How are you sleeping these days?
It’s common knowledge that a good night’s sleep — six, seven, eight hours of uninterrupted slumber — is crucial to one’s well-being.
If you typically enjoy restful sleep, well, consider yourself lucky, for there are millions of people out there who struggle often with restless sleep, or no sleep at all. They may have acute or chronic insomnia, brought on by anxiety, stress, depression or grief. When you want to sleep but can’t, it’s one of the more frustrating things humans can experience.
Insomnia has evidently affected more people since the quarantine for COVID-19 began. The uncertainty of it all has only increased stress levels and affected sleep patterns for many.
A friend of mine has said he’s been sleeping poorly and wondered if I might put together a blog that focuses on rock songs about sleeping (or not sleeping). I’ve done my usual due diligence and found quite a few that fit the bill. Let’s take a look at 15 or so that provide a cross section of views on how sleep affects us. As always, there’s a Spotify playlist at the end.
“I’m Only Sleeping” (1966) “I’m So Tired” (1968), The Beatles
When he was with The Beatles, John Lennon wrote two songs that explore both sides of the subject of sleep. It’s no secret Lennon liked to experiment with recreational drugs, some that put him to sleep and others that kept him up. For the “Revolver” album, he wrote “I’m Only Sleeping,” which celebrates sleep as a wonderful thing: “When I wake up early in the morning, lift my head, I’m still yawning, when I’m in the middle of a dream, stay in bed, float up stream, please don’t wake me, no, don’t shake me, leave me where I am, I’m only sleeping…” Then, for “The White Album,” he wrote “I’m So Tired,” which laments the exasperation of being unable to sleep: “I’m so tired, I haven’t slept a wink, I’m so tired, my mind is on the blink… You know I can’t sleep, I can’t stop my brain, you know it’s three weeks, I’m going insane, you know I’d give you everything I’ve got for a little peace of mind…”
“Talking in Your Sleep,” The Romantics, 1983
The Detroit-based group The Romantics had graduated to become a warm-up act for The Cars, Cheap Trick and The Kinks, and that exposure helped them when they released their fourth LP, “In Heat,” which included “Talking In Your Sleep,” a #3 hit in the US and #1 in Canada. The lyrics talk about a man whose woman has been tight lipped about her feelings, but she reveals her love for him when she talks in her sleep: “I can hear the things that you’re dreaming about when you open up your heart and the truth comes out… You tell me that you love me and I know that I’m right ’cause I hear it in the night, I hear the secrets that you keep when you’re talking in your sleep…” (In 1971, Gordon Lightfoot wrote a song with the same title, in which the results are quite different: “From your lips, there came that secret I was not supposed to know…”)
“Daysleeper,” R.E.M., 1998
Singer Michael Stipe said he saw a “Daysleeper” sign on an apartment door one afternoon and realized how noisy he was being for the poor guy living there who evidently worked at night. “I wrote this song about a daysleeper that’s working an 11–7 shift,” said Stipe, “and how difficult the balance is between the life that you live and the work that you have to do in order to support the life that you live.” Said R.E.M. guitarist Mike Mills, “It’s about the sort of alien nature of working a night shift — the weird lighting, the fluorescent lights, the isolation of working the graveyard shift and how it screws up your sleep patterns.”
“Don’t Sleep in the Subway,” Petula Clark, 1967
Clark was a child actress who also recorded many French language songs before she reached stardom in the mid-’60s with “Downtown,” “I Know a Place,” “My Love” and a half dozen others singles that charted well in the US and the UK. One of my favorites was the intriguingly titled “Don’t Sleep in the Subway,” which centers on a romantic relationship from which the self-centered man leaves in a huff, only to return at the woman’s urging: “Goodbye means nothing when it’s all for show, so why pretend you’ve somewhere else to go?/Don’t sleep in the subway, darlin’, don’t stand in the pouring rain, don’t sleep in the subway, darlin’, the night is long, forget your foolish pride, nothing’s wrong, now you’re beside me again…”
“Asleep,” The Smiths, 1985
Singer-songwriter Morrissey, who was leader of the UK band The Smiths before he began a more successful solo career, is an amazing wordsmith with many thought-provoking lyrics. Many of his songs, however, lean toward pessimistic and morose, even suicidal. “Asleep,” which served as the B-side of The Smiths 1985 single “The Boy With the Thorn in His Side,” is one of those, in which the sleep he’s referring to is of the permanent variety: “Sing me to sleep, sing me to sleep, and then leave me alone, don’t try to wake me in the morning ’cause I will be gone, don’t feel bad for me, I want you to know, deep in the cell of my heart, I will feel so glad to go…”
“Where Did You Sleep Last Night,” Lead Belly, 1948
Also known under the title “In the Pines,” this traditional folk song dates from late 1800s, and was first recorded in 1925. It has been reinterpreted as a blues tune by numerous artists, most notably Huddie Ledbetter, known professionally as Lead Belly, a major figure who influenced everyone from Bob Dylan to Eric Clapton. His recording of “Where Did You Sleep Last Night” in 1948 is considered definitive, and has influenced such latter-day artists as Kurt Cobain, who recorded it with Nirvana in the MTV Unplugged sessions in 1993. The lyrics question the fidelity of the narrator’s lover: “My girl, my girl, don’t lie to me, tell me where did you sleep last night, come on and tell me, baby, in the pines, in the pines where the sun don’t ever shine, I would shiver the whole night through…”
“(Last Night) I Didn’t Get to Sleep at All,” The 5th Dimension, 1972
In 1971, songwriter Tony Macauley was visiting Tokyo and was struggling with the time change from England. He wanted to sleep but couldn’t, so he wrote about it in this famous song. He thought it would be perfect for The Carpenters, but they declined because of the lyric about taking sleeping pills. “We don’t do songs that mention drugs,” he was told. So he offered it to The 5th Dimension instead, who took it to #5 on the charts. “Oh, last night, I didn’t get to sleep at all, no, no, the sleeping pill I took was just a waste of time, I couldn’t close my eyes ’cause you were on my mind, and last night, I didn’t get to sleep, didn’t get to sleep, no, I didn’t get to sleep at all…”
“How Do You Sleep?” John Lennon, 1971
Following The Beatles’ breakup, Lennon and McCartney took turns writing song lyrics disparaging each other. McCartney’s “Too Many People” criticized Lennon for sabotaging the band he founded: “That was your first mistake, you took your lucky break and broke it in two, now what can be done for you?…” Lennon responded with this vicious tune in which he belittled McCartney’s lightweight music and public persona, wondering how he could look himself in the mirror: “A pretty face may last a year or two, but pretty soon they’ll see what you can do, the sound you make is muzak to my ears, you must have learned something all those years, how do you sleep? Ah, how do you sleep at night?…”
“Sleepwalker,” The Kinks, 1977; “Sleepwalker,” The Wallflowers, 2000
Here are two completely different songs with the same title released 23 years apart. Both have lyrics that address the disorder of sleepwalking that affects hundreds of thousands of people every year. For The Wallflowers’ third LP, “Breach,” Jakob Dylan wrote about how a sleepwalking episode might prove beneficial: “Sleepwalker, don’t be shy, now don’t open your eyes tonight, you’ll be the one that defends my life while I’m dead asleep dreamin’…” Ray Davies of The Kinks, on the other hand, came up with a more menacing perspective on what a sleepwalker might do: “I’m a sleepwalker, I’m a night stalker, when everybody’s fast asleep, I start to creep, through the shadows of the moonlight, I walk my beat, better close your window tight, I might come in for a bite…”
“I’m Not Sleeping,” Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, 1999
This swing revival band from Ventura, California, got its name when guitarist Scotty Morris met blues guitar legend Albert Collins at a concert. “He signed my poster ‘To Scotty, the big bad voodoo daddy’,” Morris explains. “I thought it was the coolest name I ever heard, so when it came time to name this band, I didn’t really have a choice. I felt like it was handed down to me.” This track comes from the band’s third LP: “I’ll get right down to it, and I said, I’ve stopped sleepin’, I told myself I’d never close my eyes again, I’m not sleepin’, I’m doin’ now the best that I can…”
“You Can Sleep While I Drive,” Melissa Etheridge, 1989
Etheridge has had an enviable career, beginning with her debut in 1988 and still ticking 14 albums later, with both commercial and critical success for most of her work. She is known for her mixture of confessional lyrics, pop-based folk-rock, and raspy, smoky vocals. On her breakthrough album, “Brave and Crazy,” Etheridge came up with this fine tune about the desperate desire to hang on to a lover who seems to be losing interest in the relationship: “I’ll pack my bag and load up my guitar, in my pocket I’ll carry my harp, I got some money I saved, enough to get underway, and baby, you can sleep while I drive…”
“Who Needs Sleep?” Barenaked Ladies, 1998
One of Canada’s most entertaining bands of the past 30 years, these guys have written dozens of lighthearted, catchy songs like “If I Had $1,000,000” and “Be My Yoko Ono,” and have scored high on the charts in Canada but also occasionally in the US. Their live performances feature comedic banter and freestyle rapping between songs. Their fourth LP, “Stunt,” is one of their best, reaching #3 in the States, and included the #1 hit single “One Week.” Also on the album is this track that bemoans the narrator’s inability to get a decent night’s sleep: “My hands are locked up tight in fists, my mind is racing, filled with lists of things to do and things I’ve done, another sleepless night’s begun…”
“Sleep Song,” Graham Nash, 1971
Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young didn’t last long initially, chiefly because there were four talented songwriters and not enough room on albums to fit all the excellent songs they were writing. Each went off on their own to create strong solo albums that were well received. Nash’s debut, “Songs For Beginners,” is a magnificent LP that included not only the hit single “Chicago” but also “Military Madness,” “I Used to Be a King,” “Simple Man” and this affectionate lullaby with its gentle acoustic melody and tender lyrics: “And when I return, I will kiss your eyes open, take off my clothes and I’ll lie by your side, and then I will wait ’til the sandman has done with you, and as you sleepily rise, you’ll find I’ll be there…”
“I’m Not Sleeping,” Counting Crows, 1996; “The Lion Sleeps Tonight,” The Tokens, 1962; “Sleeping With the Dogs,” Jethro Tull, 1991; “I Don’t Like to Sleep Alone,” Paul Anka, 1975; “Sleeping with the TV On,” Billy Joel, 1980; “Sleepy Time Time,” Cream, 1966; “Sound Asleep,” Blondie, 1979; “No Sleep ‘Til Brooklyn,” Beastie Boys, 1986; “Sleepless Nights,” Norah Jones, ; “We All Sleep Alone,” Cher, 1987; “Who’s Been Sleeping Here?” The Rolling Stones, 1966; “Sleeping Around the Corner,” Lindsay Buckingham and Christine McVie, 2017; “Sleep Walk,” Santo & Johnny, 1959.