The sea is mysterious, ethereal, terrifying, and beautiful. Songs about the sea have been written across human history, including sea shanties, children’s songs, and ballads. The ocean is an endless palette for lyrical metaphors with aquatic depths we’ve never reached.
Songs about sailing on the sea like “Sail On, Sailor” often symbolize a journey with many struggles ahead. Songs about being underwater like “Octopus’s Garden” can be awe-inspiring, taking us to places we can’t otherwise go. Songs about being seaside like “Soak Up the Sun” remind us to relax and enjoy the little things.
Whether you’re planning your next trip to the beach or just need a few tracks to remind you of the water, check out these 27 songs about the sea.
Come Sail Away
“Come Sail Away” is the best-known song by Styx for a good reason. The song uses sailing the sea as a metaphor for going after your dreams. Even when the sailor doesn’t reach everything he dreamed of, he sails on anyways — and is eventually abducted by aliens!
“Come Sail Away” was written by Dennis DeYoung to represent his dream of breaking into the music industry. Styx wrote the song while they were only a headline band, and it quickly took off.
The Grey Funnel Line
Artist: Cyril Tawney
In sailor lingo, the “grey funnel line” referred to the Royal Navy, joking that the Navy was nothing more than a line of mercantile ships. “The Grey Funnel Line” was written by Cyril Tawney during his final year of service in the Navy in 1959.
“The Grey Funnel Line” is a slow song about longing for home. The song has received numerous covers over the years, most prominently by The Longest Johns.
Beyond the Sea / La Mer
Artist: Bobby Darin
“Beyond the Sea” is the English version of “La Mer,” a French song by Charles Trenet. It is a love song about two lovers separated by the water who know they will meet onshore again.
Many English-speaking singers have covered the song, including Robbie Williams, whose cover was used in Finding Nemo. The most famous singer of the song is Bobby Darin. “Beyond the Sea” went on to be the title of Bobby Darin’s 2005 biopic.
Artist: Billie Eilish
Billie Eilish’s breakout song “Ocean Eyes” is a song of love and pain, comparing the subject of the song to the ocean. Like the sea, their relationship is layered. Some days, the waves are calm and gentle. Other days, the waves are unforgiving.
“Ocean Eyes” was originally written by Eilish’s older brother Finneas O’Connell for his band. He let Eilish, who was 13 at the time, use the song for a dance class project. When they uploaded the track to SoundCloud in 2015, “Ocean Eyes” and Billie Eilish became overnight hits.
Artist: Led Zeppelin
“The Ocean” was a song that Led Zeppelin dedicated to their audience. In this song, the ocean is a metaphor for the audience themselves. To the band, the audience looked like a sea of heads.
The song describes singing to the ocean after only singing to mountains. Anyone who has been near the ocean knows it is not quiet. Singing in front of a roaring sea is presumably much harder than singing in a relatively empty space.
Artist: The Beatles
“Octopus’s Garden” is one of the only Beatles songs written by drummer Ringo Starr. George Harrison assisted in writing “Octopus’s Garden,” specifically the chord sequences. The undersea bubbling noises in the song were made by Starr blowing bubbles in a glass of water.
Starr was inspired to write “Octopus’s Garden” after learning that octopi make gardens from random undersea objects they think are pretty. Though we will probably never see an octopus’s garden with our own eyes, this song helps us imagine how peaceful and beautiful those gardens are.
Walk Into the Sea
Artist: Johnny Marr
“Walk Into The Sea” is an eerie song about rebirth and finding the life you want to live. “Walk Into the Sea” uses the metaphors of an unchanging tide to represent a life that needs changing.
The song’s chorus describes being whipped around by waves, trusting the water to guide them. By the end of the song, the singer would rather the water drag them under as hope breaks.
Sea of Joy
Artist: Blind Faith
“Sea of Joy” is a Blind Faith song about sailing and waiting. The sailor adamantly watches the sky, but sits idly in the water, not trusting his vision. He blames someone else for hurting how he sees the world, describing a “thorn between my eyes.”
The deeper meaning of “Sea of Joy” is relatively unknown. Some have theorized the song to be about love, while others have theorized it to be about heroin.
This Is the Sea
Artist: The Waterboys
“This Is the Sea” is a song about entering a new part of your life. The lyrics use the metaphor of water that was previously in a river but now free in a sea. “This Is the Sea” was the title track of The Waterboys’ third studio album.
The song features a calming ocean sound, which was created using string instruments, horns, and a piano. Because of how difficult this would be to recreate, The Waterboys rarely perform “This Is the Sea” live.
Only the Ocean
Artist: Jack Johnson
“Only the Ocean” was inspired by songwriter Jack Johnson’s father, Jeff Johnson. Jeff Johnson was a surfing legend in Hawaii and introduced Jack Johnson to the ocean as a child.
Through his father, Jack Johnson learned to love and appreciate the water. “Only the Ocean” exemplifies this love, in addition to the love between Jack and Jeff Johnson. The song lyrics describe the sea as a loving, nonjudgemental friend.
Sail on, Sailor
Artist: The Beach Boys
“Sail on, Sailor” is a soulful song by The Beach Boys, and it’s pretty different from their many other songs. The song is about struggling with your demons and learning to sail on anyways.
Because it was so different from the rest of their music, producers initially rejected “Sail On, Sailor.” Co-writer Brian Wilson later vocalized how much he disliked the song. Despite this, “Sail On, Sailor” remains one of the most played Beach Boys songs on the radio.
Artist: Grateful Dead
“Lost Sailor” is a chill, slow-style song by the Grateful Dead. The song sings about being a lost sailor who learns the price of sailing free for so long. “Lost Sailor” is believed to be a metaphor for drug addiction, with the sailor having lost touch with the shore (reality) after being away for so long.
“Lost Sailor” was part of the Grateful Dead’s main line-up for two years before being mostly dropped by 1986.
Sinner in the Sea
“Sinner in the Sea” was inspired by The World That Made New Orleans, a book by Ned Sublette about the sailing passage between Haiti and Cuba that led to New Orleans.
Lead singer Joey Burns wanted to capture the music and energy of this area, creating “Sinner in the Sea.” Parts of the song were designed to sound like a piano playing from the seafloor.
The Empty Boat
Artist: Caetano Veloso
As the name signifies, “The Empty Boat” is a song about emptiness. The lyrics are quite repetitive, stating that their boat is empty while sailing various bodies of water. The song starts slow but steadily picks up to a medium pace.
By the end, the lyrics no longer acknowledge the empty boat but repeat how long the stream ahead of them has become and how wrong their dream was. Is this song an exemplification of being trapped in emptiness, or is it a warning to avoid traveling alone?
Don’t Fight the Sea
Artist: Al Jardine
“Don’t Fight the Sea” was originally written and recorded by Terry Jacks in 1976. Al Jardine, a member of The Beach Boys, encountered the song and attempted to record a cover of the song with the rest of the band in the 70s, but it was abandoned.
In 2011, Jardine rewrote parts of “Don’t Fight of the Sea” and recorded it alongside other Beach Boys members. The music video showed the negative impacts humanity has on the ocean. Jardine closed the video by saying, “Don’t fight the sea, protect it,” and asking people to donate to National Marine Sanctuaries.
Across the Sea
Many fans consider “Across the Sea” to be Weezer’s best song due to its emotional charge. “Across the Sea” was written by Rivers Cuomo about a girl in Japan he’d never meet.
While attending Harvard, Cuomo received a fan letter that he claimed helped push him through his winter depression. Some of the song lyrics for “Across the Sea” came directly from the letter. The song closes by saying, “I got your letter, you got my song.”
Soak Up the Sun
Artist: Sheryl Crow
“Soak Up the Sun” is one of Sheryl Crow’s most recognizable songs about enjoying the little things in life. The song was written from the perspective of a child who simply doesn’t get what has everyone else feeling so down.
Co-writer Jeff Trott came up with the idea to write “Soak Up the Sun” while on a plane and thinking about everything he wanted to do when he got home. It was also inspired by songs by The Beach Boys.
Cake by the Ocean
“Cake by the Ocean” was the breakout hit and first single of DNCE. The song is about sex, and the lyrics don’t try to hide it. In the song, the phrase “cake by the ocean” is treated like the phrase “sex on the beach.” The songwriters implied they would often confuse the two phrases.
Co-writer Joe Jonas clarified the song could also be about “eating pastries on the boardwalk.” “Cake by the Ocean” is about whatever enjoyable activity by the sea the listener wants it to be.
Artist: The Beach Boys
Written for the Tom Cruise movie Cocktail, “Kokomo” by The Beach Boys is about the most relaxing seaside locations you’ll ever visit. The song follows two lovers on a romantic trip and describes many Caribbean islands, from Aruba to Jamaica.
“Kokomo” is not an actual island in the Caribbean but was created by The Beach Boys to be a fictional sum of all the vacation spots listed in the lyrics. Since the song’s release, various resorts, bars, and restaurants have used the name “Kokomo” to attract customers.
(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay
Artist: Otis Redding
“(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay” is a simple, peaceful song about staring into the water and wasting time. The song ends with a whistling tune, which Redding has ad-libbed in the recording booth.
“The Dock of the Bay” became the first posthumous single in the United States to top the music charts. Redding, the song’s writer and singer, died in a plane crash one month before the song’s release and just three days after the final recording. Music critics insisted Redding would have been an enormous star following “The Dock of the Bay” if not for his tragic death.
Artist: Neil Young
“Captain Kennedy” is a Neil Young song based on Captain Louis Kenedy, a US Marine captain. Neil Young and Jimmy Buffet met Captain Kenedy in the 70s. “Captain Kennedy” loosely tells the adventures of Kenedy’s life at sea.
“Captain Kennedy” was released on Young’s album Hawks & Doves. Being slow, soft, and reverent, “Captain Kennedy” was released on the “Doves” side of the album. The “Hawks” side of the album featured more upbeat and “redneck” songs.
Wading in the Velvet Sea
“Wading in the Velvet Sea” is an emotional song written almost as a love letter. The lyrics describe being hopeful for the future but being stuck at the moment. The words “I’ve been wading in the velvet sea” repeat melodically, written to sound like waves repeatedly crashing.
“Wading in the Velvet Sea” is one of the most personal songs by the band Phish. During their last concert in 2004, singer and keyboardist Page McConnell had to repeat the opening of the song because he couldn’t get through it.
Orinoco Flow (Sail Away)
“Orinoco Flow” is a calming and immersive melody that introduced the world to Irish singer/songwriter Enya. The song is about sailing on the ship Orinoco to various locations like Fiji and Peru.
“Orinoco Flow” has been used in various movies and TV shows, including The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Living With Yourself, Black Mirror, Shrek Forever After, and Brooklyn Nine-Nine.
Sea, Swallow Me
Artist: Cocteau Twins and Harold Budd
Like many Cocteau Twins songs, the lyricists of “Sea, Swallow Me” are mostly unknown. Many people have guessed what they’re saying, but nearly every lyrics page for this song on the Internet says something different. Some people believe the Cocteau Twins use a variety of languages for this song, while others conclude they don’t use any language at all.
“Sea, Swallow Me” is both chaotic and peaceful. The style of the music and the incomprehensible words are at first overwhelming. But once you’re a minute or so in, the music becomes ethereal and mysterious like the depths of the sea.
Artist: Death Cab for Cutie
“Binary Sea” is a song by Death Cab for Cutie about the electronic sea of people that now exists online. The song uses the Greek god Atlas as a metaphor. After years of carrying the world on his shoulders, Atlas looks at it now to see it’s smaller than he expected.
The song criticizes social media culture in-depth. It mocks the idea that every action needs to be recorded on social media. One part of the song sings that we all laughed at Atlas for his sacrifice.
Artist: The Beatles
Intended to be a kids’ song, “Yellow Submarine” was one of many songs written during The Beatles’ experimental phase. Paul McCartney took the lead in writing “Yellow Submarine” and intentionally only used smaller words so kids could easily sing along.
Many have interpreted “Yellow Submarine” to have bittersweet undertones. The song is about a band of best friends in a yellow submarine surrounded by a sea of green. The Beatles, great friends in a band, were constantly in enclosed spaces like hotels, planes, and recording studios. Despite the enclosure, they were happy (symbolized by yellow) and rich (symbolized by green).
Artist: Ed Sheeran
“Tenerife Sea” is a love song that Ed Sheeran wrote for his girlfriend. The song compares her blue eyes to the waters surrounding Tenerife, a Canary Island in Spain. The lyrics describe being surrounded by people, voices, and lies but being overwhelmed by the beauty of the person next to him.
Sheeran wrote “Tenerife Sea” following the 2013 Grammy Awards, where he and his girlfriend both felt uncomfortable around their heroes. Despite rumors at the time, “Tenerife Sea” was not written about Taylor Swift.