I finally got my invite to float down the Grand Canyon for 25 days to spend the extended period of time with new friends and the sweet river.

That is when I started searching for all the river songs I knew so I could come up with some good guitar sing-alongs while floating down the river.

When I think of spending time by the river, I think of music with roots in folk, bluegrass, and rock and roll and that is the premise of how I came up with the following songs.

So join me in listening to a playlist that features some of the best songs about rivers.



1. “Take Me to the River” – Talking Heads

Album: More Songs About Buildings and Food
Date Released: July 1978

Ah, Talking Heads takes us on a smooth sail with “Take me to the River.” This tune is a funky pilgrimage—a chance to baptize your soul in the pure waters of art rock. With David Byrne’s iconic voice leading the way, it’s like drifting along on a raft made of groovy beats and poetic musings. Dive in, folks!


2. “Proud Mary” – Creedence Clearwater Revival

Album: Bayou Country
Date Released: January 1969

This song? An absolute river anthem. “Proud Mary” rolls down the river with a sense of freedom and an air of timeless Americana. From its iconic guitar intro to John Fogerty’s gravelly vocals, this CCR masterpiece sweeps you off your feet and sets you afloat on a journey you don’t wanna miss.


3. “River” – Yonder Mountain String Band

Album: Elevation
Date Released: September 1999

If you want something that speaks the language of rivers, “River” by Yonder Mountain String Band has got you covered. Mixing bluegrass with dashes of folk, it’s like a quiet canoe trip down a peaceful, meandering river. The melody flows gently, and the lyrics serve as the scenery passing by. Nature lovers, this one’s for you.


4. “Down by the River” – Neil Young

Album: Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere
Date Released: May 1969

Neil Young gives us an emotionally turbulent “Down by the River.” Far from a simple nature tune, this epic track captures the complexities of love and betrayal, much like a river with its unpredictable turns and rapids. Young’s guitar solos are the roaring waters you can’t ignore, offering a ride that’s anything but smooth sailing.


5. “Same Ol’ River” – Sam Bush

Album: Glamour & Grits
Date Released: 1996

“Same Ol’ River” by Sam Bush is a poetic stroll along the banks of memory and change. It’s a reflection on life’s ups and downs, all set to a mellow blend of bluegrass and folk. It feels like you’re tossing a pebble into the river and watching the ripples spread out, contemplating the cycles of life.


6. “Peace Like a River” – Paul Simon

Album: Paul Simon
Date Released: January 1972

Ah, “Peace Like a River” is Paul Simon at his storytelling best. The song takes you on a ride through the peaceful and tumultuous alike, much like a river navigating through serene plains and rocky terrains. With folk-rock rhythms and poetic lyrics, this track is both a solace and a thought-provoker rolled into one.


7. “Mighty River” – Railroad Earth

Album: Amen Corner
Date Released: June 2008

This one’s for the souls seeking a touch of the majestic in their river songs. “Mighty River” from Railroad Earth is an ode to the awe-inspiring, unstoppable force of nature. With bluegrass-infused instrumentation and emotive vocals, the song captures the essence of rivers—both peaceful and powerful.


8. “River” – Leon Bridges

Album: Coming Home
Date Released: June 2015

If ever there was a soulful ballad that captured the spirit of rivers, Leon Bridges’ “River” is it. It’s the kind of tune you want to listen to while sitting on a wooden pier, toes dipping into the water. With gospel undertones and a simple, touching arrangement, it’s a hymn to both natural and emotional landscapes.


9. “Steamboat Whistle Blues” – John Hartford

Album: Aereo-Plain
Date Released: 1971

Feel that? That’s the syncopated rhythms of “Steamboat Whistle Blues,” evoking the good ol’ days of steamboat cruises down the Mississippi. John Hartford brings us a lively tune that’s both historical and soulful, capturing the spirit of river culture and a bygone era. Time to dance like nobody’s watching!


10. “Big River” – Johnny Cash (or Grateful Dead)

Album: With His Hot and Blue Guitar
Date Released: October 1957

Whether you’re vibing to Johnny Cash’s original or nodding along to the Grateful Dead’s rendition, “Big River” is a classic. It serves up a tale of love and loss, wrapped in Americana and sent floating down the river of musical greatness. The guitar twangs are your oars, and Cash’s baritone is the current leading you on.


11. “When the Levee Breaks” – Led Zeppelin

Album: Led Zeppelin IV
Date Released: November 1971

This one’s heavy, folks. “When the Levee Breaks” by Led Zeppelin isn’t just a song; it’s an experience—a flood of blues and rock elements that encapsulate the ominous feeling of a levee about to give way. The drumming is the storm, the harmonica is the howling wind, and Robert Plant’s vocals are the impending floodwaters. A modern-day classic, no doubt.


12. “Going Down to the River” – Doug Seegers

Album: Going Down to the River
Date Released: April 2014

Doug Seegers’ “Going Down to the River” is like a fresh breath of countryside air. It’s an acoustic gem that speaks to the soul, painting a vivid picture of life’s simple and yet profound moments. Think of it as a sonic postcard from a peaceful spot down by the river, where you can forget all your worries.


13. “The River of Dreams” – Billy Joel

Album: River of Dreams
Date Released: August 1993

Oh, here’s a wake-up call to all dreamers out there! “The River of Dreams” by Billy Joel is a groove-laden journey through the subconscious. With its gospel-inspired chorus and introspective lyrics, the song’s like a river cruise through the mind. It’s catchy, it’s deep, and it’s got that Billy Joel magic that keeps you humming long after the song’s over.


14. “River” – Joni Mitchell

Album: Blue
Date Released: June 1971

Joni Mitchell’s “River” is not just a song, it’s an emotional voyage. It touches on love and loss, and the haunting piano melody will make you feel like you’re drifting on a gentle current. Joni’s voice is that wise river guide who’s seen it all, steering you through the emotional bends and turns with utmost grace.


15. “Sometimes a River” – String Cheese Incident

Album: One Step Closer
Date Released: June 2005

“Sometimes a River” by String Cheese Incident is like that unexpected yet totally rad jam session you stumble upon when exploring a riverside festival. With a blend of bluegrass, rock, and a dash of country, the song reflects life’s ups and downs, much like a river’s meandering course through varied terrains. Perfect for those contemplative moments as you gaze at the flowing water.


16. “Colorado River” – Trout Steak Revival

Album: Brighter Every Day
Date Released: March 2015

Here’s a tune that’s like a fresh catch of the day—healthy, organic, and straight from the Colorado River. Trout Steak Revival offers us an ode to their home state’s iconic waterway with a dash of folk and bluegrass elements. A toe-tapper for sure, this one’s for the adventurers and nature lovers among us.


17. “Where Does an Old Time River Man Go” – John Hartford

Album: Mark Twang
Date Released: 1976

John Hartford is no stranger to river tunes, and this song asks a poignant question that’s kind of like contemplating life as you sit by a serene riverbank. With his signature banjo strumming and storytelling style, Hartford takes us on a journey through the lifetime of a river man, making it a must-listen for any river song anthology.


18. “The River” – Bruce Springsteen

Album: The River
Date Released: October 1980

The Boss brings his storytelling prowess to “The River,” a song that’s as deep and complex as the waterway it’s named after. Springsteen’s lyrics tackle love, economic hardship, and the American Dream—all flowing along a steady current of classic rock instrumentation. It’s a Springsteen epic that can’t be missed.


19. “Green River” – Creedence Clearwater Revival

Album: Green River
Date Released: August 1969

CCR’s “Green River” is a swamp-rock classic that’ll make you feel like you’re in a boat, cruising down the bayou. It’s laid-back but tight, a bit muddy but absolutely clear in its intent. The guitar riff itself is like the surface of a river—rippling and endlessly fascinating.


20. “Long Hot Summer Days” – John Hartford

Album: Mark Twang
Date Released: 1976

Once again, John Hartford invites us to float along on “Long Hard Summer Days,” a song that paints a vivid picture of a river man’s life. It’s laid-back, it’s rootsy, and it practically screams summer. Grab your fishing pole and your best pals—this track’s a celebration of the season and the river that accompanies it.