Musicians get a bad rap for being lazy layabouts and this list won’t do much to change that perception. In fact, there are almost too many tracks to choose from when it comes to local songs about sleep. I’ve had to be a little selective and for the most part tried to be pro-laziness by rejecting hard workers like Bic Runga, whose song ‘Get Some Sleep’ seems to be more about having a great work ethic than the desire for a decent sleep-in. And I also left aside songs about dreams that don’t mention sleep directly, since there are enough of them to be a category in their own right (whether it’s ‘Don’t Dream It’s Over’ by Crowded House or ‘Punching In A Dream” by The Naked and Famous).
The resulting list features some of my favourite local tracks of all time, so I guess I’m just a lazy, sleep-loving musician, just like the rest of them.
Woke Up Today
The Mockers (1984)
Even today, when Andrew Fagan turn up to music industry events, he looks like he’s just got out of bed – long hair in a mess and wearing what looks to be a flashy dressing gown. Hard to believe that he was one of the most talented local pop musicians of the 1980s and had a run of uber-catchy hits. Males in New Zealand were still meant to be Good Keen Men – rough and blokey – and even the rebels from Flying Nun were very non-descript in their T-shirts and jeans. But Fagan took a leaf from Space Waltz and did his eyes up with make-up, fluffed up his hair, and strutted around on stage with scarf and no shirt like an effeminate madman, showing that new wave could be all shades of weird. No wonder he woke up each morning and considered hiding away from the world outside.
Singing In My Sleep
The Chills (1990)
Mentions of sleep crept into Martin Phillipps' songwriting early on – the first line of ‘Doledrums’ mentions “sleeping in much too late” (long before Home Brew rapped about the joys of being unemployed). Further on in his career, Phillipps returned to the subject with ‘Singing In My Sleep’. On the surface, it seems to be about the ease with which songs come to you when you’re half asleep. But the lyrics are also a meditation on the whole endeavour of trying to capture the world in a song. Revered music reviewer Robert Christgau loved The Chills’ 1990 album Submarine Bells and singled out this song as its central track – calling it a “theme song about all the other theme songs that he can't remember in the morning.”
Should I Wake Up?
Alec Bathgate (2004)
Alec Bathgate was Chris Knox’s guitarist off-sider all the way through The Enemy and Toy Love years and the pair have now spent three decades playing together as Tall Dwarfs, even doing a few shows since Knox’s stroke. Yet the immense presence of Knox has meant Bathgate is often crowded out of the limelight, despite having released two solid solo albums. All the more reason to highlight this punchy little gem, which has its narrator laying in the tender zone between sleep and wakefulness, unsure whether it’s really worth dragging himself up to meet the day.
Edmund Cake (2005)
The desire for sleep in this track is so strong that Edmund Cake hopes he and his lover will never wake up. Yet he isn’t equating sleep with death in the same way as Split Enz did in their creepy track ‘Charlie’ (which had the singer pleading for his lover to wake in the morning, fearing that he has killed her). In contrast, Cake seems genuinely attracted to sleeping forever.
Tired From Sleeping
The Checks (2008)
Sometimes even sleep won’t help you, once you’re deep in a funk of tiredness. Time is passing and there’s so much to do, but the girl in the song has fallen asleep with gum in her mouth – so careless of when she should be resting and when she shouldn’t. The UK production on this track possibly adds a bit too much shine to this song, which was a gritty live hit when the band were in their prime, but you can still hear the punchiness that made them one of the must-see live acts of their era.
I Slept Late
Delaney Davison (2011)
Delaney Davison seems a serious and gloomy chap most of the time, but here he allows a little humour to creep into his songwriting and it works for him. He sleeps in and allows himself to imagine the life he could’ve had if he was a better pupil and a harder working man. The lilting horns of the gypsy band that backs him seem perfectly placed to give a carnivalesque feel to the song, which flows through to the accompanying music video.
Uh-oh, looks like Aaradhna has arrived to tell us to stop being so lazy. In fact, this was a song she penned as inspiration to herself to stop finding so much “comfort between the sheets”. It might not have the sleep-loving attitude of the other tracks I’ve picked here, but it’s simply too good to leave off this list.
As you edge further towards garage rock, you find there’s plenty of songs to choose from – it was kinda tempting to include ‘Keep Me Up All Night’ by Clap Clap Riot or ‘Sleep For Days’ by The Raw Nerves. But in the end, Rackets won out with the sheer fury of their desire for sleep. This track was off their first EP, though they still play it often since it’s a hectic 1.18min of sleep rage…
Swim and Sleep (Like a Shark)
Unknown Mortal Orchestra (2013)
Ruban Nielson has one of the more innovative somnambulant wishes – he imagines his body continuing to move forward, while he manages to get a kip at the same time. Perhaps he’s just imagining the life of a musician on tour overseas – the van clocking up endless miles, while the band snoozes inside. Though, as with The Mockers, his true aim is to use sleep as a way to escape the pressures of the world outside – “I’d fall to the bottom and hide til the end of time. The sweet cold darkness. Asleep and constantly floating away.”
Robert Scott with Hollie Fulbrook (2014)
It seems fitting to end with a legend of local music. After all, Robert Scott can justify singing about someone falling asleep in their sofa chair after spending 35 tiring years in the local music scene and countless exhausting overseas tours – first with The Clean and then travelling even more extensively with The Bats. Nice to see him collaborating with rising star Hollie Fullbrook (Tiny Ruins), for this sweet lullaby, though like all lullabies there’s something a little sinister just below the surface – “Oh you’re a silly thing, you took yourself away, now I can’t do anything, I’m trapped inside the day ... ”
So there you go, that’s my Top 10. I did manage to avoid listing ‘Sleep In The Garden’ by The Ruby Suns, since I happened to be in the band at the time and hence appear in the video (so humble ... though here I am mentioning it now). And I won’t go through the dozen other songs I had on the long list. But you can have a go at guessing them, and any others you think I should’ve listed, on our Facebook page.