Amazingly, about 70% of the earth’s surface is covered by water, and just under 60% of our bodies are made up of water. Is it any wonder we seem to have an affinity for the sea?
And it is one of those subjects widely used by songwriters in songs and music, both literally and metaphorically. So, let’s take a look at a few songs about the sea…
Do We Ignore Its Existence?
Oh, we like to go down to the sea and dip our toes in. Some like to sail on it or water-ski or perform a variety of hobbies and activities. Personally, even though I do like to relax beside it, I don’t go in there. Too many things in there that are likely to sting, bite, or even eat me.
We seem to just accept it is there. But, we know more about space and our universe than we do about the depths of the sea. It is a mystery, yet its power is terrifying at times. And some of the creatures that inhabit that vast area are more than a little interesting.
It Gives Us Life
The sea is where the first life came from, and so it gave us life. It continues to do so because we could not survive without it. The sea remains a source of mystery for some and inspiration for others. Let’s take the plunge and get on with some songs that are all about the sea, starting with the classic…
Top 110 Songs About the Sea for Your Playlist
Yellow Submarine by The Beatles
Can you make a list of some of the best songs about a particular subject without including something from these guys? Of course not. This was another change of direction in that it was written as a children’s song by Paul McCartney. It was sung by Ringo and included on the album, Revolver.
It became hugely popular and was also released as a single with A-side “Eleanor Rigby.” The first time they had made a single without the band playing as a band on either side.
Strangely, it became a song that captured people’s imaginations. And, of course, the attention of those who sit all day trying to read something into Beatles’ lyrics that aren’t there. In 1968, it became a film with an album.
I read somewhere that the line “sea of green was a reference to marijuana which had “become popular socially at this time.” History books out, lads, marijuana was used socially a hundred years before. You can’t blame The Beatles for that one.
In many ways, it became a song that celebrates the sea and the wonders beneath the waves. How dark, foreboding, and mysterious it can be. But also how wonderful and peaceful it can be.
A simple little song that was used for all sorts of anti-Vietnam war and peace demonstrations. Not what McCartney had in mind for his simple little children’s song. It did a bit better than he envisaged.
Seven Seas Of Rhye by Queen
Album: Queen II
This is a song with an interesting backstory that we cannot go into here. Needless to say, it became a ‘song’ by accident in many ways. Brian May had formed a band while at college that included Roger Taylor; they had called themselves ‘Smile.’
The singer and bass player was a guy called Timothy. They got a record deal a year later and recorded some songs at Trident Studios in London. But, frankly, they weren’t very good. I saw them a couple of times in London. But then they disappeared.
No More Smiling
They had split up over various reasons, and Tim had joined another band. Another student persuaded them to reform and get a new bass player. That student was Freddie Bulsara. John Deacon had come down from Leicester also to college in Chelsea; he was asked to join.
Maybe at the end of 1971, or early 1972, I saw them again. Now, they were good and hardly recognizable from what they had been. They got a record deal and at the end of their first album was, a little bit of instrumental musical fun used to close the album down.
The song was finished and included on Queen II, from whence it became a live show favorite. And yes, Freddie did play the piano on the track.
At Their Best?
There are people I know who say Queen II to Sheer Heart Attack saw Queen at their very best collectively. Yes, they had brilliant moments later on. Especially with songs like:
- Who Wants To Live Forever
- Hammer To Fall
- We Will Rock You
There were others, of course, but “Seven Seas of Rhye” was a turning point, in my opinion. They became more than just another band after that.
Sea And Sand by The Who
It rattles my cage when you hear that condescending expression, “Oh, but you had to be there.” Especially from people that weren’t either. But, with Quadrophenia, its storyline, cultural impact, and message, you did have to be there.
And, “there” was London and the South East of England from about 1963 to 1965. But, especially in 1964 when The Who’s Quadrophenia was set.
Conflicting music and dress cultures collided…
And there were some pretty awful scenes, especially in the normally quiet and peaceful town of Brighton on the South Coast. For the April Easter long weekend, it became a war zone.
There were other significant battles in Clacton and Margate, as well as a few other places. But nothing quite like Brighton. Of course, they made a film about it.
Escape from reality…
Quadrophenia was the story of a ‘Mod’ who ends up getting thrown out of his parent’s home after returning from Brighton. He goes back there, hoping it will be the same. The camaraderie, the parties, fights with the leather-clad “Rockers,” the Vespa GS and Lambretta scooters, and the girls. It wasn’t.
The beach and the sea become his escape from reality. He needs the escape as he watches his ‘heroes’ from the battles, all working menial jobs and conforming. He doesn’t.
You Realize When You Listen To This Track
The Who today, what’s left of them, is a slick, well-oiled machine. Churning out memories of the past. Not just four ‘Mods’ letting rip; there are up to seven or eight people on stage at times. Zack Starkey is excellent on drums; it works with him, whereas it didn’t with Kenney Jones.
But then you hear tracks like this with Moon flying everywhere, and you remember just how good he was. Zack is great for The Who now, as is Pino Palladini on bass, but Moon was the 60s and 70s Who.
Wipeout by The Surfaris
And talking about youth culture, let’s go back to the early 60s for the ‘surf’ thing. This is an instrumental from The Surfaris. So, I suppose it could have been called anything. But, there is in the sound the feeling that it represents what it was supposed to.
The B-side of the song was “Surfer Joe,” which later became a hit for them in its own right. It was a straight 12-bar, so it left no monumental musical impression on you. But it wasn’t meant to. It was fun and, in some ways, escapism.
In and out like the tides…
The surfing movement arrived and seemed to disappear as quickly as it came in terms of mainstream music. One of its main contributors, the Beach Boys, stayed around but hardly in the same mode.
In some ways, it was a welcome antidote to the ‘prophecies’ of Dylan, Seeger, and Baez. A bit of lighthearted fun as a distraction. The trouble is Dylan, Seeger, and Baez were right.
There has always been some discussion about whether the members of the band played their instruments on any of the songs. But, as I said, it was a bit of fun. So, does it matter 60 or so years later? Let’s just call it one of those songs about the sea that never gets old.
Surfin’ U.S.A. by The Beach Boys
Album: Surfin’ USA
Let’s stay with surfboards in the ocean with the band that is synonymous with everything from that time. There were quite a few ‘surf’ bands around at the time, but the Beach Boys had something different. Brian Wilson.
This song gave us an insight into California beach life in the early 60s. It was released in America in 1963 and in the UK in 1965. It was originally a track taken from the album of the same name.
Of course, there is. It was just Chuck Berry’s “Sweet Little Sixteen” with different words. A few agitated letters later and Chuck Berry’s name was included on the writing credits.
This was the song that established the Beach Boys and their ‘ocean-based’ image. And in many ways, put them at the heart of a music scene that had become a national craze. And when you listen to it today, it still evokes the image in your mind.
Y’ Don’t Fight the Sea by Terry Jacks
Album: 40 Seasons in the Sun
The sea can have nice connotations to most of us, but to some, it is a place of work. This is a song dedicated to the sea written by Terry Jacks and released in 1976. It slipped under the radar a bit in terms of chart success.
That isn’t surprising. It is not included because of the quality of the performance on the recording. Neither is it a particularly good song; I could have included far better. It has been included because it brings an alternative consideration of the sea.
It’s a song about a sailor, away working for months, and how he wants to go home to his family. It talks about all his experiences with the seas he passes through. The beauty and the serenity it offers. But also its destructive power. Something that humans haven’t been able to or ever will control.
You could think of it as a wake-up call. The sea can destroy you if it wants to, and there is nothing you can do about it. Let’s think about the Tsunami we have seen in our life as an example. It reminds us to give it the respect it demands.
A Cover For The Japanese 2011 Tsunami
The four surviving Beach Boys did a limited edition cover version. It was led by Al Jardine to raise money for those caught up in the disaster. Carl Wilson’s voice was added posthumously. Jardine also Included it on his album, Postcard From California.
Sail On (Songs Of Yesterday Version) by Free
Album: Free at Last
Nearing the end of our list of songs about the sea, I wanted to include this track. One of Free’s lesser-known songs, this one is taken from the last album they recorded with their original lineup. The writing was more than already on the wall with them by the time this album was recorded. They had only been together for four years but produced an impressive body of work in that time.
This is a song that uses the sea and sailing as a way of encouraging someone to “sail through” their troubles. And the band had enough of those to deal with. It is credited to all the members at the time, although the Paul Rodgers lyrical style does show through in parts.
Was It A Plea?
At times, it seems it is almost a plea to whoever is being sung to. It could well have been about Paul Kossoff trying to overcome what was a serious drug problem that killed him not long after. Or, it could be about Andy Fraser and his refusal to just allow things to carry on as they were as he was about to quit. Maybe, it was to both of them who were being asked to sort themselves out and stick it out.
Whatever it is, it is a great track that uses the sea and sailing sympathetically and gently. It was included in the collection of their best-known songs which was called The Free Story.
(Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay by Otis Redding
When putting together a list of songs about the oceans and seas, there are not many better ways to end than here. It was released in 1968 and became one of his most successful songs. It was especially poignant to a UK audience who were a bit behind in terms of Stax and the soul sound.
Under The Radar
Soul music had, to a great extent, slipped under the radar in the UK. We knew of them, of course, but in the mid-60s, we had The Beatles, The Who, and a few others.
Something New, For Us Anyway
When we did eventually lock on to the music, I wouldn’t call it a revelation, but it certainly opened our minds to alternatives.
We caught one Otis Redding concert in Hammersmith, West London, along with Sam and Dave. A few months later, he was killed in a plane crash. This was his next single, posthumously released.
He wrote the song near a boathouse in San Francisco, watching the boats go out to sea and come home. Remembering past relationships, it comes across as slightly sad. Despite that, it has a positive feel, and the whistling at the end was a masterstroke.
A song that immediately conjures up visions of the sea. That in itself shows what a great song it is.
The Tide Is High by Blondie
Ship of Fools by Robert Plant
Sea of Love by Phil Phillips
Sloop John B by The Beach Boys
The Captain and the Kid by Jimmy Buffett
Beyond The Sea by Bobby Darin
The Island by Paul Brady
I Can See Clearly Now by Johnny Nash
The Seagull’s Name Was Nelson by Aimee Mann
The Sea Refuses No River by Pete Townshend
The Ship Song by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
Southern Cross by Crosby, Stills & Nash
Sea Cruise by Frankie Ford
Sea of Heartbreak by Don Gibson
Rock the Boat by Hues Corporation
Sailing by Christopher Cross
Orinoco Flow by Enya
Shipbuilding by Elvis Costello
Brandy (You’re a Fine Girl) by Looking Glass
The Whale by Electric Light Orchestra
Ocean Breathes Salty by Modest Mouse
Rivers of Babylon by Boney M.
The Mermaid by Great Big Sea
Ocean by John Butler Trio.
Drunken Sailor by The Irish Rovers
Ship to Wreck by Florence + The Machine
Sail Away by Randy Newman,
Life on the Ocean Wave by Henry Russell,
Rockaway Beach by The Ramones,
The Ocean Breathes Salty by Modest Mouse,
Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald by Gordon Lightfoot,
The Old Man and the Sea by Phil Harris,
The Sea Calls by Julee Cruise,
The Sea by Squeeze,
The Sea and the Rhythm by Iron & Wine,
Ocean Avenue by Yellowcard,
Sea of Time by The Beatles,
Sea Song by Robert Wyatt,
Rock and Roll (In the Ocean) by The Blackout,
Sea of Tears by Eilen Jewell,
Sea Change by Turin Brakes,
Oceans Will Rise by The Stills,
More 60 Songs About the Sea
- Drifting by Andy McKee,
- Mermaid by Train,
- Seven Seas Blues by Monster Truck,
- The Sailor’s Bonnet by The Chieftains,
- Haul Away by The Dubliners,
- The Ocean and You by Gabor Szabo.
- Anchors Aweigh by the United States Navy Band
- Ride Across the River by Dire Straits
- The Riverboat Song by Ocean Colour Scene
- North Sea Oil by Jethro Tull
- Harbor Lights by The Platters
- Son of a Son of a Sailor by Jimmy Buffett
- Sea Breezes by Roxy Music
- Into the Mystic by Van Morrison
- Island in the Sun by Weezer
- La Mer by Charles Trenet
- A Salty Dog by Procol Harum.
- Life by the Drop by Stevie Ray Vaughan
- Under the Sea by Samuel E. Wright from The Little Mermaid Soundtrack
- Take Me to the River by Talking Heads
- The Tides They Are A-Changin’ by Bob Dylan
- Blue Bayou by Roy Orbison
- So Long, Astoria by The Ataris
- Seaside by The Kooks
- Driftwood by Travis
- Ocean Drive by Lighthouse Family
- Rolling Sea by Eliza Carthy
- The Sea Was In Their Blood by And Also The Trees
- The Seafarer’s Kiss by S. J. Tucker
- The Wreck and the Raft by The Decemberists
- Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Iron Maiden
- Drunken Sailor (What Shall We Do with the Drunken Sailor) by The Irish Rovers
- Blow the Man Down by Traditional Sea Shanty
- Rocks and Water by Deb Talan
- Sail to the Moon by Radiohead
- Atlantic City by Bruce Springsteen
- Sea Borne by Dead Can Dance
- To the Lighthouse by Patrick Wolf
- Port of Amsterdam by Jacques Brel
- The Ocean and All Its Devices by Joanna Newsom
- The Sea Calls Me Home by Julia Holter
- The Sea is a Good Place to Think of the Future by Los Campesinos!
- The Sea Was a Fair Master by Caladan Brood
- The Lighthouse’s Tale by Nickel Creek
- The Waning Moon by Amorphis
- The Ocean Is The Ultimate Solution by Frank Zappa
- The Seagull’s Song by Kishi Bashi
- The Sailor’s Revenge by Bap Kennedy
- The Mermaid and the Seagull by Rasputina
- I Sail Away by Styx
- The Whaler’s Dues by Jethro Tull
- In the Belly of a Whale by Newsboys
- Beyond The Sea (La Mer) by Bobby Darin
- A Sailor’s Life (Live) by Fairport Convention
- Wreck of the Hesperus by Procol Harum
- The Ocean Doesn’t Want Me by Tom Waits
- I Am a Sailor by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
- Sea of Teeth by Sparklehorse
- Lost at Sea by Eisley
- The Sea Is Calling by The Temper Trap
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Songs About the Sea – Conclusion
We have come to the end of this list. As always, you have to leave plenty out, and there are some great songs written about the sea that were not included.
However, what is included are all excellent songs about a subject we can relate to. The sea is in our blood in more ways than one.
Until next time, happy listening.