The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite
May 3, 2007
John Paul Jones‘ string arrangement for “The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite” may be surplus to the needs of a tune already bursting with peppy hooks, but his additional melodies do absolutely nothing to spoil the composition. It’s a big decadent ice cream sundae of a pop song, and Jones’ elegant score is essentially the cherry on top. His arrangement is not lacking in boldness, but the most brilliant bit — the gently plucked pizzicato part that accompanies the final verse — is so subtle that I did not notice it was even there until after I’d known the song for over a decade.
“The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite” is a much-needed oasis of joy and levity on an otherwise dour album. Michael Stipe’s voice is especially ideal for the song, to the point that it’s impossible to imagine anyone else singing it with anywhere near as much boyish enthusiasm and silly charm. His giggle following the line “a reading from Dr. Suess” easily ranks among the most endearing moments on any R.E.M. record, and his quasi-brogue on the chorus has a weird, mystifying allure even if it makes the words sound a lot more like “call me da chowder baker” than “call me when you try to wake her.” It’s a great thing for the song — the easily misheard lyric is just one more novel hook for a pop tune that’s doing everything it can to earn your love without seeming particularly needy.