The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite

"The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite" is a song by the American alternative rock band R.E.M. It was influenced by the song "The Lion Sleeps Tonight", both in the title of the song and through the song's opening refrain. (SongFacts writes, "Rather than follow industry practice and simply pilfer the song, R.E.M. paid for the rights to use it. As part of the deal, R.E.M. were asked to do a cover of the original "Lion Sleeps Tonight".[2]) The band used "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" as the B-side to this song. The song was released on R.E.M.'s 1992 album, Automatic for the People, and was later released as a single in 1993, reaching number one in Iceland, number 13 in Ireland, number 17 in the United Kingdom and number 29 in New Zealand.

"The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite"
Single by R.E.M.
from the album Automatic for the People
B-side"The Lion Sleeps Tonight"
ReleasedFebruary 1, 1993 (1993-02-01)[1]
GenreAlternative rock
LabelWarner Bros.
R.E.M. singles chronology
"Man on the Moon"
"The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite"
"Everybody Hurts"

The song was included on R.E.M.'s Warner Bros. "best of" album In Time: The Best of R.E.M. 1988–2003 in 2003, one of four songs from Automatic for the People to make the compilation. In the liner notes, Peter Buck remarked: "We included this song on Automatic in order to break the prevailing mood of the album. Given that lyrically the record dealt with mortality, the passage of time, suicide and family, we felt that a light spot was needed. In retrospect, the consensus among the band is that this might be a little too lightweight."[3]

Despite the song’s success, it was one of few R.E.M. songs never performed live by the group.[4]


The lyrics are famously easy to mishear. A 2010 survey found that the chorus line "Call me when you try to wake her" was the most misheard lyric in the UK, beating second-place "Purple Haze", with the most common mishearing according to the survey being "calling Jamaica".[5]

A laugh by Michael Stipe can be heard at 2:33, immediately after he sings the closing line in the third verse "or a reading from Dr. Seuss" which refers to Dr. Seuss's rhymes. When trying to name-check Dr. Seuss, Stipe kept saying "Zeus" and laughs at his own inability to pronounce that correctly, which Mike Mills kept trying to get him to do. Stipe says he loved Dr. Seuss as a child but always pronounced his name the wrong way.[2]

The song's complete title is not featured in the lyrics, but there is the line "the sidewinder sleeps in a coil" as well as the later line "the sidewinder sleeps on its back". A sidewinder is a species of rattlesnake (Crotalus cerastes), and also an antique style of telephone, with a winding handle on the side.[6] The lyrics frequently refer to making and avoiding phone calls. It is also an air pump such as the one used for inflatable mattresses. All three meanings seem to involve wordplay, but this seems to be the primary meaning.[clarification needed]

Mike Mills said: "It's about somebody that doesn't have a place to stay. Part of it is also about what man can do that machines can't. The rest of it – I don't have any idea what it's about."[7]

Mills also allegedly said, "Half of the song is about somebody trying to get in touch with someone who can sleep on his floor. The other half - you're on your own."[8]

In the liner notes for Part Lies, Part Heart, Part Truth, Part Garbage 1982–2011, Stipe said the song has one of his favorite lyrics: "'Their world has flat backgrounds and little need to sleep but to dream.' Cartoon characters never just get sleepy, they always have to have a dream of some floaty kind."

Music video

The music video, released in February 1993, was directed by Kevin Kerslake,[9][10] produced by Tina Silvey and Line Postmyr through production company Silvey & Co. and edited by Robert Duffy.[11] Silvey and Postmyr produced many of Kerslake's music videos in the early 1990s (e.g. Ride's "Vapour Trail" and "Leave Them All Behind",[12] Nirvana's "In Bloom",[13] Red Hot Chili Peppers's "Soul to Squeeze"[14] as well as Soundgarden's Motorvision home video[15]). The video is often erroneously attributed to Peter Care—in the past even on R.E.M.HQ,[16] this has since been rectified[9]—who was never signed to Silvey & Co. and who directed through Propaganda Films' sister shop Satellite Films from 1992 to 2000.[17] The wrong director credit originated on the newsgroup.[18]

Track listings

All songs were written by Bill Berry, Peter Buck, Mike Mills and Michael Stipe except as noted.


Usage in media

The song was featured in the 1996 American Mafia trial movie The Juror, starring Demi Moore, Alec Baldwin, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt.


  1. "New Releases: Singles" (PDF). Music Week. January 30, 1993. p. 23. Retrieved July 17, 2021.
  2. SongFacts. "The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite". Retrieved May 23, 2016.
  3. "Misheard Lyrics: The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite by R.E.M."
  5. "REM song is most misheard", The Telegraph, Sep 2010
  6. EBTH (May 28, 2015). "Early 1900s Western Telephone Wall Phone". EBTH, Inc. Retrieved May 23, 2016.
  7. Melody Maker, 1992
  8. Susie (April 29, 2016). "Weekend Listening: Automatic For The People by R.E.M." Retrieved May 23, 2016.
  9. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on February 18, 2014. Retrieved March 23, 2014.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  10. Kevin Kerslake Credits Archived February 27, 2014, at the Wayback Machine
  11. In View: The Best of R.E.M. 1988–2003 (liner notes). R.E.M. Warner Bros. Records. 2006. 38596-2.CS1 maint: others in cite AV media (notes) (link)
  12. The Story of Creation (Video 1992) - Full Cast & Crew - IMDb
  13. AIGA Design Archives
  14. Red Hot Chili Peppers - Greatest Videos (DVD) at Discogs
  15. Motorvision (VHS tape, 1992) []
  16. Sidewinder Sleeps Tonight
  17. Adam Bonislawski (March 28, 2003). "Peter Care". Shoot. 44 (12): 32.
  19. The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite (US 7-inch single vinyl disc). R.E.M. Warner Bros. Records. 1993. 7-18523.CS1 maint: others in cite AV media (notes) (link)
  20. The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite (US cassette single sleeve). R.E.M. Warner Bros. Records. 1993. 4-18523.CS1 maint: others in cite AV media (notes) (link)
  21. The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite (US CD single disc notes). R.E.M. Warner Bros. Records. 1993. 2-18523.CS1 maint: others in cite AV media (notes) (link)
  22. The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite (UK 7-inch single vinyl disc). R.E.M. Warner Bros. Records. 1993. W0152.CS1 maint: others in cite AV media (notes) (link)
  23. The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite (UK cassette single sleeve). R.E.M. Warner Bros. Records. 1993. W0152C.CS1 maint: others in cite AV media (notes) (link)
  24. The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite (UK CD1 liner notes). R.E.M. Warner Bros. Records. 1993. W0152CD1.CS1 maint: others in cite AV media (notes) (link)
  25. The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite (UK CD2 liner notes). R.E.M. Warner Bros. Records. 1993. W0152CD2.CS1 maint: others in cite AV media (notes) (link)
  26. The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite (German CD single liner notes). R.E.M. Warner Bros. Records. 1993. 9362 40782-2.CS1 maint: others in cite AV media (notes) (link)
  27. Ryan, Gavin (2011). Australia's Music Charts 1988-2010. Mt. Martha, VIC, Australia: Moonlight Publishing.
  28. " – R.E.M. – The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite" (in Dutch). Ultratop 50.
  29. "Top RPM Singles: Issue 0965." RPM. Library and Archives Canada. Retrieved August 5, 2019.
  30. "Eurochart Hot 100 Singles" (PDF). Music & Media. Vol. 10 no. 10. March 6, 1993. p. 19. Retrieved June 1, 2020.
  31. " – R.E.M. – The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite" (in German). GfK Entertainment Charts.
  32. "Íslenski Listinn Topp 40 (19.–25. mars)". Dagblaðið Vísir (in Icelandic). March 18, 1993. p. 29. Retrieved October 7, 2019.
  33. "The Irish Charts – Search Results – The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite". Irish Singles Chart.
  34. " – R.E.M. – The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite". Top 40 Singles.
  35. "Official Singles Chart Top 100". Official Charts Company. Retrieved August 5, 2019.
  36. "R.E.M. Chart History (Alternative Airplay)". Billboard.
  37. "R.E.M. Chart History (Mainstream Rock)". Billboard.
  38. "Árslistinn 1993". Dagblaðið Vísir (in Icelandic). January 4, 1994. p. 16. Retrieved June 1, 2020.