Water is a universal element both in life and music. Songs about water use figurative language to show the passing of time, reflect turbulent emotions, or act as a calming influence.
Without water, there would be no life. That’s why water is such a popular topic to sing about in music. It can be both peaceful and stormy, evoking the necessary emotions from the listener that the singer wishes to convey.
We have compiled the 10 best songs about water for you to listen to. Some are happy, some are sad, but all of them showcase this essential element that no human can live without. It is an element that is certainly worthy of all the attention it has received in these songs, as well as in countless others over the course of history.
Top Songs About Water
“Rain on Me” – Lady Gaga ft Ariana Grande
Rain on Me by Lady Gaga deservedly won MTV’s Song of the Year 2020 award. It’s a beautiful tribute to overcoming adversity and embracing life, even if it’s not always perfect. You can’t help but feel energized and uplifted listening to this dance song and its catchy life-affirming chorus “I’d rather be dry, but at least I’m alive.” It uses rain figuratively as a metaphor to reference both tears and using alcohol to numb yourself. It’s also a feel-good tribute to the friendship between two pop goddesses who have experienced personal hardships and emerged stronger.
“The River” – Bruce Springsteen
In this sad tune, the narrator (Springsteen) describes how he and his love interest Mary would drive down to the river at night and then go swimming. This song is sung in a chronological manner, meaning that it is told as a story. Springsteen describes how Mary gets pregnant and then they have to get married by a courthouse judge.
Despite all of the hardships that Springsteen describes in the song, they still go back to the river. The river symbolizes hope despite the narrator’s life seemingly becoming more hopeless throughout the song. Bruce Springsteen later said that this song was inspired by the lives of his sister and brother-in-law.
“Cake by the Ocean” – DNCE
While this song is entirely a metaphor for sex, one could interpret it as being about a Sex on the Beach cocktail. With plenty of beach and ocean imagery throughout the song, this tune stays radio-friendly despite its more adult meaning.
“Ocean Eyes” – Billie Eilish
Composed by her brother Finneas, this dreamy tune appears to be a love letter of sorts to a romantic interest with “ocean eyes”. While ocean eyes are typically blue or green, many people associate the term with eyes that you could swim in.
“Don’t Fight the Sea” – The Beach Boys
Even though this tune was originally written by Terry Jacks in the 70s , The Beach Boys decided to record it in 2011 to raise money for tsunami relief efforts by the Red Cross in Japan. Al Jardine describes this song as a message of friendship.
“Hold Back the River” – James Bay
Many online users believe that “Hold Back the River” is written about James Bay’s struggle to hold back tears after seeing friends and family after a long time out on the road.
“Come in With the Rain” – Taylor Swift
Since Taylor Swift is known for her songwriting chops, it’s no surprise that she’s incorporated water into a song or two. In “Come in with the Rain” Swift sings about hoping her former flame will return to her, despite her being aware that he’s bad news.
Even though the sky isn’t clear when this guy is around, she expresses that she doesn’t care and hopes he’ll return despite the trouble he brings.
“Have You Ever Seen the Rain” – Creedence Clearwater Revival
While this tune has been covered by many singers, nothing beats the original version. Many meanings have been given for this song, like the rain being symbolic of bombs falling from the sky in the Vietnam War.
Others believe that CCR is simply describing a sunshower, which is a phenomenon in the southern United States where it begins raining despite being sunny outside.
However, John Fogerty says that the song was written as a song to the band’s success. Band members were unhappy and depressed despite enormous success on the charts.
“Down to the River to Pray” – Alison Krauss
Sung for the film “O Brother Where Art Thou”, this American spiritual of unknown origins discusses people of the Christian faith headed to a river to pray. This could be because many Christian revivals were held near bodies of water where people could easily congregate. It could also be because people were being baptized, which is seen in the film.
“I Am a River” – The Foo Fighters
In this 2014 hit, The Foo Fighters traveled to New York City to record. This song was written as a tribute to Minetta Creek, a river that runs underneath Manhattan. Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl found it cool that a river could run underneath such a “futuristic city” that he just had to pen a song about it.
“Cold Water” – Major Lazer ft Justin Bieber and MØ
This upbeat pop song is about a couple facing adversity and difficult situations together. The narrator sings about how he will jump into cold water for his partner, meaning that he will have their back in a difficult situation.
“Bridge Over Troubled Water” – Simon & Garfunkel
Whenever you are in need of comfort and seeking the solace of a friend, this folk song from 1970 brings the peace you so desperately need. It shows what real friendship is about- that no matter how troubled the waters may become in your life, the ones who love you will always be there to rescue you.
“Water Under the Bridge” – Adele
In Water Under the Bridge, a 2015 pop classic, Adele’s soulful voice depicts all of the pain and frustration that is experienced with unrequited love. She begs and pleads for the one she loves to either love her back or to let her down gently.
If you’re going through a similar situation, you may find comfort in knowing you aren’t the only one experiencing the discouragement that comes along with loving someone who doesn’t feel the same way.
“Head Above Water” – Avril Lavigne
Written as a way to cope with her difficult battle with Lyme Disease, Avril Lavigne’s 2019 emotional ballad is a relatable song for those going through a tough time.
It’s a plea to God for the strength and courage needed to get through hard times, and it’s a song that can bring comfort to those in the midst of some of the darkest days of their lives.
“Water Runs Dry” – Boyz II Men
The quintessential R&B breakup song, Boyz II Men’s 1995 R&B hit perfectly describes the pain experienced when a couple splits and one of the two wants to work things out.
It describes how one minute you go from knowing everything about a person to the next minute not even speaking anymore. The longer you wait to reunite, the harder it gets to reconnect, so don’t wait until it’s too late.
“Waterfalls” – TLC
Waterfalls is a catchy 1994 R&B song we’ve probably all heard at one point, but the meaning behind this catchy tune is actually pretty dark. It’s about self-destruction and getting involved with harmful activities like drug dealing. It also makes a reference to the AIDS epidemic, something group member Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes cared deeply about before her untimely death in 2002.
“Purple Rain” – Prince
One of Rolling Stone’s Greatest Songs of All Time, Prince’s 1984 powerful ballad describes the feeling of regret towards the love of your life, and how they are the only person you really want with you when the world ends.
Prince himself said that purple rain was a reference to the end of the world and how he believed the sky would be colored purple on Judgement Day.
“Ocean” – Lady A
A song about wanting the person you love to let you in, “Ocean” conveys all of the emotions that are experienced when you feel like you are constantly fighting for someone who doesn’t want to be fought for.
That frustration of knowing that you love someone so deeply, but they are too scared to love you back is expressed beautifully through the lyrics of this song.
“(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay” – Otis Redding
This classic tune actually has a very tragic story behind it. It was recorded right before Redding’s death from a plane crash in Wisconsin. The song was written while Redding was in California and chronicles the feelings of a lonely, depressed man who is suffering emotionally and passes his time by watching the boats come and go as he sits and listens to the sound of the waves crashing. The whistling at the end of the song is what sticks with you the most.
“Umbrella” – Rihanna ft Jay-Z
Rihanna’s catchy pop song from 2008, “Umbrella” talks about overcoming adversity by being there for the ones you love and protecting them from the storms they may encounter in their lives.
As Rihanna says, “Now that it’s raining more than ever, know that we still have each other, you can stand under my umbrella”. We can all use a little help from our friends now and then to weather the storms life puts us through. This song is a perfect tune to cheer you up and encourage you on those stormy days.
“Smoke On The Water” – Deep Purple
This 1973 rock anthem helped usher in an era of rock songs built on power chord riffs. Lyrically, it’s a true story about the mobile recording studio the band rented from the Rolling Stones. The studio was located at Montreux Casino where the song documents a concert featuring Frank Zappa and The Mothers of Invention. The “smoke” in the song refers to the casino on Lake Geneva catching on fire when someone in the crowd fired a flare gun.
“Black Water” – The Doobie Brothers
Built on a guitar riff inspired by delta blues, “Black Water” was a number one single in 1975. The lyrics capture the atmosphere of New Orleans, another inspiration for songwriter/guitarist Patrick Simmons. The song pays tribute to the French Quarter, streetcars, and Dixieland music, a key influence on early blues music. The “black water” in the chorus is a reference to the Mississippi River.
“Moon River” – Andy Williams
From the 1961 film Breakfast At Tiffany’s, this wistful and dreamy song was sung by actress Audrey Hepburn, who starred in the film. Musical composer Henry Mancini’s instrumental version in the film appeared on the soundtrack and was a major hit. The lyrics were written by Johnny Mercer about the waterways where he grew up in Savannah, Georgia. Andy Williams began using it as his TV theme song in 1962 through 1971.
“Down By the Seaside” – Led Zeppelin
As an album track, this song stands out as one of the band’s more overlooked gems. It was originally meant for the band’s 1971 untitled fourth album (featuring “Stairway”) but was taken off and used on the double album Physical Graffiti four years later. The song is about slowing down from fast-paced city life and enjoying nature.
“Splish Splash” – Bobby Darin
Fun novelty records come and go, but this song about “taking a bath” has remained a strong crowd-pleaser at fifties reunion parties. It was a 1958 hit co-written by singer Bobby Darin and radio DJ Murray the K (who famously helped promote Beatlemania in 1964). But the name credited on the record was “Jean Murray” to avoid suspicion of payola, which was a pay-for-play radio practice investigated by Congress in 1959.
“Swim” – Madonna
Madonna’s 1998 Ray of Light album contains a futuristic track called “Swim.” Although the song was never a single, the album was among her biggest selling, surpassing 16 million units worldwide. The song uses figurative language with water as a metaphor to “wash away all our sins.” It dives into the mental state of learning life’s lessons with imagery of swimming to the ocean floor.
“Octopus’ Garden” – The Beatles
Part of why this Beatles classic stands out is that it’s a novelty song written and sung by drummer Ringo Starr, who only contributed a handful of original songs to the band. It’s one of the most vivid songs ever written about the underwater world and hiding away “beneath the waves.” The song was featured on The Beatles’ final studio album Abbey Road in 1969.
“Slippery When Wet” – The Commodores
This 1975 R&B/funk single helped pave the way for future hits by The Commodores, one of the most successful hit-making acts of the late seventies and early eighties. It was a follow-up to their debut hit “Machine Gun” and became their first hit to reach number one on the soul singles chart.
Unlike the band’s first hit, which was an instrumental, “Slippery When Wet” featured vocals, including the voice of Lionel Richie. The song is a warning to married men cheating on their wives, stating, “love gets slippery when it’s wet.”
“Surfin’ Safari” – The Beach Boys
Any list with songs about water needs to include something by The Beach Boys, who have a large repertoire of songs about the beach and ocean. This song reflected the coastal lifestyle as the California surf craze was getting underway. “Surfin’ Safari” was the title track of the band’s first album in 1962 and became their first major hit.
“Drink The Water” – Jack Johnson
This melodic earthy tune was recorded by surfer Jack Johnson, who wrote the song about a near-drowning experience wiping out while surfing and hitting an underwater reef. The song appeared on his 2001 Brushfire Fairytales album. Another inspiring aspect of the song is that it deals with overcoming fear and not giving up by applying heart and soul.