"Nightswimming" is a song by the American alternative rock band R.E.M. It was released in 1993 as the fifth single from the group's eighth album Automatic for the People (1992). "Nightswimming" is a ballad featuring singer Michael Stipe accompanied only by bassist Mike Mills on piano (lyrics and music respectively, but credited to the whole band as usual), a string arrangement by former Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones, and a prominent oboe by Deborah Workman in the latter part of the piece. Stipe sings about a group of friends who go skinny dipping at night, which draws from similar experiences in the band's early days.
|Single by R.E.M.|
|from the album Automatic for the People|
|B-side||"Losing My Religion" (Live)|
|Released||July 15, 1993 (UK)|
|R.E.M. singles chronology|
Background and recording
Bassist Mike Mills recalled he was playing a piano riff at John Keane's studio in the band's hometown of Athens, Georgia. While Mills almost discarded the melody, it attracted the interest of singer Michael Stipe. Mills said, "I never thought it would amount to much because it was just a circular thing that kept going round and round and round. But it inspired Michael." While the song was not included on Out of Time, the demo recorded during those sessions was used for Automatic for the People, with a string arrangement by John Paul Jones added to the track. Mills has also claimed he recorded the piano part at Criteria Studios in Miami, on the same piano used by Derek and the Dominos on the recording of "Layla".
"[Michael] listened once, nodded his head to hear it again, and on the second pass he sang the lyrics. It was 'Nightswimming,' exactly like the record we would record a year later," explained Peter Buck in 2003. "I was standing in the corner, dumbfounded."
Composition and lyrics
As of 2003, "Nightswimming" was the only R.E.M. song for which the lyric was written before the music. It was performed by Michael Stipe and Mike Mills; Stipe sings while Mills plays the piano. R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck noted that the absence of drummer Bill Berry and himself from the song was typical of many tracks on Automatic for the People, where one or more band members would not appear on a given song. Mills plays a piano motif he has referred to as "circular" in nature.
The inspiration for the song has been debated by the band members. Stipe, in a 2001 Esquire article, suggested an origin of the song. "A few years ago, I wanted to write a song about night watchmen, so I hired one to guard the R.E.M. offices in Athens. I bought him a uniform and a flashlight and everything. He turned out to be kind of crazy and called me up in the middle of the night to tell me dirty stories about the Kennedys. I wrote the song about him, but he was so paranoid he said he was going to sue me, so I changed the lyric from 'Night watchman' to 'Nightswimming.'"
Conversely in the past, Mills said, "It's based on true events", explaining that in the early 1980s R.E.M. and its circle of friends would go skinny dipping after the Athens clubs closed at night. "We'd go to parties, we'd go to the clubs and we'd go to the Ball Pump, and there would be any number of these same 50 people, so it was a very tight circle of friends." Peter Buck holds a similar interpretation. However, Stipe has denied that that is the topic of the song; rather, Stipe says the song is about a "kind of an innocence that's either kind of desperately clung onto or obviously lost." Stipe said there are autobiographical elements to the song, but insists most of it is "made up."
Steven Hyden wrote for The A.V. Club, "Automatic for the People might be the most quietly serene rock record about loss ever made. There is no fear in this music; death is the album's main character, but he's presented as a vehicle for self-empowerment ("Try Not to Breathe"), immortality ("Man on the Moon"), and spiritual fulfillment ("Find the River"). On "Nightswimming", death returns to his home in the past, and memory is revealed as the last light emanating from a star that has burned out."
- "Nightswimming" – 4:16
- "Losing My Religion" (acoustic live) – 4:55
12" and CD Maxi-Single
- "Nightswimming" – 4:16
- "World Leader Pretend" (acoustic live) – 5:16
- "Belong" (acoustic live) – 4:40
- "Low" (acoustic live) – 4:59
(All four acoustic live b-sides recorded live in Charleston, April 28, 1991 for the Mountain Stage radio program. "Belong" and "Low" both taken from the album Out of Time)
|Germany (Official German Charts)||93|
|New Zealand (Recorded Music NZ)||48|
|UK Singles (OCC)||27|
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