If you love both music and the water, then there’s no doubt that you absolutely love listening to songs about the sea. So in this article, I’m going to provide you with my favorite songs that talk about the sea (or ocean or large body of water) in both the literal and figurative sense.
Songs About the Sea You Will Love
Let’s begin with a song by Morcheeba.
The Sea by Morcheeba
Off their 1998 album The Big Calm, British electronic trio Morcheeba brings us this straightforward but haunting ode to the sea. Backed by an eclectic instrumentation, the narrator sings about the some of the sights and sounds of the seaside, declaring “I left my soul there / Down by the sea.” Morcheeba sets a familiar scene in this song, evoking the feelings of inner peace and freedom that so many of us associate with the sea.
But this song isn’t just a picturesque, greeting-card type of moment. There’s also a little bitter sweetness when the narrator is called back to reality. Frontwoman Skye Edwards sings, “I’d love to stay / The city calls me home / More hassles, fuss, and lies on the phone.” Although she is happiest beside the sea, she doesn’t have the privilege of staying there, and she is pulled away by the cares and responsibilities of everyday life.
Perhaps part of the allure of the sea is that we see it as a place to which we can escape. We go there to get away from our troubles and to heal ourselves, if only temporarily. The sea is its own world, untouched by the stress and tedium of everyday life, but we know we can’t stay there forever.
- You Might Also Like: Songs About Rivers
Down by the Seaside by Led Zeppelin
Just like Morcheeba, British hard rock band Led Zeppelin sees the sea as a symbol of nature with the capacity to connect us with the things that make us human. “Down by the Seaside” comes from the 1975 album Physical Graffiti, but it was actually written in 1971, around the time when Led Zeppelin was working on their highly acclaimed fourth album. Like many of the tracks off Led Zeppelin IV, “Down by the Seaside” was composed by Jimmy Page and Robert Plant in a remote cabin in Scotland, so it’s no wonder they were thinking about humanity’s relationship to nature.
“Down by the Seaside” laments the ways in which society has become divorced from nature. So preoccupied are we with our own business that we seem to “turn away” from nature, unable to “hear what the little fish are saying.” The narrator seem to worry about what the consequences of this may be. After all, it is our bond with nature that makes us human, and we depend on nature to provide for us.
Led Zeppelin views the sea as a reminder of where we came from, and of how insignificant our troubles are when compared with vast and unsympathetic force of the sea. With a lazy, rolling melody, they evoke the beauty of a calm ocean and remind us why nature is worth admiring. The song ends with a potent environmental message – perhaps even more urgent now than it was in the seventies – instructing us to love and steward the natural world so that we may see it thrive.
- You May Also Enjoy: Songs with Moon in the Title
Starfish-on-the-Toast by Donovan
Folk singer-songwriter Donovan originally came from Scotland, a nation with a long and proud seafaring history and an impressive coastline, so it should come as no surprise that sea imagery is a frequent motif in his music, particularly on his 1967 album From a Flower to a Garden. In “Starfish-On-The-Toast,” he offers a quaint description of a quiet day at the beach.
Setting the scene with the gentle sound of waves crashing against the shore, Donovan creates a sense of innocent wonder at coastal world. We often think of the sea as something vast and powerful, but in this song, Donovan seems to appreciate the small, delicate elements the most. He devotes special attention to “the starfish,” “Fan-faring daffodilly,” and “whelks and periwinkles,” noting their abilities to captivate the beach-goers with their beauty.
Meanwhile, Donovan’s soft, admiring delivery makes this song an artful tribute to the exquisiteness of the natural wonderland surrounding the sea. “Starfish-On-The-Toast” reminds us of some of the things people love the most about the seaside, down to the tiniest details!
- You May Also Enjoy: Songs with Sun in the Title
Sea as It Glides by Julie Byrne
Julie Byrne dedicates another acoustic ode to the ocean in her 2017 track “Sea as It Glides.” Byrne sets a scene of absolute calm and balance. Her echoing, angelic harmonies mimic the sounds of a soft sea breeze, and the recurring wave sound effect makes the image all the more concrete.
Lyrically, the story told in this song is vague and left to interpretation, but the feelings it captures are clear. Byrne seems to be using the sea as symbol for a place of peace and rest, the destination at the end of a long journey.
The refrain, “You are the sea as it glides,” tells us that she is addressing an individual, someone who gives her the same feelings of inner peace that the sea inspires. Perhaps this song is not so much a story as a moment in time, a moment of resolution and feeling at one with the natural world. Regardless, lovers of the sea will feel at home in this song’s calm, soothing atmosphere.
- You May Also Enjoy: Country Beach Songs
Beside the Seaside by Mark Sheridan
Beach vacations are a popular tradition in many parts of the world. There’s something about the ambient effect of the ocean that draws in crowds looking to relax.
For this song, we travel back to one of the earliest movements in the history of recorded popular music: British music hall. It’s well-known that no place in Britain is more than seventy miles from the sea, so it follows that the beach is a popular vacation spot, and “Beside the Seaside” is a strong contender for the original anthem of British seaside culture.
Originally written by John A. Glover-Kind and recorded by Mark A. Sheridan in 1907, “Beside the Seaside” is a joyful celebration of beach holidays. Each verse takes the form of a vignette concerning a summer holiday on the beach, representing a testament to the significance of seaside culture in Britain. It also presents a pretty vivid pictures of what coastal towns in Britain must have looked like at that time.
In common with much of the music of the era, this is a song that was made for performance! It has a heightened, theatrical feel and a sharp sense of humor underscored by a fast-paced, pattering rhythm. Not to mention the sharply humorous, tongue-twister lyrics, which are very fun to sing along with!
“Beside the Seaside” may seem a bit old-fashioned by today’s standards, but it’s a very memorable song, and it’s had a big influence on British music over the years. A decade after it was first recorded, composer William Walton and poet Edith Sitwell would use the melody of “Beside the Seaside” as the basis for their collaborative piece “Tango-Pasadoble,” from Façade: An Entertainment. Walton added a sweeping string arrangement to elegantly imitate the sound of waves rolling against the shore.
- You May Also Enjoy: Songs About the Beach
Ocean Man by Ween
One thing a lot of these songs have in common is their appreciation for the childlike sense of wonder inspired by the sea, and that’s the subject of Ween’s 1997 track, “Ocean Man.”
Perhaps the most salient characteristic of this song is how happy it is. It has an upbeat, danceable melody and almost euphoric lyrics celebrating the “wonder of amazement” found in the ocean. Referring to himself as “the childlike man,” the narrator describes his view of the sea as a world of fantasy and magic. There’s a certain nostalgia to this song, as it evokes the joy of a child playing on the beach and discovering the miracle of the sea for the first time. Overall, it calls upon us to cast off our inhibitions and enjoy the simple pleasures of the natural world, making it the perfect theme for a beachside dance party!
As an interesting side-note, animator and marine biologist Steven Hillenburg named Ween’s album The Mollusk, which included “Ocean Man,”as a primary inspiration for SpongeBob Squarepants, so it seems appropriate that the song saw a rejuvenation of success among younger audiences in 2004, when it was included on the soundtrack to The SpongeBob Squarepants Movie.
Walk On the Ocean by Toad the Wet Sprocket
Stream-of-consciousness writing can be a very freeing process. It can help us discover thoughts and feelings we didn’t even know were hiding within us. It’s especially powerful when it’s inspired by something as emotionally evocative as the ocean. Such was the case with Toad the Wet Sprocket’s 1991 hit, “Walk on the Ocean.”
One possible interpretation of “Walk on the Ocean” is that it is a call to submit ourselves to the environment, to let the forces of the natural world flow freely through us. After all, that’s how the song was written, and what better place for it than the sea, where we have freedom to let our thoughts sail away.
- You May Also Enjoy: Songs About Air
Brandy (You’re a Fine Girl) by Looking Glass
Tales of sailors’ devotions to the sea are common in literature and music, and Looking Glass’s 1971 pop rock ballad “Brandy (You’re a Fine Girl)” is a modern take on this old trope.
The lyrics tell the bittersweet story of Brandy, a beautiful barmaid working in a harbor town who falls in love with one of the sailors she serves. The sailor admires her in return, but is honest about his intentions before he leaves her forever, telling her “my life, my love, and my lady is the sea.”
There are two sides to this sad story: there is Brandy, who was unfortunate enough to fall in love with an unattainable man, and there is the sailor, who is unable to settle down as his profession calls him away. It’s a timeless tale of star-crosses lovers, but with a catchy rock beat and poetic lyrics dripping with catharsis as “Brandy does her best to understand” and “loves a man who’s not around.”
Looking Glass draws upon the sea’s age-old personification as “a harsh mistress,” commenting explicitly on “its rage and glory” as it pulls the sailor to it with almost supernatural magnetism. While Looking Glass tells a very specific story, there are universal undertones present in “Brandy (You’re a Fine Girl).” Like the sailor in the song, many of us have – or love someone who has – passions that call to us again and again with irresistible force.
Sea of Love by Phil Phillips and the Twilights
Unlike many of the popular singers of his era, Phil Philips wrote much of his own material. He originally composed “Sea of Love” to impress his then-girlfriend Verdie Mae, who makes a couple of appearances in his music. It may or may not have worked on Verdie, but it did land him his first record deal, and the song would become his only hit in 1959.
Phillips sings about a metaphorical sea: in which he invites his lover to join him. The sea is a great metaphor for a blissful, drowning feeling that comes with being in love. Philips bolsters the sea imagery with the dreamy piano arpeggio that recurs throughout the song, imitating the rhythms of waves rolling in.
“Sea of Love” harnesses the romantic capacity of the sea, and it’s solidified itself as a timeless classic. In fact, it has engendered a number of successful covers over the years, including one by rock ’n’ roll supergroup The Honeydrippers, and another by singer-songwriter Cat Power, which gathered much attention after being featured in the 2007 film Juno.
Beyond the Sea by Bobby Darrin
Bobby Darrin was only 23 when he recorded this well-known big band classic. Darrin’s version came out in 1959, but it isn’t exactly an original. It’s actually an English-language reimagining of Charles Trenet’s 1946 French-language ode to the sea, “La Mer.”
Unlike Trenet’s original, Bobby Darrin’s recording is about more than just the sea. It’s a story about adventure. Without a hint of self-pity, our hero embarks on a quest to find the love he has yet to meet, waiting for him “somewhere beyond the sea.”
In addition to Darrin’s dynamic vocal performance and the enchanting horn section (which sounds almost muffled in the background, as if being played from under the sea itself), one of the most compelling aspects of this song is the narrator’s unwavering faith. He sings that he knows “beyond a doubt” that fate will bring him and his lover together, and there’s something very moving about that confidence.
In this song, the sea is a symbol for the vast distance the narrator is willing to cross to find his true love, and he comes off as quite heroic as a result!
There’s so much humanity and honesty in songs about the sea. The sea seems to have the power to bring out the best in us, and it’s no wonder it inspired so many great works of art! There’s not much left to say that these songs haven’t already said themselves, but the next time you find yourself by the sea, give them another listen and see what unique emotions or memories they gin up.