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Seriously. I would post a list of examples of song titles and albums, but that would just make this question way too long and would probably take another year before I can ask it.

Just think about all the songs you know that are about rivers or refer to rivers. Amirite?

On a side note. If someone has a link to every song in existence with the word "river" in the title I would definitely like to see it.

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  • Well, obviously it's because love, it is a river.
    – Aaron
    Apr 21, 2023 at 19:29
  • Replace "musicians" with "humans" and you can ask the same question. Humans (and other animals) are genetically programmed since the caveman days to relax and feel at ease near water, because that means that food and water is likely available near and so it's a good place to settle. Civilization is said to have first appeared between the rivers Euphrates and Tigris. Rivers are also symbolic. Egyptians worshipped the Nile. The philosopher Heraclitus 500BC made river analogies. Cesar crossed the Rubicon. And so on. So this isn't really a music question...
    – Amarth
    Apr 26, 2023 at 16:45
  • Anyway OP if you were really curious find some time this summer to read Siddhartha by Herman Hesse. You might not like it but you'll really understand those songs next time.
    – lly
    Jun 19, 2023 at 18:34

3 Answers 3

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My humble opinion is that a river can be used as a metaphor for a lot of things:

  • the passing of time: The time flows exactly like the water in a river

  • forgiveness: The river cleans the area where it is passing through

  • life: The river is born in one place and ends in another one

  • constant change : like the water that is flowing constantly

  • cleanliness: of sins, of problems, of worries

  • peacefulness: The calm of seeing water flowing

  • isolation: The river as a place to stay alone

  • obstacle: The river as a barrier that has to be crossed to achieve something or meet someone

Most songwriters write about life/love struggles and they are closely related well to the stated metaphors.

However, keep in mind that the river will be used as a metaphor more in some genres (folk, country, blues, rock) than in others (Rap, urban).

A river can be also a scenario and it's very common because people like to go to rivers to swim or simply to just watch the water flow, so it helps to develop a story.

The Mississippi River, for example, is the scenario of multiple blues songs mainly because the songwriters lived near the river and that river was part of their daily life.

Some songs with rivers:

  • Neil Young - Down by the river
  • Alan Parsons Project- Time
  • River of Dreams - Billy Joel
  • Creedence Clearwater Revival - Proud Mary
  • Al Green - Take Me to the River
  • Bruce Hornsby & The Range - The River Runs Low
  • Bruce Hornsby & The Range - Across the River
  • Bruce Springsteen - The River
  • Doobie Brothers- Black River
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It's not just musicians (or songwriters) but all English literature. But not as much as we have been in the past. Looks like river became very popular around 1750. https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=river&year_start=1500&year_end=2019&corpus=en-2019&smoothing=3

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  • 1
    The graph is really interesting, and it turns out that "sea", "earth", and "fire" show the same trend. Maybe it's more to do with the scanning process? books.google.com/ngrams/…
    – Grandpa
    May 1, 2023 at 2:06
  • try adding a common word like "ball" or "hammer", not all words are on the same wave but these that we see with parallels are from the nature family. And yes, it's not a perfect picture of reality, just all written word that has been scanned. books.google.com/ngrams/…
    – mediajam
    May 2, 2023 at 4:20
  • Absolutely @Grandpa. Another major issue is orthography. Even the few books from those years that Google scanned, blackletter and older print is harder to handle; earth might be spelled erthe or erye; sea is going to look like ſea (scanned lea or fea); and river might be riuer (scanned rmei) or flumen.
    – lly
    Jun 19, 2023 at 18:33
  • @mediajam I don't know where all came from. It's just only. The ngram corpus is a slice of Google's database, not all of it.
    – lly
    Jun 19, 2023 at 18:33
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My son's name is "River" so I'm very sensitized to the large number of songs about rivers. However, I'm not sure it's just rivers --there's are plenty of iconic natural elements that poets and songwriters refer to often --perhaps because they are part of everyone's life.

Rivers, night, the sky, rain, mountains, winter, spring, summer, fall, storms, stars, the moon. Come to think of it, there's even a song named "Moon River"!

If I had to make a guess why rivers are even more common than most of the others, it's probably because not everyone lives near a mountain or the ocean, but pretty much every major human habitation is near a river.

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