy nominations and spent several weeks at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Despite its catchy chorus, gentle background horns, and guitar, the lyrics tackle serious topics, including AIDS, HIV, and the illegal drug trade. The first and second verses show examples of people who have made mistakes and paid for them with their lives.

The line “Don’t go chasing waterfalls” means stop seeking things that will harm you in the end. Take things slow and think it through.

3. “Bridge Over Troubled Water” By Simon & Garfunkel

If you’re the kind of person who’s always there for a friend or family, then they are lucky to have you. Listen to Simon & Garfunkel’s signature song, “Bridge over Troubled Water.” It’s a ballad about helping out a friend in need.

Art Garfunkel sings about someone who is in trouble, feeling weary, in pain, and going through a tough time. That refers to the line “like a bridge over troubled water.” “I will lay me down” means doing everything to escape that difficulty.

If you look at the lyrics, it could also be a song for yourself. In tough times, you can make sacrifices. It will be your reminder that you are strong.

4. “Purple Rain” By Prince And The Revolution

A power ballad, “Purple Rain,” is a cultural phenomenon. The song, with rock, rhythm & blues, and gospel influences, is from Prince‘s 1984 album of the same name. A commercial and critical success, Rolling Stone named “Purple Rain” the 18th greatest song of all time.

While it sounds like a love song, “Purple Rain” has religious meaning to it. The title itself refers to the end of the world. The line, “I only want to see you laughing in the purple rain,” means he wants to be with the one he loves until the end.

The song has a powerful combination of guitar, drumming, and electric grand piano. Prince performed it live in the rain during the halftime show of Superbowl XLI in 2007.

5. “Cry Me A River” By Justin Timberlake

By 2002, Justin Timberlake was already a global superstar from his association with the boy band N’Sync. He left the group and released his debut solo studio album, Justified, in 2002. “Cry Me a River” was the second single from the album and featured writing and production from Timbaland and Scott Storch.

The inspiration behind the song was Timberlake’s public breakup with fellow music superstar Britney Spears. In the lyrics, you can see how vengeful Timberlake is.

That’s after she breaks up with him for another guy. And now she’s trying to get back with him. He only has this to say to her: “Now it’s your turn to cry, cry me a river.”

6. “Rain” By Madonna

Up next, we have Madonna, aka, The Queen of Pop, who released her precipitation tribute “Rain” in 1993. It is a gentle rhythm and blues and pop song that reached #14 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Listening to the song, you’ll hear Madonna singing to an ex-lover who promised her he would come back. She anxiously waits for his return and knows that his love comes down like rain.

It means that his presence will bring back her happiness again. He’s like the rain that will wash away her sorrows and emotional pain. His love feels as real as the rain that she can feel on her fingertips.

7. “Take Me To The River” By Al Green

Love is a very powerful feeling. It can make you do things you wouldn’t normally do. You love as much as your heart can give. And you even allow yourself to be a fool for that person. That’s the message of Al Green‘s 1974 hit “Take Me to the River.”

Green sings of being in love with a girl who’s more interested in stealing his money and cigarettes. In the chorus, he sings of being washed down at the river, which alludes to baptism.

As you listen to the rest of the song, it’s like you hear Green’s struggle between his desire for physical and spiritual love. He wants her to tease him until he can’t take it anymore. At the same time, he wants his soul to be cleansed.

8. “The River Of Dreams” By Billy Joel

Our list of songs about water continues with Billy Joel‘s 1993 single “The River of Dreams” from the album of the same name. This is one of those songs that have symbolic meanings, depending on how you look at it.

As you listen to the lyrics, the singer talks about walking in his sleep in the middle of the night. He comes to a river so wide he can’t cross it. However, he feels that something missing from his soul is on the other side of the river.

Though he can’t cross it, he keeps returning to the shore every night. He can’t stop thinking about that thing he could find on the other side. And he wishes that it won’t take the rest of his life to know what it is. This could be a reference to a search for happiness and fulfillment.

Related: Check this out for more songs about rain.

9. “November Rain” By Guns N’ Roses

Hard rock band, Guns N’ Roses turned toward a symphonic ballad with their 1992 hit “November Rain.” The marathon-length song clocks in at nearly nine minutes and features an epic guitar solo from guitarist Slash.

“November Rain” is about unrequited love. Lead singer Axl Rose sings about how time is fleeting, and nothing lasts forever. Everything changes, too, even one’s feelings for their lover. We can see this from the situation that the couple finds themselves in. He still loves her, but she doesn’t anymore.

It’s a difficult situation, as told by the line, “It’s hard to hold a candle in the cold November rain.” It’s safe to say that November rain is a metaphor for the woman’s lack of love.

10. “(Sitting On) The Dock Of The Bay” By Otis Redding

This is one of those songs that have melancholic lyrics and vibes to it. Added to that is the fact that Otis Redding, the King of Soul, died in a plane crash just days after recording “(Sitting on) the Dock of the Bay” in 1967.

This song is mostly about Redding’s experiences. One day he found himself “sittin’ in the mornin’ sun” with nothing else to do. He was in a state of loneliness and wasted time watching the ships come in and leave. The song also mentions him leaving his home, thinking he has nothing to live for.

Although the song does not mention water in the lyrics, it features sound effects associated with water. There are sounds of waves crashing on the shore and seagulls chirping.

Related: Check here to learn more about famous black male singers like Redding.

11. “Water Runs Dry” By Boyz II Men

The Grammy-award-winning, legendary rhythm and blues group Boyz II Men released “Water Runs Dry” in 1995. The iconic music video features model Tyra Banks and the group on a barren, white desert.

This melancholic song mentions “water” to refer to a failing relationship. The couple argues so frequently that they lose track of the source of the disagreement. In addition, they don’t communicate as they should.

The singer pleads with the woman to salvage the relationship before the water runs dry. It could only mean before it’s too late. He warns that if the relationship fails, it could be the biggest mistake of their lives.

12. “Blame It On The Rain” By Milli Vanilli

Regret is always at the end, as Milli Vanilli shows in their 1989 hit “Blame It on the Rain.” Maybe you’ve been at a point when you took someone for granted, or that was you that somebody let go. Either way, you can relate to this song.

“Blame It on the Rain” tells the story of a failed relationship, mainly because of the man’s pride. He throws away a good love and lets her walk away.

He has many chances to correct his mistakes and to say sorry. But again, his pride gets in the way until she’s gone. The sad thing is, instead of owning up to his mistakes, he has to find something else to blame for the end of their relationship.

13. “The River” By Bruce Springsteen And The E Street Band

It’s fun to listen to songs that tell stories of people’s experiences. Take “The River,” for example. This was a song by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band from their album of the same name in 1981.

The song is from the perspective of a young man who meets a girl named Mary in high school. They often drive down the valley to the river. But then Mary gets pregnant, and they get married, after which they go back to the river. Eventually, he finds a job in construction, but the state of the economy is hard for him.

The two later return to the river to find it dried up – along with the rest of their dreams. It could symbolize their fizzing-out romance or the fact that they have to give up their dreams to support their young family.

Related: For more songs about rivers, check this out.

14. “Drink The Water” By Jack Johnson

Personal experiences are a rich source of information when it comes to songwriting. Take it from Jack Johnson‘s “Drink the Water,” released in 2001 from his album Brushfire Fairytales.

The song was based on Johnson’s near-death experience one time when he was surfing. The accident almost caused him to drown after falling and cutting his head.

He tells himself to “drink the water” but realizes that the “salty substitute” is “just not going to do.” Instead, he psyches himself up to hold on. Otherwise, he’s going to sink and drown in the water.

15. “Black Water” By The Doobie Brothers

One of the songs with “water” in the lyrics is by The Doobie Brothers. They released “Black Water” in 1974 from the album What Were Once Vices Are Now Habits.

In the song, black water refers to two things. One is the Mississippi River at night. The lyrics describe the river as the singer rides his raft on his way to a club to listen to Dixieland.

Black water also refers to the singer’s drink, Mississippi Moonshine, which was illegal at the time. Notice the line that says, “Mississippi moon, won’t you keep on shinin’ on me?”

All in all, “Black Water” shows someone who just wants to have a good time by drinking and dancing a honky-tonk.

16. “Hold Back The River” By James Bay

In our next song, water comes in the form of a river. James Bay released “Hold Back the River” in 2014 from his album Chaos and the Calm.

The song starts with the singer claiming he has tried to keep his loved ones near him. But then, “life got in between.” It refers to things happening beyond his control. He tries to make up for it, but sadly, it isn’t enough, and he regrets not being there for them.

The song uses the river as a metaphor for the singer’s life. He wants to hold it back to enable him to have more time with his family.

17. “Down By The River” By Neil Young

Another song where water is in the form of a river is Neil Young‘s “Down by the River.” This quasi-murder ballad comes from his 1969 album Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere.

The simple lyrics find the singer in a difficult position as he “shot my baby, down by the river.” What a tragic ending to a relationship that used to be full of happy times. He had promised that he’d be on her side and encouraged her to be open to him.

Things presumably turned for the worse. He had discovered her cheating on him and had trouble controlling his reaction.

18. “Candle On The Water” By Helen Reddy

This song may have been released in 1977 for the movie Pete’s Dragon. But Helen Reddy‘s “Candle on the Water” has a message of hope, love, devotion, and perseverance that lives on.

This ballad expresses the singer’s longing for her lover, wanting him to come back to her. The title works as a metaphor for her love serving as a beacon to guide him to her, even when the journey is dark.

The line, “My love for you will always burn,” expresses love and devotion. She’s telling him that no matter what, she’ll always be there for him. That through darkness and light, her candle would keep burning so that it would lead him home.

19. “Don’t Go Near The Water” By The Beach Boys

American rock band, The Beach Boys is popular for its songs about surfing and the beach. In 1971, they released “Don’t Go Near the Water,” an environmental anthem.

This song with “water” in the title warns listeners to stay away from polluted water. It’s sad how it comes to be, as humans need water for survival. All of the waters are “going bad,” including “oceans, rivers, lakes, and streams.” The culprit? Man himself.

We’ve done unimaginable things that cause pollution everywhere. We throw garbage in the water, not caring if we spread poison by doing so. The band calls for everyone to make changes beginning with one’s self.

Related: Here is a list of the most famous surf rock bands.

20. “When The Levee Breaks” By Led Zeppelin

The Great Flood of 1927 inspired Led Zeppelin‘s “When the Levee Breaks.” The band recorded the song two years after the disaster, becoming one of their enduring hits.

In the lyrics, the singer finds himself sitting on the levee and recalling the disaster that took away his home. He bemoans that if the rain keeps on falling, it’s going to destroy the levee. And when it happens, people living near the levee should be away in a safe place.

The singer has lost hope, saying that crying and praying will not do any good because the levee can drive people away from their homes.

Summing Up Our List Of Water Songs

Water is a popular topic for musicians because it represents so many things. And so, some of the best and commercially successful songs of the past decades have referenced water in some way.

From deep, heartfelt songs like “Bridge over Troubled Water” to timeless classics such as “Water Runs Dry,” water has become the perfect element to better deliver the message.

May it be rain, tears, rivers, oceans, and streams, these words convey emotions, thoughts, and illustrative stories. So we hope you have found your new favorites from the list above.

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Laura has over 12 years experience teaching both classical and jazz saxophone and clarinet. She now resides in California where she works as a session and live performer.