The ocean is one of the richest sources of our imagination. Artists across various music genres have drawn inspiration from its beauties and mysteries to write songs about all facets of life.
Whether they’re about sunbathing, exploration, or expressing deep emotions through the ocean as a metaphor, here are some of the best songs about the ocean.
“Ocean Man” by Ween
Song Year: 1991
“Ocean Man” is the most famous song by the American rock band Ween. Its upbeat but odd lyrics feature the narrator singing to a mysterious “ocean man” for reasons unknown.
The song was famously used as the end credits song of the 2004 animated film The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie. It has appeared in several other media and is often used as an Internet meme.
“Ocean Avenue” by Yellowcard
Song Year: 2003
Children of the late 1990s and early 2000s fondly remember this passionate pop-punk single, which put Yellowcard on the map and quickly went double platinum.
The singer reminisces about his idyllic teenage years by the ocean in Jacksonville, Florida. Blinded by nostalgia, he wishes to return to the places and people that made him so happy before.
“Astronaut in the Ocean” by Masked Wolf
Song Year: 2019
This recent release by Australian hip-hop and rap artist Harry Michael, known professionally as Masked Wolf, brings the ocean into a powerful metaphor about feeling out of place and unable to communicate.
The singer uses the eponymous simile as the most extreme example of something unnatural and uncomfortable. He describes freezing up in stressful situations and experiencing sensory overload.
“Ocean Breathes Salty” by Modest Mouse
Song Year: 2004
A standout selection from American rock band’s fourth album Good News for People Who Love Bad News, “Ocean Breathes Salty” tells a tale of longing and grief.
Someone dear to the singer’s heart has died, and he walks the beach reflecting on their tempestuous relationship and grappling with mixed feelings about his lost loved one.
“Ocean Drive” by Duke Dumont
Song Year: 2015
In this song, English EDM artist Duke Dumont drives down Miami, Florida’s famous Ocean Drive. He reflects on the falseness of his romantic relationship, which he pretends isn’t falling apart.
Dumont went on record saying that “Ocean Drive” is his favorite of his songs. It depicts a relationship as dangerous and unpredictable as the ocean.
“Life’s an Ocean” by The Verve
Song Year: 1995
English rock band The Verve was known for its members’ messy relationships with one another and destructive habits. The lyrics of “Life’s an Ocean” reflect this reality perfectly, being inspired by lead vocalist and songwriter Richard Ashcroft’s struggles with clinical depression.
It compares the dysfunctions of life to being caught in ocean currents and dragged underwater. The singer is overwhelmed by emotions and has no time to rest.
“The Ocean” by Led Zeppelin
Song Year: 1973
The ocean is a wide expanse of water whose temperament can change on a dime; anyone caught in it is subject to its whim. Songwriter and lead vocalist Robert Plant compares the masses of fans he sings to, to such an ocean.
The song ends the famous album Houses of the Holy with a powerful series of drum fills and Led Zeppelin’s classic guitar riffs.
“Under the Boardwalk” by The Drifters
Song Year: 1964
The singer of this famous pop song is doing everything he can to beat the summer heat and is overjoyed at the prospect of spending a day by the sea.
“Under the Boardwalk” has ranked twice on Rolling Stone’s The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time list, once in 2004 and again in 2010. It has been covered by many other artists.
“Don’t Fight the Sea” by Al Jardine ft. The Beach Boys
Song Year: 2011
While The Beach Boys are known for more cheerful songs about the ocean, such as 1963’s “Surfin’ USA,” this song is more serious. The singer is always sure to get out of the water fast when he feels a storm coming on because the ocean is not something a person can fight through and live.
The Beach Boys never included the song in their albums, but in 2011 they collaborated with Al Jardine to rewrite and rerecord it. Released on vinyl, all proceeds went to the relief efforts for Japan’s then-recent earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disaster.
“Some Beach” by Blake Shelton
Song Year: 2004
American country singer Blake Shelton released this song as a single, which quickly went platinum, and later included it in his album Blake Shelton’s Barn & Grill.
The singer describes several misfortunes, such as getting yelled at, being bullied out of a parking spot, and a painful dentist’s appointment. Each time, he pictures relaxing by the ocean to keep calm and happy.
“Under the Sea” from The Little Mermaid
Song Year: 1989
“Under the Sea” is possibly the first song many younger listeners ever heard about the ocean. Sebastian the crab sings about how great life under the ocean is to convince Ariel that the human world isn’t worth seeking. It doesn’t work, but one can’t say he didn’t try his best.
Composed by Alan Menken, written by Howard Ashman, and performed by Samuel E. Wright, the song is inspired by Calypso and Reggae music. It won the Academy Award for Best Original Song.
“(Sittin’ On) the Dock of the Bay” by Otis Redding
Song Year: 1968
With the sounds of whistling and waves crashing in the background of this famous R&B song, the singer talks about how sitting on the dock of the bay comforts him when he is lonely and homesick.
It was recorded by Otis Redding twice in 1967, but Redding tragically passed away in a plane crash before its release. It was the first song to make number one on the U.S. charts posthumously.
“Soak Up the Sun” by Sheryl Crow
Song Year: 2002
A perennial summer favorite, Crow wrote this song while recovering from surgery, based on a conversation she had with coworker Jeff Trott about leaving rainy Oregon for sunny New York.
The singer’s summer isn’t going at all the way she would like: her job is awful, she can’t travel far, and there isn’t even anything good on TV. But she’s going to stay optimistic and treat herself to a fun day at the ocean to keep her spirits up.
“Wipeout” by The Surfaris
Song Year: 1963
Even if listeners are unfamiliar with the name of the song or the surf rock band that recorded it, they will likely know its iconic tune and giddy laugh, followed by its single line: “Wipeout!”
A surfer is having a perfectly splendid time riding the summer waves when suddenly he wipes out hard enough to crack his board in half. The song has appeared in media many times, such as in the cartoon Regular Show and the 2007 animated movie Surf’s Up.
“The Wellerman” by Nathan Evans
Song Year: 1860 – 1870 / 2021
Naturally, sea shanties are all about the ocean in all her danger and glory. “The Wellerman” was sung in the nineteenth century by shore-based whalers in the thrall of the Weller brothers, describing an endless whale hunt from which they will never return.
In 2019, Scottish singer Nathan Evans recorded a cover of the song and posted it on the video-sharing app TikTok, making it explode in popularity. Other singers such as Jonathan Young and Alina Gingertail promptly recorded their successful covers.
“Fisherman’s Blues” by The Waterboys
Song Year: 1988
This folk-rock classic starts off the album of the same name on a strong note. It is strongly influenced by traditional Irish and Scottish folk music combined with eighties rock and roll.
With mandolin and fiddle vying for attention in the background, the singer describes how his life has been painful and out of control lately. He wishes he were a fisherman out on the ocean, able to leave behind the complications of life on shore.
“Only the Ocean” by Jack Johnson
Song Year: 2010
Appropriately, Hawaiian singer Jack Johnson made this the final song of his album titled To the Sea. It was written in memory of Johnson’s father, surfer Jeff Johnson, whose ashes were spread in the sea he loved.
The singer describes how when he goes to the ocean, he feels connected to his lost loved one, who spent his life there. He hopes that the sea will be the same comfort to him as well.
“Lost Sailor” by The Grateful Dead
Song Year: 1980
The singer of this number by Californian rock band The Grateful Dead tells his story of being lost at sea with no idea of where he’s going in the stormy waters or how to get back home.
While the song can be read as a metaphor for a stressful and upsetting situation (such as guitarist Jerry Garcia’s struggles with drug addiction), it is also a vivid depiction of how insurmountable the open ocean is.
“Into the Mystic” by Van Morrison
Song Year: 1970
Northern Irish singer Van Morrison wrote this song to have dual meanings: one about a “spiritual quest” and another about venturing out alone into the ocean. Its tone is soothing enough to make it popular among surgeons to listen to at work!
The singer extols the virtues of sailing out to sea, describing in detail the scent of salt on the wind, the clear blue sky, and the freedom of roaming wherever he pleases.
“Hawaiian Roller Coaster Ride” by Alan Silvestri and Mark Keali’i Ho’omalu
Song Year: 2003
Written for the Disney film Lilo and Stitch, set in Hawaii and prominently featuring the ocean, this song is another introduction to quality ocean music for younger viewers. It was performed by Ho’omalu and the Kamehameha Schools Children’s Chorus.
In both Hawaiian and English, the singer talks about how he adores surfing, and if he had his way, he would be out on the Pacific Ocean all day.
“Beyond the Sea” by Bobby Darin
Song Year: 1958
Made famous in the English-speaking world by jazz artist Bobby Darin, “Beyond the Sea” is a translation of the French song “La Mer” (simply “The Sea”) by Charles Trenet. The English translation gave the song a more romantic angle.
It frequently appears in media about the ocean, such as the video game BioShock, the trailer for the film The Meg, and the end credits of the film Finding Nemo (albeit as a cover by Robbie Williams).
“I’m the Ocean” by Neil Young
Song Year: 1995
Canadian rock artist Neil Young makes this bold claim in this song from his album Mirror Ball, which features other members of the band Pearl Jam.
“I’m the Ocean” fits with the album’s free and spontaneous tone. The singer describes himself as the ocean’s undertow: untethered and dragging everyone around him down with him.
“Rockaway Beach” by the Ramones
Song Year: 1977
Written by bassist Dee Dee Ramone about his many wonderful days at Rockaway Beach in Queens, New York, this song is the band’s highest-charting single by far.
The singer has only one wish once the summer heat kicks in: to take his loved ones and hightail it to Rockaway Beach, where he can spend all day by the ocean.
“Oceans” by Jay-Z ft. Frank Ocean
Song Year: 2013
American rap artists Jay-Z and Frank Ocean collaborate on this song for the album Magna Carta…Holy Grail.
The singer, a black man, describes being by the Atlantic Ocean and seeing large ships, making him consider that generations ago, his ancestors were trafficked across this water as slaves and how hard he has struggled against racism to succeed.
“Oceans (Where Feet May Fail)” by Hillsong UNITED
Song Year: 2013
Australian Christian worship group Hillsong UNITED topped the United States charts with this song, which went quadruple platinum. It is a retelling of the Bible story in which Jesus’ apostle Peter attempts to walk on water like Jesus.
The singer, Peter, talks about how the idea of following Jesus on the ocean waves makes his faith stronger. The song leaves out the end of the story, where once he actually steps onto the ocean, his faith fails, and he sinks.
“Ocean Eyes” by Billie Eilish
Song Year: 2016
This was the single that put pop singer Billie Eilish on the map. Originally written by her brother Finneas O’Connell, he suggested that it would sound better in Eilish’s voice than in his own band’s.
The singer sees her lover’s eyes and can think of no other way to describe their beauty than by comparing them to the ocean.
“Cake by the Ocean” by DNCE
Song Year: 2015
American dance-rock band DNCE’s catchy debut single instantly topped the charts and appeared in several films such as Pitch Perfect, Bad Moms, and The King of Staten Island, as well as the video game Just Dance 2017.
The singer is trying to romance a woman, telling her that if she comes with him, he’ll take her on a date to the ocean.
Top Songs About the Ocean, Final thoughts
The above songs reflect the ocean’s ability to invoke a broad range of feelings and symbolize just about anything. Some of them have cheerful tunes ideal for a beach trip, while others are more somber. Regardless of the mood or occasion, we hope you’ve discovered some new songs about the ocean that you can add to your playlist.