When we think of rivers, we think of baptisms, deep human connection, roots, freedom, independence, and moving on. Rivers are ever flowing, constantly changing. It is always moving past us to another destination. So whether you’re suffering from heartbreak or or are living your life like it’s golden, here are some of our favorite songs about rivers that we think you’ll love too.
Songs About Rivers You Will Enjoy
Let’s begin with a Joni Mitchell song.
River by Joni Mitchell
This piano ballad from Mitchell’s 1971 critically acclaimed Blue album is devastatingly heartbreaking. It’s filled with regret, sorrow, and shame. It’s for the moments in our lives when we lose something. When it’s our fault and wish we could turn back time.
But we can’t and are stuck with the consequences of our actions. Mitchell’s “River” is a metaphor for water and everything around her, once warm and alive, now devoid of emotion.
“I’m so hard to handle. I’m selfish and I’m sad. Now I’ve gone and lost the best baby that I ever had,” sings Joni, “Oh I wish I had a river I could skate away on.”
Her lyrics and sorrowful piano give us a place to explore genuine regret over hurting someone we love. Mitchell gives us her river to skate away on when we want to banish ourselves to a purgatory of ice and nothingness.
Oddly enough, this song has become a Christmas classic. It mentions the holiday and has sorrowful Jingle Bell chords near the end. But, it is not a happy song. It’s a very hard, beautiful masterpiece.
- You Might Also Like: Best Folk Albums
Mango Pickle Down River by MIA (with The Wilcannia Mob)
Let’s face it—we love M.I.A. Her 2007 album Kala made sure of it when it gave us “Paper Planes.” She collaborated with the Wilcannia Mob on “Mango Pickle Down River.” The W.M is a group of Australian rappers aged 9-14 years of age who released a song called “Down River” in the early 2000s. It was their ode to life on the Darling River in Australia.
M.I.A. delivers a song that’s loud enough to shake the frame off our house or truck. The bassline is amazing because of the didgeridoo, an indigenous wind instrument. The river is a metaphor for a life lived in and around each other. It’s full of hometown pride and childhood memories.
This River is Wild by The Killers
In 2006, the Killers released their second studio album, Sam’s Town, a few years after their widely acclaimed debut album, Hot Fuss. Sam’s Town yielded multiple singles like “Read My Mind” and “When You Were Young.”
A deeper dive into this album brings us to the 10th track, “This River is Wild.” And it’s everything we love about the Killers. This song is about leaving our hometowns and heading off into the great adventure of life. It’s about knowing our limitations and wanting more for ourselves despite them.
Brandon Flowers is the perfect frontman for this band. He’s cool looking, and his voice is eccentric and easily recognized. The Killers have a way with words and create songs so powerfully engaging that we cannot turn away. They did it with “Somebody Told Me” and “Mr. Brightside.” And they do not disappoint with ‘This River is Wild.”
It’s a fast-moving, heart-pumping, steering wheel-banger of a song about desire and wanting better things for ourselves. The wild river represents excitement about life’s possibilities. Flowers bundles up a bomb of faith, hope, promise, and self-reflection and hurls it at us. And we don’t care. We love it. Easily one of the best songs from Sam’s Town.
River by Leon Bridges
One cool thing that hit in 2015 was Leon Bridges‘ debut album Coming Home. Georgia native Bridges takes us by the hand and twirls us around his church of the 50s and 60s gospel-inspired soul music.
Bridges reaches back into the past, makes the music his own, and stops us in our tracks because the fusion is so awesome. Coming Home is like sitting on the banks of a mighty Georgia river and watching people get baptized by the preacher.
This is a song of redemption and change. The river is a metaphor for cleansing ourselves by returning home to our faith. It’s a song for the tired, weary, and heartbroken. It’s an anthem of faith and renewal. The quiet ending of “River” slays.
I Am a River by the Foo Fighters
These rockers always seem to find a way to make a raging rocker into a life anthem. This 2014 song off Sonic Highways is an excellent song for times in our lives when a loved one is indecisive about what they want in a relationship.
“The coal is burning. The ember starts a fire. Can we recover, love for each other, the measure of your life? Is that what you want? Is that what you really want? A river, a river. A river running underground,” sings Grohl.
Then later, Grohl belts, “I, I am a river!”
This grungy ballad gets it right. We get indecision, curiosity, and professing all that we can add to another person’s life. Rivers are often metaphors for depth and solidarity between two people. This song catches them both and gives us another jam for that solo car ride!
Pissing in a River by the Patti Smith Group
This 1976 alternative ballad about her future husband, Fred Smith, is riddled with insecurity, doubt, and hope. Smith vulnerably describes the upheaval of her emotional world when she meets her soulmate.
Love is a scary place. It involves a lack of control and trust that someone will not break our hearts. Her river is a metaphor for the relationship and the wide variety of emotions that come with the experience. It might appear like a break-up song. But it’s not. It’s about finding a great, big love that seeps into every pore and seems terrifying—but you still go forward anyway.
This is a song worth throwing onto your record player and giving a spin.
The River by Garth Brooks
Except for “Friends in Low Places” and “The Dance,” I’m not sure if any Garth Brooks song is more beloved than the “The River.” This 1991 country anthem of faith and mindfulness climbed the charts and weaved itself into all of our musical hearts. It’s the perfect song for funerals and graduations, which means it’s a track that’s got some extreme versatility.
The river on this track is a metaphor for our lives. “Yes, I will sail my vessel ‘til the river runs dry. Like a bird upon the wind, these waters are my sky. I’ll never reach my destination if I never try,” sings Brooks.
The song overflows in its emotional depth. It’s chock full of awareness, realism, hope, faith, and perseverance. Brooks reaches right into our hearts, touches our compassion, and leaves us feeling better about life. He leaves us with the understanding that we must always do our best, even when things fall apart.
Keep the Kleenex tissue box nearby. You’ll need it, my friend.
- You Might Like: Country Beach Songs
The River by Bruce Springsteen
Bruce has been giving us the sweetest love songs planted amongst imagery and songwriting at its best. “The River” is a story of love and doing what is needed by making sacrifices for one other.
On this song, an unplanned pregnancy changes the course of a couple’s life. It’s a song filled with quiet grief and loyalty to the people we love. His “river” is where memories, hearts, and inspiration are made.
This beloved 1980 song is ideal for long afternoon drives in the south.
- You Might Enjoy: 70s Bruce Springsteen Songs
Nothing But The Water Part 1&2 by Grace Potter and The Nocturnals
If you are ever in Vermont on Labor Day weekend, pick up a ticket for Grace Potter’s Grand Pointe North two-day music festival. You’ll thank me later.
There are no profound words to describe Vermont’s well-loved hometown hero. To catch her performing “Nothing But The Water” live is a treat, and should be on your bucket list. She’s been compared to Janis Joplin and has the legs of Tina Turner.
Both parts 1&2 showcase her talent for creating emotional soul music. The water is a river for baptism and cleansing. Potter takes us on an acapella journey and then blasts us into a groovy ride highlighting compliments of a very talented band. Forgiveness, solace, and forward motion are the names of this game. And the only thing that can save her is the river.
River Deep, Mountain High by Ike and Tina Turner
You might need an inhaler to combat the joy and magic of hearing 1966 Tina Turner at one of her best periods for music. This song is fun, pure fun, and oh so sweet. It’s a popular karaoke song for professing true love to one another.
The river in this song represents the depth of connection and a place of belonging and roots. Tina’s angelic tangy voice hits the high notes with daydreams and fairytales. It’s pure delight and perfect for cleaning the house or a music night out with friends or co-workers. You can never go with Tina Turner. Do we love you? My oh my.
- You Might Also Like: Best Black Female Singers of the 70s
Whether you are graduating from college, feeling nostalgic about lost love, or simply wanting some amazing music for the ride home from work, these various songs about rivers should absolutely do the trick.
You Might Also Like: