“Nightswimming” is a song by REM, released in 1993 as the fifth single from the group’s eighth album Automatic for the People. The song is a ballad featuring singer Michael Stipe accompanied only by Mike Mills on piano and a string arrangement by former Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones. There is also a prominent oboe by Deborah Workman in the latter part of the song. Stipe sings about a group of friends who go skinny dipping at night, which draws from similar experiences in the band’s early days.
A little piece of trivia for those interested, Mike Mills claims 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”.
The inspiration for the song has been debated by the band members with speculation that the band have deliberately lied to throw people off the scent. Stipe, in a 2001 Esquire article, suggested one origin of the song. “A few years ago, I wanted to write a song about night watchmen, so I hired one to guard the REM 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, Mike Mills said, “It’s based on true events”, explaining that in the early 1980s REM 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 also holds a similar interpretation, however, Stipe has denied that that is the topic of the song. 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.”
The song was performed by Coldplay with Michael Stipe on their Austin City Limits performance. During the show, Chris Martin called “Nightswimming”, “the best song ever written.”
Who are we to argue?
Don’t forget, if you have any music videos you would like us to feature in the future, drop us a line. We are always happy to listen to requests from others, we cannot promise to feature any but we will try our best to find the videos if we think others will enjoy.