The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite

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"The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite"
R.E.M. - The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite.jpg
Single by R.E.M.
from the album Automatic for the People
B-side "The Lion Sleeps Tonight"
Released February 5, 1993 (1993-02-05) (UK)
March 19, 1993 (1993-03-19) (U.S.)
Recorded 1992
Genre Alternative rock
Length 4:06
Label Warner Bros.
R.E.M. singles chronology
"Man on the Moon"
"The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite"
"Everybody Hurts"

"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".[1]) 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 17 in the UK Singles Chart.[2]

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]


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".[4]

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 by 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 kid but always pronounced his name the wrong way.[1]

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.[5] 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 be referred to as wordplay, but this seems to be the primary meaning.

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."[6]

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."[7]

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[edit]

The music video, released in February 1993, was directed by Kevin Kerslake,[8][9] produced by Tina Silvey and Line Postmyr through production company Silvey & Co. and edited by Robert Duffy.[10] 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",[11] Nirvana's "In Bloom",[12] Red Hot Chili Peppers's "Soul to Squeeze"[13] as well as Soundgarden's Motorvision home video[14]). The video is often erroneously attributed to Peter Care—in the past even on R.E.M.HQ,[15] this has since been rectified[8]—who was never signed to Silvey & Co. and who directed through Propaganda Films' sister shop Satellite Films from 1992 to 2000.[16] The wrong director credit originated on the newsgroup.[17]

Usage in media[edit]

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

Track listing[edit]

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

US CD Single[edit]

  1. "The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite" – 4:06
  2. "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" (Solomon Linda, Luigi Creatore, Hugo Peretti, George David Weiss) – 2:41

UK "Collector's Edition" CD Single 1[edit]

  1. "The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite" – 4:06
  2. "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" (Linda, Creatore, Peretti, Weiss) – 2:41
  3. "Fretless"1 – 4:51

UK "Collector's Edition" CD Single 2[edit]

  1. "The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite" – 4:06
  2. "Organ Song" – 3:25
  3. "Star Me Kitten" (demo) – 3:05

DE CD Maxi-Single[edit]

  1. "The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite" – 4:06
  2. "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" (Linda, Creatore, Peretti, Weiss) – 2:41
  3. "Fretless"2 – 4:51
  4. "Organ Song" – 3:25

UK and DE 7" and Cassette Single[edit]

  1. "The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite" – 4:06
  2. "Get Up" – 2:39


2 Originally released on the Until the End of the World soundtrack in 1991.


Chart (1993) Peak
Australian Singles Chart[18] 99
Canadian Hot 100 60
Irish Singles Chart[citation needed] 3
UK Singles Chart 17
U.S. Billboard Alternative Songs 24
U.S. Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks 28


  1. ^ a b SongFacts. "The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite". Retrieved May 23, 2016.
  2. ^ Chartstats – UK Chart details
  3. ^ "Misheard Lyrics: The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite by R.E.M."
  4. ^ "REM song is most misheard", The Telegraph, Sep 2010
  5. ^ EBTH (May 28, 2015). "Early 1900s Western Telephone Wall Phone". EBTH, Inc. Retrieved May 23, 2016.
  6. ^ Melody Maker, 1992
  7. ^ Susie (29 April 2016). "Weekend Listening: Automatic For The People by R.E.M." Retrieved May 23, 2016.
  8. ^ a b "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2014-02-18. Retrieved 2014-03-23.
  9. ^ Kevin Kerslake Credits Archived 2014-02-27 at the Wayback Machine.
  10. ^ In View: The Best of R.E.M. 1988–2003 (liner notes). R.E.M. Warner Bros. Records. 2006. 38596-2.
  11. ^ The Story of Creation (Video 1992) - Full Cast & Crew - IMDb
  12. ^ AIGA Design Archives
  13. ^ Red Hot Chili Peppers - Greatest Videos (DVD) at Discogs
  14. ^ Motorvision (VHS tape, 1992) []
  15. ^ Sidewinder Sleeps Tonight
  16. ^ Adam Bonislawski (March 28, 2003). "Peter Care". Shoot. 44 (12): 32.
  17. ^!topic/
  18. ^ Ryan, Gavin (2011). Australia's Music Charts 1988-2010. Mt. Martha, VIC, Australia: Moonlight Publishing.