Friday Five: Songs About Drowning

Juli Thanki | May 29th, 2009

Every now and again you’ll experience the kind of heartbreak that makes you want to drown yourself. I’m not talking about the metaphorical kind of drowning of sorrows with whiskey and wine, but actual, Virginia Woolf style, rocks-in-pockets drowning. Have no fear; these five intrepid singers have been there before. So step away from the river and up to a jukebox, because heartbreak is only temporary, but a good song about drowning yourself–like a diamond–lasts forever.

Disclaimer: The 9513 only condones the metaphorical kind of drowning…but we hope you’ll enjoy this list anyway.

  • Deal - The Original Soundtrack 5. “Drown on the River” – Barry Gibb
    What’s the worse sin: Burning down Johnny Cash’s house or recording this song? Not sure. To be honest, Gibb’s forays into country music aren’t all that horrendous–after all, he’s responsible for penning the Dolly/Kenny guilty pleasure “Islands in the Stream”–but if any song could use some Bee Gees falsetto and some crazy cool medallions, it’s this one.
  • Garth Brooks - Sevens 4. “I Don’t Have to Wonder” – Garth Brooks
    One of the better tracks off of Sevens, “I Don’t Have to Wonder” is all about some dude who drowns himself after his girl marries someone else. Honestly, the bride probably dodged a bullet with this one. Can you imagine being married to someone so dramatic that he flings himself off a bridge at the slightest provocation?
  • Audie Blaylock and Redline - Audie Blaylock and Redline 3. “Whispering Waters” – Audie Blaylock and Redline
    Once your arms held me, they held me so tight/But the whispering waters will hold me tonight.” Another one about a man driven to drown thanks to a false-hearted lover; this creepy and wonderful bluegrass song will surely send shivers up your spine.
  • Floyd Cramer - The Essential Floyd Cramer 2. “Drown in My Own Tears” – Floyd Cramer
    This Henry Glover song is most famous thanks to Ray Charles’ version, but country musicians like legendary producer/guitarist Chet Atkins and pianist Floyd Cramer have taken a couple swings at it too. And although this version lacks Glover’s uber-depressing lyrics (drowning in one’s own tears must be both awful and time-consuming, not to mention dehydrating), Cramer’s legendary piano is in fine form.
  • Hank Williams - Gold 1. “Long Gone Lonesome Blues” – Hank Williams
    Bitches, man. That’s pretty much the Cliff Notes version of ol’ Hank’s second #1 from way back in 1950. This poor sucker has to go find a second river to go down in three times, but only come up twice: the first one he chose was dry. Now that’s persistence, and considering he wants to find an ice cold river, there’s some masochism thrown in for good measure. Maybe the man should stick to just watching the fish swim by.

Listen to this playlist on Rhapsody

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  1. Lee S.
    May 29, 2009 at 2:45 pm


    I always interpreted “I don’t have to wonder” as the singer tossing his old ring off into the river, not himself. I’ll go listen again real quick…

  2. Occasional Hope
    May 29, 2009 at 3:15 pm

    There’s a great song called Three Weeks In July on singer-songwriter Casey Kessel’s album Ripple In The Water, which has an attempted rapist being classified as a suicide by drowning after the girl has semi-accidentally killed him fighting him off.

    I once came across a real-life 19th century guy who had the same trouble as Hank’s character in Long Gone Lonesome Blues – he jumped in the river (or it may have been a canal in his case) to try to drown himself having been spurned by a girl, but found it was only three feet deep just there, and pathetically asked passers by to tell him where it was deeper. (He survived.)

  3. Mike Parker
    May 29, 2009 at 3:21 pm

    I guess they don’t quite fit the list of songs about drowning yourself, but “Kern River” and “Down The River” came to mind.

    Love “I Don’t Have To Wonder.” One of my favorite Garth album cuts. I remember hearing there was a video made for this, but I never saw it. It’s definitely suicide and not just tossing the ring. When the angels sing like thunder and you feel yourself go under…

  4. Brady Vercher
    May 29, 2009 at 3:23 pm

    If a story can be humorous and sad at the same time, I think yours qualifies, Occasional Hope.

    While the narrator isn’t the one that drowns, Haggard sounds like his will to live drowned in “Kern River.”

    Edit: Mike Parker beat me! Nooo!

  5. Andrew Lacy
    May 29, 2009 at 4:36 pm

    Trisha Yearwood’s “Drown Me” is a little more metaphorical, but I’d say it still fits the theme.

    Also, good call on “I Don’t Have To Wonder.” It’s one of my favorite songs off that album, though it never really registered with me that he was jumping off the bridge until I saw the video for it; then it just seemed obvious.

  6. Tristan
    May 29, 2009 at 4:46 pm

    Hmmm…. this is a good list, but I’m wondering where Brad and Allison’s “Whiskey Lullabye” is.
    Just saying, that one tops all for me.

  7. Sam G.
    May 29, 2009 at 4:48 pm

    A band called Dolorean (well, it’s basically a guy named Al James) has a great song called “Hannibal, Mo.” where a guy and his true love vow to swim into the Mississippi Rover and drown so they won’t be separated when she goes off to college. He survives, she doesn’t, he ends up in jail knowing that her dad will most likely kill him whenever he gets out of prison.

    How about a playlist based on dumping bodies in a river or lake to conceal a crime? Off the top of my head, I can think of The Dixie Chicks’ “Goodbye Earl,” Chris Knight’s “Down The River” and Molly & the Heymakers “The Ballad of Desiree.”

  8. Sam G.
    May 29, 2009 at 4:51 pm

    “Hmmm…. this is a good list, but I’m wondering where Brad and Allison’s “Whiskey Lullabye” is.”

    They drowned themselves in alcohol, not water, but it might get in on a technicality.

    Ooh, I forgot about the Old 97’s “Here’s to the Halcyon.” A guy survives a shipwreck, finds himself surrounded by nothing but water and starts bargaining with God to get him out of the mess.

  9. Nicolas
    May 29, 2009 at 5:30 pm

    I like “Drown Me” by Trisha Yearwood <3

  10. Leeann Ward
    May 29, 2009 at 5:42 pm

    Awesome list. I especially love your commentary on the Garth and Hank songs.:)

  11. Tristan
    May 29, 2009 at 6:34 pm

    “They drowned themselves in alcohol, not water, but it might get in on a technicality.”

    Oh…. I missed the disclaimer. lol Thanks!

  12. Matt. B
    May 29, 2009 at 6:47 pm

    There’s “The River” by Chely Wright that is pretty damn good.

  13. J.R. Journey
    May 29, 2009 at 11:26 pm

    I listened to all the songs, but I think the introduction to them is better than all the songs combined. You’re my favorite, Juli.

  14. Jon
    May 29, 2009 at 11:33 pm

    The great Paul Williams recorded a song called “Deep River” at a split session with his boss, Jimmy Martin, back in the early 60s that fits the bill pretty well:

    “I’m feeling low down, deep river
    I can’t go on, I’ve had enough
    Gonna dive to your bottom, deep river
    I’m diving down, but I’m not coming up”

    And then there’s a great Harlan Howard song called “The Water’s So Cold” that Marty Raybon recorded on his The Grass That I Grew Up On album from just a couple of years ago.

  15. Anna K
    May 30, 2009 at 12:18 am

    Wow! I just learned two new facts tonight:
    1. Garth’s song was actually about drowning, not just chucking a ring
    2. There was a video for it!!!
    Thanks for keeping one bored babysitter entertained for the evening.

    The first song that came to mind was “Kern River” when I read this weeks topic; maybe next week’s Five could be Songs About Almost Drowning?

  16. Rick
    May 30, 2009 at 2:23 am

    For drowning songs don’t forget Bobby Gentry’s “Ode to Billy Joe” since poor Billy jumped off the Tallahatchee bridge after all…

    To me the spookiest drowning song is “I Will Never Marry”, an old Carter Family song I first encountered on the Peasall Sisters fine album titled “Home To You”. I would hope no heartbroken person with suicidal tendencies would ever listen to that song!

    Also Aussie Slim Dusty wrote a great cowboy song titled “Saddle Boy” about a boy and his horse who both drown while trying to cross a storm swollen creek on his way home from school. Kasey Chambers’ family band “The Dead Ringer Band” sang an awesome cover version for a Slim Dusty tribute album.

  17. Erik
    May 30, 2009 at 7:14 am

    Matt mentioned “The River” by Chely Wright. That song is not only my favorite Chely song; it’s also one of my very favorite songs by anyone. I think it’s safe to say that it would top my list of favorite songs about drowning. ;)

  18. Lazeras
    May 31, 2009 at 9:10 pm

    Tied Together With a Smile

    hold on, baby you’re losing it
    the waters high, your jumping into it
    and letting go and no one knows
    that you cry, but you don’t tell anyone
    that you might not be the golden one
    and your tied together with a smile
    but your coming undone

  19. Ben Milam
    June 2, 2009 at 3:46 pm

    that chris knight song down the river. but i’m still not clear if the brother was shot or drowned. doesn’t matter chris makes it dark enough to where all that matters is the song.

  20. Honk E. Tonk
    September 7, 2009 at 4:03 am

    Take that Floyd Cramer piano-crooner and throw it in the trash, replace it with Ferlin Husky’s “Draggin’ the River” in the #2 slot and you’re in business.

  21. Kim
    October 18, 2009 at 9:32 pm

    Check out the Greencards new album “Fascination” Sugar Hill for “Davy Jones”, this Gordie Sampson/Michael Logen song has to be the most sublime account of drowning I’ve ever heard.To be avoided by anyone contemplating suicide, it sounds far too appealing!

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