The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website

Black Sky Thinking

Black Sky Thinking: Sleep Deprivation Jeremy Allen , April 21st, 2008 16:56

Sleep and His Half Brother Death, by John Waterhouse

By Jeremy Allen

Sleep as a theme occurs in popular song more frequently than you might at first think. As Simian Mobile Disco ready the release of their Simon Baker remix of 'Sleep Deprivation' we thought now was as good a time as any to check back on those rock and pop songs inspired by the maddening sensation of insomnia.

I only really started thinking about this because I've been tossing and turning a great deal lately. I've been working nights, and the change in sleep patterns certainly plays tricks with your mind. One moment you're walking in the park, and the next you're lying in a coma under a tree like River Phoenix in My Own Private Idaho. Then it comes to bedtime, you tuck into a book, you're out after the second paragraph| then BOOF! It's 3:59am and there's no way back to the land of nod. Drowsiness is replaced by wanton alacrity... for something. Should I get up and poach some eggs? Should I call my ex-girlfriend? Should I jump on a train to Brighton? Of course you shouldn't do any of those things: it's the middle of the fucking night.

Sleep deprivation itself isn't uncommon, and this is why it comes up in song so often. When Michael Hutchence sang “I've not been sleeping” in 'I Need You Tonight' you knew it was because he wanted sex with the sort of intensity that drives a man to hang himself on a door knob in a hotel room. In that sense, sleep and sex, two perfect bedfellows if you will, are surprisingly rarely explicitly linked.

INXS - 'I Need You Tonight'

There's the other end of the scale, where sleep is king. 'Golden Slumbers' by the Beatles is the obvious starting point, but more pertinently there’s 'I'm Only Sleeping', wherein John Lennon was actually trying to say “piss off, I'm browned out of my pyjamas, can you fuck off for a bit while I loll around out of my gourd?” Personally, I took some acid in my youth and it kept me awake for a whole decade. There was no cerebral detente for longer than I can remember, but then I've never been able to console myself in the fact I sold 200 million albums.

Goths often went on about sleep when they actually meant death - Bauhaus sang 'Bela Lugosi's Dead' perhaps they just meant the vampy thespian was catching forty winks. Other songs about sleep have a sad, if not tragic tinge, like Roy Orbison's 'I Heard You Crying In Your Sleep', but then many songs of Roy's were drenched in melancholy, to go with his rather bittersweet existence on earth. And when he sang 'I Drove All Night', my betting is the nocturnal expedition was inspired by a bout of insomnia. Another point about 'I Drove All Night' is that, while on the surface, it seems like quite a sweet sentiment: Roy drives all night, then creeps into the lady in question's room and asks “is that alright?” No, I'm afraid it isn't alright, Rapey. Do it again and I'll have a restraining order on you quicker than you can say 'Andy Kershaw'.

Roy Orbison - 'I Drove All Night'

But surely the ultimate song about sleep deprivation is a cut above this pop nonsense, an operatic masterpiece that united toffs and proles alike, and brought a touch of class to the otherwise culturally bereft field of soccer. Soccerotica if you like. That song was, of course, 'Nessun Dorma' by Pavarotti. Then again, given that the imminent Euro 2008 is to take place minus England, I might just get some kip after all.

If you love our features, news and reviews, please support what we do with a one-off or regular donation. Year-on-year, our corporate advertising is down by around 90% - a figure that threatens to sink The Quietus. Hit this link to find out more and keep on Black Sky Thinking.