In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well—some inspired by a weekly theme and some not, but always songs worth hearing. This week, in honor of the actual beginning of the season, we’re picking our favorite summer songs.
Arthur Russell once said he envisioned “Let’s Go Swimming” as a “futuristic summer song”—a statement indicative of the sweetly naïve optimism that colored the late composer’s work, as well as what a consummate weirdo he was. As Russell himself soon found out, “Let’s Go Swimming” is not anyone’s idea of a “summer song,” at least not in the 1986 climate in which it was released. By then, Russell had released a handful of singles that married his affections for classical music to disco and no wave, in much the same way that he married his alien, Kermit The Frog-like voice to heavy reverb and rhythmic stabs at his cello. But while they entertained—or more often, confused—dancers around the fringes of the New York club scene, there was simply no way “Let’s Go Swimming” was ever going to get them moving like, say, Bananarama’s “Cruel Summer.”
Still, time has long since caught up to Arthur Russell, and 22 years after his death, I’m officially declaring “Let’s Go Swimming” the song of the summer. (Or, at least, a song of the summer.) Russell’s heavy reverb and mantra-like plea to come and hit the pool, bobbing atop the song’s loosely fluid polyrhythms—all frantic congas, drum machines, and stabs of blistered synthesizer—is a sound whose season has come. Particularly in the “Coastal Dub” version below, from Russell’s admirer and fellow New York club legend Walter Gibbons (who also created the video), “Let’s Go Swimming” reaches a sort of sunstroke delirium that’s perfect for these warmer, freer months when it’s okay if things get a bit weird.