Rivers are often described as the lifeblood of planet Earth. In addition to providing recreational opportunities, they are vital for sustaining ecosystems, enabling trade and transport, and giving us the potential to harness clean energy. For something so important, it’s no surprise that there are so many songs about rivers.
Whether the lyrics describe a physical river in all its wonder and beauty or use the imagery of a river to create a metaphor and relate rivers to different aspects of our lives. Here is a great list of songs about them for you to listen to.
Table of Contents
1. The River by Bruce Springsteen
|Genre||Folk Rock, Americana, Heartland Rock|
“The River” is the title track of Bruce Springsteen’s first album to go number one on the Billboard 200 chart and was certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America. Lyrically, Springsteen considers the song a breakthrough for him as a songwriter. Rolling Stone ranked it number five on their list of the 100 greatest Bruce Springsteen songs. In 1982, “The River” was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Male Rock Vocal Performance but lost out to Rick Springfield’s hit, “Jessie’s Girl.” The song tells the story of Springsteen’s sister and her husband struggling to make ends meet. The river symbolizes their hopes and dreams. The song is recognizable by its haunting yet beautiful harmonica sound.
2. Down by the River by Milky Chance
|Genre||Alternative/Indie Rock, Folktronica|
German folk-rock duo, Milky Chance, released “Down by the River” as the second single on their debut album, Sadnecessary. The song has gone on to become certified gold by the RIAA. As of September 2022, the music video has over 113 million views on YouTube and 151 million streams on Spotify. Co-songwriter Clemens Rehbein has explained that the lyrics are about experiences he had down by the Fulda river in Germany. He leaves the story open to interpretation so listeners can paint their own pictures of the story and relate to it in their own way.
3. The River of Dreams by Billy Joel
|Genre||Pop Rock, Soft Rock|
|Album||The River of Dreams|
One of Billy Joel’s greatest hits, “The River of Dreams,” was certified gold and was the title track for his album that has gone on to be certified 5x Multi-Platinum by the RIAA. As of September 2022, the song has 71 million streams on Spotify and 36 million streams of the music video on YouTube. The Piano Man gave an incredible performance of the song at the 1994 Grammy Awards, where his album was nominated for Record of the Year. Joel briefly stopped in the middle of his performance to critique the awards ceremony for cutting off Frank Sinatra’s speech earlier in the evening when he accepted his Lifetime Achievement award.
4. River by Bishop Briggs
|Genre||Alternative, Electro Pop, Indie Pop|
|Album||Church of Scars|
“River” is a song about a relationship that is on the rocks. Bishop Briggs wrote it in hopes that it would empower people to stand and face their troubles and take control of their life. The song features Briggs’ powerful rocker sound and displays her expansive vocal range. Bishop Briggs describes the song as being about tension and release, as well as intimacy and solace. As of September 2022, “River” has over 416 million streams on Spotify and 243 million streams on YouTube. The song reached the top 10 on two Billboard charts and has been certified 2x Multi-Platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America.
5. River by Leon Bridges
“The River” is a song about Leon Bridges’ personal spiritual experience and was inspired by the traditional spiritual hymn “Down to the river to Pray.” Leon Bridges uses a river as a symbol of change and redemption. Despite the injustices that he faces, as well as the black community as a whole, Bridges wrote the song as a message of light, insisting that there is still hope for a better future. The soulful song is a beautiful metaphor for being born again. As of September 2022, “River” has 304 million streams on Spotify and nearly 67 million views of the official music video on YouTube. The song was certified Platinum by the RIAA.
6. Hold Back the River by James Bay
|Genre||Indie Rock, Folk Rock|
|Album||Chaos and the Calm|
“Hold Back the River” was English singer-songwriter James Bay’s second single from his debut album. Bay notes that musically, the song was inspired by the Kings of Leon tune “The Bucket.” He also featured repetitive and energetic guitar sounds in his song. Lyrically, Bay attributes the song as being about the feeling of missing spending time with family and friends as he just completed his first major tour. He describes “Hold Back the River” as a metaphor for that feeling. The song was a commercial success, being certified Platinum by the RIAA. As of September 2022, “Hold Back the River” has nearly 580 million streams on Spotify and 250 million views of the music video on YouTube.
7. River of Tears by Alessia Cara
|Album||Know-It-All (Deluxe Edition)|
Written by Canadian singer-songwriter Alessia Cara, “River of Tears” is a powerful breakup song. It is about enduring a toxic relationship and processing all of the emotions that come with realizing the person you love is no good for you and eventually having the strength to break away and move on. Cara uses the river as a symbol for the tears she cried while grief-stricken over her failed relationship. At first, she felt overcome by sadness and was drowning in her river of tears. But through her process of grief, her pain was eventually washed away. The song was certified gold by the RIAA and has racked up over 158 million streams on Spotify.
8. Just Around the Riverbend by Judy Kuhn
|Genre||Film Score, Children’s Music|
|Album||Pocahontas: An Original Disney Records Soundtrack|
“Just Around the Riverbend” is a song about contemplating which direction in life to take. As the voice of Pocahontas, Judy Kuhn sings about this internal dilemma and uses the river as a metaphor to beautifully juxtapose the two different paths she can take. Her father wanted her to take the straight, calm path, but Pocahontas feels to desire to search for new opportunities and adventures and to discover what’s just around the river bend. Lyricist Stephen Schwartz described singer Judy Kuhn as being a lyricist’s dream. Her vocal range goes from a deep rich belt right on up to a natural Soprano with no break whatsoever, sounding effortless in any register.
9. The River by Jordan Feliz
|Genre||Folk, Gospel, Christian Rock|
“The River” by Jordan Feliz is a song about faith. The river stands as imagery for the baptism of a new believer and also for repentance and forgiveness for someone already baptized. The song was nominated for Pop/Contemporary Recorded Song of the Year at the Gospel Music Association’s 2016 Dove Awards. The song was certified Gold by the RIAA, and the music video has over 5 million views on YouTube.
10. Red River Blue by Blake Shelton (Featuring Miranda Lambert)
|Album||Red River Blue|
Blake Shelton recorded the ballad “Red River Blue” with his then-wife, Miranda Lambert, and released it on his 2x Multi-Platinum certified album of the same name. It’s a slower song, reminiscent of older country songs, especially compared to Shelton’s more recent catchy pop country songs. The song is about a man pining for the love he lost. He is on the Oklahoma side of the Red River, which borders Texas, while his ex is on the other side, living her life without him. The reference to the river is more geographical rather than metaphorical. But the river also serves as an obstacle or boundary which keeps them apart.
11. River Bank by Brad Paisley
|Album||Moonshine in the Trunk|
Growing up a stone’s throw from the Ohio River, Brad Paisley calls himself a river rat and spent countless summers enjoying the river’s recreational activities with family and friends. He tried to capture the feeling of having a theme park in his backyard with being able to water ski and tube behind a boat on the river. The music video certainly fits the bill of having a good time on the river and even features the infamous jet skiing squirrel, Twiggy. Paisley debuted the song just before summer at the 2014 Academy of Country Music awards. “River Bank” was certified Gold by the RIAA. This is one of my personal favorite songs about rivers.
12. Proud Mary by Creedence Clearwater Revival
Like 4 other hits from John Fogerty and the rest of CCR, “Proud Mary” fell one spot short of a number one record. Nonetheless, this song about “rollin’ on the river” has been certified 2x Multi-Platinum by the RIAA and is considered one the greatest songs of all time. The river in the song represents a place of spiritual realization, as well as a rebirth. It was the first song John Fogerty wrote after being discharged from the Army at the height of the Vietnam War. The lyrics imply that life around the Mississippi River is a seemingly carefree, simple, and humble but fulfilling way of life. The song has amassed over 200 million streams on Spotify and nearly 50 million views of the official lyric video on YouTube as of September 2022.
13. Green River by Creedence Clearwater Revival
|Genre||Classic Rock, Bayou Rock|
“Green River” is considered one of the first songs of a new genre Creedence Clearwater Revival helped usher in, known as bayou rock. Songwriter John Fogerty claims the inspiration for the song was actually from a place he would vacation with his family in California called Putah Creek. Most of the images of the river come from Fogerty’s childhood memories. He told Rollingstone Magazine that the title of the song is a reference to a soda-pop syrup flavor that was his favorite as a kid. “Green River” peaked at number 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and was certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America.
14. River of Time by The Judds
|Album||River of Time|
“River of Time” was released as the title track by the mother-daughter duo, The Judds, on their fifth studio album that was certified gold by the RIAA. Naomi Judd co-wrote the song with John Barlow Davis, who composed several hit songs for country artists over the years. Judd notes that she wrote the lyrics to act as a healer for those going through struggles in life. The river of time represents healing, as all troubles, pain, and heartache flow away eventually. In 2022, the Judds were inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in an incredibly emotional ceremony, just one day after Naomi Judd’s death.
15. The River by Garth Brooks
|Album||Ropin’ the Wind|
“The River” is an inspiring song about following your dreams no matter how impossible they may seem. Garth Brooks co-wrote the song with Victoria Shaw and has stated that it’s a song he will be proud of one hundred years from now. The song uses the river as a metaphor for striving to make your dreams come through, no matter the obstacles you encounter while navigating the circumstances that flow through your life. It became Brooks’ ninth number one hit on the Billboard Hot Country chart and is regarded as one of his greatest songs.
16. Cry Me a River by Justin Timberlake
“Cry Me a River” was released as the second single on Justin Timberlake’s debut solo album. Timberlake had recently stopped performing with *NSYNC, and for many people, even more surprisingly, he and fellow popstar, Britney Spears, had just broken up. He collaborated with producer Timbaland on the track and saw the song reach number three in the US on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. The two would work together again in later years, achieving several number-one hits. The lyrics are allegedly about Timberlake’s turbulent relationship with Britney Spears. The song won JT a Grammy Award for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance in 2004. As of September 2022, the song has over 434 million streams on Spotify and nearly 443 million views of the music video on YouTube.
17. Down by the Lazy River by The Osmonds
In the Spring of 1972, “Down by the Lazy River” reached number 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Just a few weeks later, the song was certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America. Vintage live performances of the song feature the Osmonds decked out in 70s garb, rocking out from the first note and dancing in unison while they perform this infectious pop ballad. The tune is about playing music with friends and having a good time down by the river.
18. River by Joni Mitchell
|Genre||Folk, Rock, Pop|
“River” by Joni Mitchell is a melancholy song about the end of a relationship, but also about the feeling of being lonely at Christmastime. The song was released on her 1971 masterpiece Blue and has made Rolling Stone’s list of the “Top 500 Best Songs of All Time.” The piano arrangement in the song was inspired by the Christmas classic “Jingle Bells.” On the 50th anniversary of the song’s release, Mitchell gifted the world the first official music video for her classic tune. It’s a black-and-white animation by Skazka Studios, in which Mitchell’s likeness ice skates on a frozen river. Mitchell joked later that the world needed a sad Christmas song and “River” is her contribution to the “bah humbug” of it all.
19. Rivers by Frank Turner
|Genre||Alternative, Indie Folk|
|Album||England Keep My Bones|
“Rivers” by British folk-rocker Frank Turner is a song about his native country, England. The lyrics take listeners on a journey throughout England, up and down the rivers that course across the island country. Turner paints images of England’s rivers and the importance they played in his nation’s history and to the people living near them. He sings that the only place he’ll settle down is by an English riverside. Turner admits that this record has a lot more folky, acoustic material on it compared to his earlier, more punk/hardcore albums. While the song has not achieved commercial success, it is regarded by Turner’s fans as one of the best in his repertoire.
Related Article: Hit Songs About the Ocean
20. Moon River by Jerry Butler
|Genre||Pop, R&B, Soul|
“Moon River” was instrumentally composed by Henry Mancini and the lyrics were written by Songwriters Hall of Fame co-founder Johnny Mercer. They wrote it for the 1961 classic film Breakfast at Tiffany’s for Audrey Hepburn’s character to sing. The song won an Oscar at the Academy Awards for Best Original Song and also captured two Grammy Awards for Record of the Year and Song of the Year. Jerry Butler released his soulful and heart-wrenching version of the song in late 1961. Butler saw his recording reach number 3 on the Billboard Easy Listening chart, just two weeks before Mancini’s orchestral version also reached number three on the same chart.
21. River by Ibeyi
|Genre||Downtempo, Ethnic Fusion, R&B|
“River” is a song by the French sister duo, Ibeyi (pronounced “ee-bey-ee”). The fraternal twins sing in several different languages, including English, Spanish, French, and Yorùbá. In fact, the name of their group translates to “twins” in the West African language. The song has over 27 million streams on Spotify, and the official music video has over 25 million views on YouTube. The music video is decidedly dark, albeit captivating, with the sisters holding their breath in a bathtub and rising up to sing just above the water. The Díaz sisters end the song with a beautiful chant in Yorùbá, honoring the important river deity among Yorùbá people, known as Oshun. The song can thus be seen as an homage to the goddess of fertility, divinity, beauty, and love.
22. Wait by the River by Lord Huron
|Genre||Indie Folk, Indie Rock|
“Wait by the River” was written by Lord Huron lead-singer Ben Schneider for the album Vide Noir. The inspiration behind the album came from Schneider’s nighttime drives all over the city of Los Angeles. The title translates to “Black Void” in French, and Schneider explains that he imagined the record as “a search for meaning amidst the cold indifference of the Universe.” The song has seen great exposure as it was the second single off the album that reached number 2 on both the Billboard Top Alternative Albums and the Top Rock Albums charts. As of September 2022, “Wait by the River” has over 37 million streams on Spotify.
23. The River by AURORA
|Genre||Pop, Art Pop, Nordic-Folk,|
|Album||A Different Kind of Human (Step 2)|
“The River” by Norweigan singer-songwriter, Aurora Aksnes, was inspired by her learning the devastating statistics of the suicide rates throughout the world, in which a large majority of the tragic deaths were men. The data struck a nerve with Aurora, so she wrote a song about the societal pressures to not show emotions, lest they be seen as weak. A video challenge on TikTok gave the song wide exposure while also relaying the message that it’s okay to let your guard down, cry, and be vulnerable. It’s memorialized with the associated hashtags #youcancrychallenge and #TheRiverChallenge.
24. River by Eminem (featuring Ed Sheeran)
|Genre||Pop Rap, Rap Rock|
“River” by Eminem and Ed Sheeran is a song told from the perspective of a man caught in a tumultuous relationship with a woman while they are both having extra-marital affairs. He knows what he’s doing is wrong, but he doesn’t stop the infidelity from happening and ultimately gets the woman pregnant. The river symbolizes forgiveness and acceptance of faith that accompanies the image of Holy Water washing away his guilt and sins. Commercially, the song fared better overseas, becoming a number-one hit in the United Kingdom and a top-three hit throughout Europe. As of September 2022, “River” has over 750 million streams on Spotify.
25. Following the River by The Rolling Stones
|Genre||Rock and Roll|
|Album||Exile on Main Street (Reissue – Deluxe Edition)|
The song that would eventually become known as “Following the River” was originally worked on in 1971. It remained unfinished until Mick Jagger pulled the song from the Rolling Stones’ archive nearly forty years later and wrote the lyrics and melodies to bring the powerful piano-featured ballad to life. Released on the 2010 remastered and deluxe version of their classic album, Exile on Main Street, Jagger sings about the difficulty of letting go of someone that always saw the best in him, although he knows in his heart it’s the right thing to do. He laments that he will follow the river or the memory of his lost lover until he reaches the sea or finds solace in his life.
26. Rivers of Love by Sarah McLachlan
|Genre||Pop, Rock, Adult Contemporary|
|Album||Laws of Illusion|
Sarah McLachlan teamed up with her long-time friend and fellow Canadian producer, Pierre Marchand, to bring us the album Laws of Illusion. The record climbed charts all around the world, peaking at number 3 in the US on the Billboard 200 chart, as well as number 2 on the Billboard Top Rock Albums chart. The song “Rivers of Love” is about steadfastly searching for your one true love, and never settling in a relationship if you are not completely happy. The river can also be interpreted as a religious symbol, with true acceptance and enlightenment coming only after being baptized by the river of love.
27. River So Wide by Phil Collins
|Genre||Rock, Pop, Worldbeat|
|Album||Dance into the Light|
“River So Wide” by Phil Collins seems to be more about living in peace than anything else. The lyrics allude to the fact that we can find peace and see the light only when we acknowledge each other for our humanity and emphasize our similarities rather than our differences. The song was moderately commercially successful, peaking at number 23 on the Billboard 200 chart. The album that it appears on, Dance into the Light, was certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America.
28. There’s a River by Steve Winwood
|Genre||Blues Rock, R&B|
|Album||Talking Back to the Night|
While Steve Winwood’s album Talking Back to the Night wasn’t as commercially successful as his previous album, it still climbed to number 28 on the Billboard 200 chart. Every instrument on the record was played by Winwood himself. “There’s a River” is the final track on the album and is considered one of Windwood’s most spiritual statements. The lyrics speak about faith, symbolized by a river, carrying Winwood and guiding his heart along his journey through life. The song appeared in more than one episode of Miami Vice, used during some of the show’s most dramatic moments.
Related Article: Songs About Mountains (All Genres)
29. Whiskey River by Willie Nelson
|Genre||Country, Outlaw Country|
“Whiskey River” was originally written by country singer-songwriter Johnny Bush in 1972. A year later, Willie Nelson released his cover of the song and saw it climb to number twelve on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart. The song is considered one of Nelson’s most popular tunes and is a fan favorite at his concerts. As of September 2022, “Whiskey River” has over 29 million streams on Spotify. Willie performed the song on the first episode of Austin City Limits back in 1975.
30. To The River by John Mellencamp
|Genre||Rock, Heartland Rock, Folk Rock|
While “To The River” was not one of John Mellencamp’s more popular songs, like “Jack and Diane,” it still saw plenty of exposure when the album it was on, Human Wheels, was certified platinum by the RIAA and peaked at number seven on the Billboard 200. The song repeats the refrain, “all roads to the river,” as a metaphor for the path everyone inevitably takes in the evolution of their spiritual beliefs. The lyrics suggest that no matter how we live, whether righteously or in sin, we all must someday accept our unavoidable mortal fate.
31. River Lea by Adele
|Genre||Gospel, Pop, Soul|
”River Lea” was produced by Danger Mouse and released on Adele’s critically-acclaimed album, 25. The song references a tributary of the river Thames, one of the largest in London, that flows through Southeast England near where Adele grew up. Adele claims she wrote the song as a way of dealing with herself for the first time. She had recently become a mother and was realizing all of her bad habits. Instead of confronting her problems, Adele jokes that she simply blames her character flaws on where she’s from. As of September 2022, the song has been streamed over 100 million times on Spotify.
32. Cry Me a River by Michael Bublé
|Genre||Vocal Jazz, Traditional Pop,
Easy Listening, Swing
Not to be confused with the Justin Timberlake hit, “Cry Me a River,” this cover by Michael Bublé was written by Arthur Hamilton in 1953. It was originally written for Ella Fitzgerald for the film Pete Kelly’s Blues. The song never made the final cut of the film but was released by Fitzgerald later in 1955. Then, Hamilton’s high school classmate, Julie London, released her version of the song, which was certified gold and eventually inducted into the National Recording Registry by the Library of Congress. Michael Bublé has brought the classic song to a contemporary audience and shines on the track with his jazzy, soulful voice. The song has amassed over 41 million streams on Spotify as of September 2022.
33. River by Yonder Mountain String Band
|Genre||Progressive Bluegrass, Jam Band|
|Album||Mountain Tracks, Vol. 4|
Hailing from the foothills of the Rocky Mountains in Nederland, Colorado, a progressive bluegrass group has a large following in the bluegrass/jam band scene. Their song “River” was recorded at the legendary Orange Peel venue in downtown Asheville, North Carolina, and was released on their fourth live album, Mountain Tracks, Vol. 4. The lyrics are about someone finding peace amongst nature beside a river.
34. Down by the River by Neil Young with Crazy Horse
|Genre||Folk Rock, Country Rock|
|Album||Everybody Knows This is Nowhere|
“Down by the River” was released as the first single on Neil Young’s certified platinum album, Everybody Knows This is Nowhere. The record made Rolling Stone’s list of The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. The album version of the song is over nine minutes long and features one of Young’s most memorable guitar solos. He plays the same one-note again and again until it builds into an epic melody full of angst. “Down by the River” was written by Neil Young while he was delirious and sick with a high fever. Apparently, the illness brought Young an incredible amount of inspiration as he was able to write his other hits, “Cinnamon Girl” and “Cowgirl in the Sand,” during the same time.
35. Like a River Runs by Bleachers
|Genre||Indie Pop, Alternative Rock|
“Like a River Runs” was released as the fourth single on the debut album by Jack Antonoff’s band Bleachers. The song peaked at number two on the Billboard Hot Singles Sales. It may not have enjoyed the same level of commercial success that Antonoff’s former albums with his band Fun achieved, but Strange Desire nonetheless climbed to number 2 on both the Billboard Top Alternative Albums chart and the Top Rock Albums chart. These days, Antonoff is busy songwriting and producing award-winning records for artists like Taylor Swift, Lorde, and Lana Del Rey, to name a few.
36. Watching the River Flow by Bob Dylan
|Genre||Blues Rock, Folk, Country Rock|
|Album||Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits Vol. II|
“Watching the River Flow” was written by Bob Dylan and was one of the first songs he worked on with artist and producer Leon Russell. Dylan was widely known for his folk rock and country sound at the time and wanted to take his music in a new direction, artistically. The song features Russell’s gospel-inspired piano on top of stellar electric guitar riffs performed by legendary Native American guitarist, Jesse Ed Davis. The lyrics are believed to be about a bout of writer’s block Dylan was experiencing as he struggled to find the new direction he wanted his music to take, both lyrically and instrumentally.
37. Bottom Of The River by Delta Rae
|Genre||Americana, Folk Rock, Blues Rock|
|Album||Carry the Fire|
Lead singer of the band Delta Rae, Brittany Hölljes, possesses a certain fiery, even mystical spirit in her singing that comes out full-force in the song “Bottom of the River.” The music video of the song reflects the tune’s creepy, mysterious sound, and tells the story of a witch trial. The townsfolk, belligerent in misguided religious fervor, gather and take a woman from her home, and lead her down to the river to face her ultimate test. As of September 2022, “Bottom of the River” has been viewed over 7 million times on YouTube and has been streamed over 32 million times on Spotify.
38. Ol’ Man River by Paul Robeson
“Ol’ Man River” was originally written by Oscar Hammerstein II and composed by Jerome Kern for the musical Showboat. The song has been covered by artists from Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra to Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin. The definitive version, though, was sung by the soulful bass singer Paul Robeson. The song has been described as a powerful indictment of black oppression, as it was featured in the film about life on a Mississippi pleasure boat in the south in Jim Crow times.
39. Big River by Johnny Cash
|Genre||Rock and Roll, Rockabilly, Country|
Released as a single in 1958, “Big River” became a top 15 hit on two Billboard charts at the same time. The song peaked at number four on the Hot Country Singles chart and number fourteen on the Hot 100 list. “Big River” has been covered by the likes of Bob Dylan, The Grateful Dead, and Hank Williams, Jr., to name a few. In the song where Cash claims that he “taught the weeping willow how to cry.” The lyrics tell the story of a man searching up and down the Mississippi River, looking for the woman he fell in love with.
40. Face The River by Gavin DeGraw
|Genre||Pop Rock, Blue-Eyed Soul|
|Album||Face The River|
“Face the River” is the title track on the album Gavin DeGraw described as his most personal record yet and was inspired by the loving relationship of his late parents. While growing up with his parents, DeGraw claims that he “saw the pinnacle of what love should be.” The music video is dedicated to his mom and dad and features Gavin driving through the desert southwest, singing longingly into the beautiful landscape of Monument Valley. The song details the heartache of moving on from the death of a loved one and is about facing your problems head-on and dealing with them.
Hi, my name is Kevin and I’m from Butler, Pennsylvania. I’ve been obsessed with music and audio gear for as long as I can remember. I started this website to help people find professional advice related to a wide range of audio topics. We have a number of Audio Engineers on our team who have been designing and fixing audio gear for decades.