Down By The Water

Album: To Bring You My Love (1995)
Charted: 38 48
  • PJ Harvey's mainstream breakthrough in the US was this menacing tune about a woman who drowns her daughter and returns to the scene of the crime, whispering, "little fish, big fish swimming in the water, come back here, man, gimme my daughter." The first part of the haunting refrain was taken from Lead Belly's blues rendition of the folk standard "Salty Dog Blues."

    Harvey was hesitant to reveal the meaning behind the song, saying it was "a song I didn't want to put a label on too much, like this isn't a song about some woman drowning her baby. To be quite honest, I don't really know what it is for me, myself, yet - which I don't mind because I'd much rather leave it for other people to do what they want with anyway."

    She does point out, however, that her songs aren't strictly autobiographical, especially this one. She lamented in a 2005 Spin interview. "Some critics have taken my writing so literally to the point that they'll listen to 'Down by the Water' and believe I have actually given birth to a child and drowned her."
  • The music video, directed by Maria Mochnacz, features Harvey's over-the-top glam look she dubbed "Joan Crawford on acid." Wearing a flowing dark wig, false eyelashes, a slinky red dress, and bright red lipstick, the singer embodies the song's murderous mother as she swims through green waters searching for her dead daughter. Harvey said the exaggerated makeover reflected her love of dressing up and trying new styles, but she admitted to The Guardian, "There was confusion with myself at that time as to who or what I was, and it was a way of looking for answers."

    Harvey's new duds were nearly her downfall. She told MTV: "Making that video was very scary for me. I think it was most frightening because the wig was so heavy that when I went under the water, it really was hard to get to the surface again. Especially after spending the whole day of jumping in and out of the pool, and it was cold and I was wearing clothes and high heels trying to swim around. It was pretty scary."
  • The video got lots of airplay on MTV, which helped boost the single to #2 on the Modern Rock chart.
  • Harvey co-produced the track with U2 producer Flood and her former Automatic Dlamini bandmate John Parish, giving the song a bluesy electronica treatment with a synthesized organ and string orchestra.
  • This was nominated for the Grammy Award for Best Female Rock Vocal Performance in 1996, but lost to Alanis Morissette's "You Oughta Know."
  • The music video was nominated for Best Female Video at the 1995 MTV Video Music Awards, but lost to Madonna's "Take A Bow."
  • This was used in the 1995 movie The Basketball Diaries, starring Leonardo DiCaprio.
  • This was used on several TV shows, including CSI: NY in the 2008 episode "Like Water For Murder," Numb3rs in the 2009 episode "Trouble In Chinatown," and My Mad Fat Diary in the 2014 episode "Radar."

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