"Nightswimming" appears on R.E.M.'s 1992 album Automatic for the People, and was released in 1993 as the fifth single off of that album. "Nightswimming" is a ballad featuring singer Michael Stipe accompanied only by bassist Mike Mills on piano, a string arrangement by former Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones, and a prominent oboe by Deborah Workman in the latter part of the piece. Stipe sings about a group of friends who go "skinny dipping" at night, which draws from similar experiences in the band's early days. This song is included as the closing track on R.E.M.'s 2003 "best of" compilation album, In Time - The Best of R.E.M. 1988-2003.

Background and recordingEdit

"Nightswimming" was originally recorded in demo form during the sessions for R.E.M.'s 1991 album Out of Time.[1] At the time it was called "Night Swim".[2] Bassist Mike Mills recalled he was playing a piano riff at John Keane's studio in the band's hometown of Athens, Georgia. While Mills almost discarded the melody, it attracted the interest of singer Michael Stipe. Mills said, "I never thought it would amount to much because it was just a circular thing that kept going round and round and round. But it inspired Michael."[3] While the song was not included on Out of Time, the demo recorded during those sessions was used for Automatic for the People, with a string arrangement by John Paul Jones added to the track.[1] Mills has also claimed 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".[4]

Composition and lyricsEdit

The song is in the key of G major. "Nightswimming" consists solely of R.E.M. members Michael Stipe and Mike Mills; Stipe sings while Mills plays the piano. R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck noted that the absence of drummer Bill Berry and himself from the song was typical of many tracks on Automatic for the People, where one or more bandmembers would not appear on a given song.[5] Mills plays a piano motif he has referred to as "circular" in nature.[3]

The inspiration for the song has been debated by the band members. "It's based on true events", Mills said, explaining that in the early 1980s R.E.M. 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."[3] Peter Buck holds a similar interpretation. However, Stipe has denied that that is the topic of the song; rather, 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."[6]


"Nightswimming" was released as a single in July 1993. The record reached number 27 in the United Kingdom and number 71 in Australia.[7]

Cover versionsEdit

A cover of the song by Dashboard Confessional is featured on disc 2 of their album A Mark, A Mission, A Brand, A Scar.[8]

Another cover of the song by British-alternative group Gene is featured as a b-side to their 1997 single "Where Are They Now?".[9]

The song has also been remixed by British DJ Kissy Sell Out.

Country music duo Sugarland performed the song while on tour, in which the song was made into a live music video with their song "Joey" immediately afterwards. The song appears on their 2009 live album, Live On The Inside.

The song was performed by Coldplay with Michael Stipe on their Austin City Limits performance.

Track listingEdit

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

7" SingleEdit

  1. "Nightswimming" – 4:16
  2. "Losing My Religion" (live)[10] – 4:55

12" and CD Maxi-SingleEdit

  1. "Nightswimming" – 4:16
  2. "World Leader Pretend" (live) – 5:16
  3. "Belong" (live) – 4:40
  4. "Low" (live) – 4:59


  • Black, Johnny. Reveal: The Story of R.E.M. Backbeat Books, 2004. ISBN 0-87930-776-5
  • Buckley, David. R.E.M.: Fiction: An Alternative Biography. Virgin, 2002. ISBN 1-85227-927-3
  • Platt, John (editor). The R.E.M. Companion: Two Decades of Commentary. Schirmer, 1998. ISBN 0-02-864935-4


  1. 1.0 1.1 Fricke, David. "Living Up to Out of Time/Remote Control: Parts I and II". Melody Maker. October 3, 1992.
  2. Black, p. 173
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Buckley, p. 226
  4. Black, p. 192
  5. Cavanagh, David. "Tune in, cheer up, rock out". Q. October 1994.
  6. Black, p. 193
  7. Buckley, p. 358
  8. Dashboard Confessional : A Mark, A Mission, A Brand, A Scar (2004 Bonus DVD) - Listen, Review and Buy at ARTISTdirect
  9. allmusic ((( Where Are They Now? [#1] > Overview )))
  10. All four live tracks were performed on Mountain Stage on April 28, 1991.