How many songs are called, “The Ocean”? Not “Ocean” (Sebadoh and Velvet Underground), “Oceans” (Pearl Jam), “I Sat By The Ocean” (Queens of The Stone Age) or “Ocean Man” (Ween). There are quite a few that are just called, “The Ocean”. And why not? The ocean is ample – lots to go around. A quick scan of Spotify yields about 20 results (give or take) and there are some really good ones in the mix. A recent trip to the Atlantic got me looking, listening, and enjoying a few of those tracks. Here’s a top five.
Number Five belongs to Tegan and Sara. The sisters have a different sounding “The Ocean” than any other on the list and it’s not bad. Some might even say it’s good. It is, to be sure, a power pop, 0-60 (Kilometers per hour. They’re Canadian) song that demands (not suggest) that a former lover stop crying into a metaphorical ocean – an ocean of tears. They sing, “Stop crying in the ocean, stop crying over me.” All T&S really want is for this lover to say, “Well I know what I want and what I want’s right here with you” but that doesn’t happen and more tears ensue. That’s a lot of tears. One might think that this sisterly duo would be forgotten about or left off the list simply because they’re from Canada. Not the case. Led Zepp is thoroughly English and they’re on the list. That’s diversity, baby.
“The Ocean” Number Four is from Manchester Orchestra. They deliver a really lovely song – of the five it’s the loveliest and probably the most haunting. Here’s why: the harmonies, the piano, the airy vocals, the oooooos and ahhhhhhs, the brevity of the verses and the pain that rings out during each refrain. When you listen to this song it’s easy to imagine singer Andy Hull, slightly intoxicated, playing on a dark stage singing the line, “I hope you don’t choke on that last passive word that you keep in your throat” to an audience of one – the person “The Ocean” is written about. It’s a good song on the lovely album entitled Hope. And if you dig, there’s a more rockin’ version of the song online. It’s not “War Pigs”, but it’s also good and probably cathartic. Sometimes a band just has to rock it out.
The guys from The Bravery would be honored to be Number Three on this list. Maybe. Probably not. Regardless, they’re here and “The Ocean” is a storyteller’s tale of leaving, losing and longing found on their album, The Sun and The Moon. It’s a cautionary tale about leaving a lover across the sea and then living with that lament. It starts, “I climbed up a mountain and looked off the edge at all of the lives that I never have led. There’s one where I stayed with you across the sea. I wonder do you still think of me?” It continues with sadness and concludes with singer, Sam Endicott, singing “The ghost of you asking me why? Why did I leave?” He continues, “Oh the ocean rolls us away, away, away. And I lose your hands through the waves.” In the end we never find out why he left. Why, Sam? Solutions aside, it’s a good sad song. It’s personal. And it’s an emotional ending to an otherwise dancey album.
Led Zeppelin lands at Number Two and are the granddads of the list; and the coolest; and they rock the most. None of that should surprise anyone. “The Ocean” is last track off of Houses of The Holy – which is an album full of amazing, catchy, soaring guitar hooks (see: “Over The Hills And Far Away”, “Dancing Days”, “D’yer Mak’er”, “The Crunge”). Again, it’s Led Zeppelin so nobody’s shocked. But on an album filled with killer riffs “The Ocean” delivers. About the song: the ocean that singer, Robert Plant, refers to is the crowd the band performs to. He sings, “Singing to an ocean, I can hear the ocean’s roar. Play for free, I play for me, and play a whole lot more, more!” Nice nod to the crowd, Robert. He goes on about a shift as he continues, “Used to sing on the mountains but the mountains washed away. Now I’m singing all my songs for the girl who won my heart. She is only three years old and it’s a real fine way to start” – the girl being his daughter. Maybe he’s trying to say that at one point the crowd was his ocean, his everything, but after becoming a father his daughter became his ocean. Maybe. Anyway, the song ends with a meaty Jones bass line, Jimmy Page crushing a guitar solo, and Bonzo grooving hard into the final chords. It’s so good – an underrated song on an underrated album.
Sunny Day Real Estate holds the Number One spot on this list because “The Ocean” hits on everything that’s listed above and it doesn’t have any holes. Tegan and Sara move too fast and are too repetitive. Manchester Orchestra and The Bravery are too one-dimensional and both bands have a song that starts and ends without a lot of highs and lows in between. Sunny Day is not Led Zeppelin and there’s no way to match the bravado of Jimmy Pages’ guitar chops. However, singer Jeremy Enigk’s lyrics make more sense, his voice soars, screams and hovers beautifully and the song is tight throughout.
Sunny Day Real Estate, in this song and throughout most of their acclaimed album, The Rising Tide, did a lot of things right – sonically and lyrically. “The Ocean”, track six, is a climactic moment in the middle of the outstanding record and it is the most well rounded song on this list. “The Ocean” goes high and it goes low; it rushes you and then eases back gracefully. It’s beautiful, powerful and captivating – much like the ocean itself.
Other notable “The Ocean” tracks: The Dodos have one where their front man sing “It’s only the ocean” for about a minute and a half which makes it sound like they’re belittling the power of the moon powered collection of salt water – not cool, Dodos. The ocean is a dangerous place. Basically, the song is pleasant but stands still for a few 4 minutes and 35 seconds. U2’s version doesn’t last that long but it doesn’t do a whole lot either. Tom Waits has a pretty weird (shocking) song of the same name and it is completely different in every conceivable way (shocking). But it’s cool because Tom Waits can and has done just about everything anybody can do with music and that includes recording a weird, spoken word version of a song called, “The Ocean”. I’m happy he’s on the list.