Best tunes of 1992: #3 R.E.M. “Nightswimming”

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“Automatic for the people”.

It was indisputably R.E.M.’s finest hour and I’m not just talking commercially. Sure, the album spawned six singles and went gold and platinum for sales in pretty much every country. However, it was also universally acclaimed. And for very good reason: There’s not a single bad track on the album.

For me, though, and as I mentioned back when I wrote about “Sweetness follows” when it came in at the number twenty spot on this very list, it’s the less obvious tracks, not the hit singles, that have become my favourites on this album. And yes, I know. “Nightswimming” was actually released as a single but I didn’t actually know that until about three years ago when I wrote the piece counting down my top five favourite R.E.M. tunes on which this song appears at the number two spot. I am thinking that the single might not have gotten a wide release here in North America because it didn’t make the charts here, only placing in England and Australia, and a track this great should definitely have placed, given the chance.

It was originally recorded as a demo for “Out of time” but was used instead for the following album. The original recording had Michael Stipe singing over top Mike Mills’ piano and was augmented by a string arrangement put together by Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones, along with a forlorn oboe to seal the deal. Mills’s piano doesn’t meander or dance or tiptoe. Instead, it eddies in place, like a whirlpool to get caught in, a bit of danger that might be heightened if the swimming hole was ventured upon at night.

“Nightswimming deserves a quiet night
The photograph on the dashboard, taken years ago”

The penultimate track on “Automatic for the people” is a quiet wonder, Mills and Stipe without Buck and Berry. A song about memories and remembering. A track that brings back many memories. Many of them driving in a car at night. In the city. On a backroad. Memories that are mine and memories that aren’t mine. But could be.

“Nightswimming, remembering that night
September’s coming soon
I’m pining for the moon”

There’s a sadness in Stipe’s lyrics and in his plaintive voice. Perhaps there’s regret in those memories, a sentiment never expressed, a kiss never stolen, a nakedness needlessly covered up. Yet there’s also the heavy weight of nostalgia, the excitement of youth lost forever. It’s something one can never forget. And never should.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 1992 list, click here.

Vinyl love: The Smiths “Rank”

(Vinyl Love is a series of posts that quite simply lists, describes, and displays the pieces in my growing vinyl collection. You can bet that each record was given a spin during the drafting of each corresponding post.)

Artist: The Smiths
Album Title: Rank
Year released: 1988
Year reissued: 2011
Details: Remastered, includes promotional poster, double LP, part of box set that includes booklet and poster

The skinny: I’m finishing off this eight-part series (thankfully, for some) with the album that I will rarely be apt to spin, this out of all the pieces in this “Complete” box set. I am not really all that fond of live albums. Indeed, this is one of only three live albums in my vinyl collection and I likely would have never purchased this one had it not come included with the set. “Rank” was an obligatory release by the band’s British and North American labels, coming out over a year after the group split and over two years after the live show at which it was recorded.  It’s an interesting listen but would probably only be that to their most hardcore fans. However, it is one of only two places in this collection where one can hear the excellent track featured below, which as Morrissey admits on the live recording was the band’s newest single at the time.

Standout track: “Ask (Live)”

Vinyl love: The Smiths “Louder than bombs”

(Vinyl Love is a series of posts that quite simply lists, describes, and displays the pieces in my growing vinyl collection. You can bet that each record was given a spin during the drafting of each corresponding post.)

Artist: The Smiths
Album Title: Louder than bombs
Year released: 1987
Year reissued: 2011
Details: Remastered, double LP, part of box set that includes booklet and poster

The skinny: Last week, I received another comment from fellow blogger, Aphoristical, with which I could not disagree: “Their discography is kind of annoying.” He was referring to The Smiths, of course, and this is the reason why purchasing this “Complete” vinyl box set of their full-length releases was an easy sell for me. “Louder than bombs” was released a mere three months after the focus of last week’s ‘Vinyl love’ post, “The world won’t listen”, rendering this latter one all but useless as compilation. Like a lot of their discography, the two compilations share a lot of the same tracks but each are missing songs the others don’t have and vice versa. For me, though, “Louder than bombs” is the ultimate introductory compilation, and this is mostly because it was my own intro to the band, the first album cover I remember seeing, the first spin in the CD carousel, etc. And yeah, the song below, mostly due to its short length, found its way on pretty much every mixed tape I made in the 90s. Cheers… and be safe and healthy everyone.

Standout track: “Please, please, please, let me get what I want”