I recently came across an old TDK tape of swimming songs. It brought back memories of many swimming adventures I had in the 1990s and early 2000s. The only problem was that I no longer have a functioning cassette player to listen to the songs.
With the aid of the penciled song list inside the case, I created the modern equivalent of my swimming mixed tape: a Spotify playlist. What’s more, I updated the list to include songs released since the days when highways were strewn with black ribbons of magnetic tape.
Here is the list of songs, with a little description of what they’re about or what they mean to me.
On a crowded beach in a distant time
At the height of summer; see a boy of five
At the water’s edge so nimble and free
Jumping over the ripples, looking way out to sea
Paul Kelly doesn’t know me from the next man, but every time I hear this song, I feel as though it was written about me. In fact, the song could be about any number of us sons-become-fathers. It’s brilliant.
For me, the crowded beach is Maroochydore, on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast, and the distant time the summer of 1980. The clock turns, through joy and tragedy, to a new child that was first my daughter, then my two sons.
This is a powerful song, incredibly relatable to many Australian lives, and a perfectly crafted circle-of-life song from Australia’s best singer/songwriter.
Let’s swim to the moon,
Let’s climb through the tide
Surrender to the waiting worlds
That lap against our side
The Doors formed at Venice Beach in California, so it’s fitting that their first recorded song tells the story of a nighttime swim. The band has a way of building excitement through their songs, and Jim Morrison’s delivery brings out some of the tensions, fears, and excitement of swimming in a moonlit ocean.
This summer I swam in a public place
And a reservoir, to boot,
At the latter I was informal,
At the former I wore my suit,
I wore my swimming suit.
Roger Deakin liked this song for its portrayal of the carefree swimming fool who cares not for speed or competition, but revels in swimming in all its diversity.
I saw you in the lane next to me
You were doing freestyle, then you switched it around
To a little bit of backstroke
I couldn’t see underneath
Your swimming cap, but it appeared that you had
Dark colored hair, maybe it was blonde for all I know
I had goggles on
They were getting foggy
I much prefer swimming to jogging
A swimmer notices another at the local pool and tries to impress. We’ve all been there, and can all appreciate the subtle fumbles that get made when the swimming pool becomes an arena for courting.
Don’t go chasing waterfalls.
Please stick to the rivers and the lakes that you’re used to.
I know that you’re gonna have it your way or nothing at all,
But I think you’re moving too fast.
Some places are dangerous for swimming – none more so than waterfalls, with their cliffs, shallow areas of bedrock, and strong currents. This song is a warning for swimmers not to be lured by the scenic beauty of waterfalls, because behind the rainbow spray of mist, and the curtain of water, lurk perils and danger.
Let’s go on a moonlight swim
Far away from the crowd
All alone upon the beach
Our lips and our arms
Close within each other’s reach
Will be, on a moonlight swim
Another song about night swimming, this Presley tune is delivered in a more bouncy and fun tone than the previous Moonlight Drive. I heard it first in the 1980s, when Elvis movies played on TV every Saturday afternoon. It’s from Elvis’ Blue Hawaii movie, and portrays the romance of swimming at night with someone you love.
We can live beside the ocean
Leave the fire behind
Swim out past the breakers
Watch the world die
When Everclear lead singer Art Alexakis was a teenager, his girlfriend tragically committed suicide. Soon afterwards, Alexakis also attempted suicide by leaping off the historical Santa Monica Pier. This song is a wistful account of the two coming back together and living beside the ocean.
Yeah way down yonder on the Chattahoochee
Never knew how much that muddy water meant to me
But I learned how to swim and I learned who I was
A lot about livin’ and a little ’bout love
Rivers and dams are the centre of recreation for many country teenagers. That’s what this song’s about. The scenes are as valid in the inland towns of Australia as they are in America. For me the Chattahoochie could just as easily be the Bogan, Murray, or Bellinger Rivers – places where some of the formative stages of life unfold.
I was walking through icy streams
That took my breath away
Moving slowly through westward water
Over glacial plains
Maggie Rogers’ songs are strongly influenced by the outdoors, and although not specifically about swimming, they contain scenes or feelings that outdoor swimmers will connect to. As well as Alaska, check out the film clip for Dog Years, which captures the essence of this young singers work.
Yeah, gonna be so neat
Dance to the Euro beat
Yeah, gonna be so cool
Twisting by the, we’re twisting by the
By the pool
Pool parties. There’s more dancing than swimming in this song, and it’s beside the pool rather than in it. But I’m sure everyone would have ended up in the pool by the end of the night.