Songs About The Ocean
1. ‘Come Sail Away’ by Styx
I thought I’d open this article in a slightly off-centre manner and offer a multi-award-winning track called ‘Come Sail Away’ by the American progressive rock band, Styx.
This particular track was a far greater success for Styx than they may have anticipated, but give it time to bed in and you may appreciate why.
‘Come Sail Away’ was a key track on the band’s 1977 album called ‘The Grand Illusion’. The imagery conjured by the lyrics is quite magical. Sailing over the ocean is used metaphorically in the song representing escapism from the troubles of reality.
It becomes increasingly surreal as the song progresses from a gentle ballad through a heavier rocky section towards the conclusion. The sailing ship transforms into some mystical spacecraft and ascends towards the heavens.
Throughout the instrumentation never fails to illuminate the narrative, full of skill and innovation characteristic of Styx.
2. ‘Under The Sea’ from The Little Mermaid
This is another brilliant track by composer Alan Menken. Whilst this song is about life beneath the waves, it certainly orientates around everything oceanic. As a complete contrast to the song above, this hit track for Menken derives its style from Calypso music.
The feel created by the instrumentation, including steel pans, gives a light and breezy temperament to the song.
Released in 1989 with the tremendously popular Disney film The Little Mermaid, this track is sung by the adorable crab called Sebastian. Ariel, the mermaid, is considering becoming human so that she and Prince Eric, with whom she’s in love, can be together.
Sebastian reminds Ariel about all the wonderful things that come with life in the ocean and all the troubles she will face in the world of humans. Ariel is too bound by her love for Eric and in the movie, leaves before Sebastian has time to impart all his words of wisdom.
3. ‘Beyond The Sea’ by Charles Trenet
Amid the hedonistic Rock ‘n’ Roll Era, this track, sung by Bobby Darin, splashed onto the charts in 1958. Darin did not write the song but he certainly made a significant contribution to making it famous.
Darin’s song is a love song. The lyrics are explicitly about missing a girl who lives across the ocean miles from the singer in the song. It is a hopeful song in which the singer remains certain that he will see his love once again despite the challenges they currently face.
In 1946 Charles Trenet composed the original song which was titled ‘La Mer’. As you can guess from the title, Trenet’s version was in French not English. It was also not a love song in the way Darin presented it, it was very much a song about the sea.
The lyrics were added to Trenet’s original tune and turned into a surprise hit. Whether you are someone who prefers original tracks or not, try listening to the Trenet version before the Darin version to get the full flavour of the music.
4. ‘Only The Ocean’ by Jack Johnson
I find there is something unfailingly optimistic about Jack Johnson’s music. This song is no exception. ‘Only The Ocean’ comes from Johnson’s fifth studio album that has the nautical title, ‘To The Sea’. It is the final song on that album.
Johnson explains that this track is all about his Father. As it transpires, Jackson’s Father was a remarkably talented surfer who devoted his life to the ocean. Even though this has sadness fringing the song, it is also a song about memory, love and hope.
For Johnson, the ocean represents a kind of subconsciousness and he says that whenever he visits the sea he feels like he is with his Father again. It was his Father who introduced the young Johnson to the ocean and helped him develop lasting respect and love for it.
When his father died, Johnson scattered his ashes on the ocean, making it a place that will always be special to him.
5. ‘Oceania’ by Bjork
You will not find a more high-profile track about the ocean than this one. Icelandic artist Bjork composed this song, especially for the 2004 opening ceremony of the Athens Olympics. According to available statistics, the song was viewed by over 4.5 billion people.
This alone is enough to warrant bringing the song to your attention, but there is much more to this extraordinary track. Bjork is a highly experimental artist always it seems, on the lookout for a new angle with which to compose.
‘Oceania’ is written for only human voices. All the sounds you hear in the original track are created by the human voice. It takes rare courage to create a song for such a momentous occasion as the Olympics in this way, but it seems to work.
Bjork did not write the lyrics. In fact, Bjork had been struggling to devise something that would work with the song. In the end, she called on the services of an Icelandic poet by the name of Sjon.
They had collaborated previously but this was to be a truly incredible union. The song was released on Bjork’s sixth studio album titled ‘Medulla’.
6. ‘I am the Ocean’ by Neil Young
Neil Young has a phenomenal back catalogue. This track is featured on his twenty-first studio album called ‘Mirror Ball’. It was released to critical acclaim in August of 1995.
What brings an additional attraction to this track is that it included members of the legendary rock band Pearl Jam. Perhaps this is an unusual collaboration, but there is little doubt that here it is a seamless fusion. ‘I am ocean’ is the third track on the ‘Mirror Ball’ album.
It is a medium-paced rock track that puts Pearl Jam in full charge of the drive whilst Young’s airy voice spins the lyrics gently above. Typically of Neil Young, the lyric content does not instantly reveal its secrets.
There are numerous references to many facets of human life during the epic seven minutes of music. What appears to be the underlying theme is that of an unexpected pregnancy and the ramifications of that happening. The final stanza is where Young references the ocean.
Here he seems to imply that his compassion and heart are as vast as the ocean. He is also the undertow, out of control, dragging the future randomly somewhere.
7. ‘The Ocean’ by Led Zeppelin
Recorded in 1972 at Stargrove Studios in the UK. The album, ‘Houses of the Holy’ was released with this track on it in the following year. For early rock lovers, this track will not disappoint; it is classic Led Zeppelin.
The guitar riffs are driven, gritty, and edgy, accompanied by the powerful drums of John Bonham. It does not follow the familiar four beats in the bar pattern, instead, there is a slightly awkward four-beat bar followed by a seven giving an unsettled limp to the track.
Robert Plant’s vocals soar above the distorted guitar riffs making the whole experience of the song compelling.
Relying on the band members of any group to uncover the truth behind a song can be frustrating. From various fan groups, the consensus is that in this song the ocean refers to the sea of heads in the crowd at a performance.
There is also the idea that the song also refers to Plant’s daughter to whom he has dedicated many songs. Whatever you take from this track, it is stunning musicianship with a performance that is unrivaled.
8. ‘Into the Ocean’ by Blue October
This is not a band I have previously listened to, but they are one I regret not noticing before. These musicians formed in Houston, Texas as far back as 1995.
They have deservedly received many chart successes with their singles and albums over the years and ‘Into the Ocean’ was one of their best tracks.
This song was released in their platinum-selling album ‘Foiled’ in 2006. They broadly could be described as ‘alternative’ rock but the soundscape that they inhabit is more elaborate and inventive.
In this song, the ocean is referred to as a place to heal, die and just disappear. The singer expresses the struggle of trying to swim but not being able. This is a metaphor for him confronting his inner feelings of inadequacy in the face of such a tough, male culture.
‘I wish I was more masculine, maybe I could learn to swim..’. The line neatly illustrates the impossible feelings. In the final analysis, the singer finds there is only one way out of the problem. He falls into the ocean to ‘end it all’.
9. ‘Ocean’ Lady Antebellum (Lady A)
To conclude a gentle piano ballad by singer Lady A. The track was released in 2019, broadly coming under the genre of Country. It is a simple, heartfelt song that is not only beautifully produced but expressively performed.
Here the ocean again becomes a metaphor for the relationship Lady A sings about. She is prepared to drown in the ocean if it means her partner will open up to her and let her in.