The beginning of this song bears a strong resemblance to "The Lion Sleeps Tonight
" by The Tokens in both its title and music, especially the first four notes Michael Stipe sings. Rather than follow industry practice and simply pilfer the song, R.E.M. paid for the rights to use it. As part of the deal, R.E.M. were asked to do a cover of the original "Lion Sleeps Tonight." That version appears on the single to "Sidewinder," released in February 1993.
In the chorus, what sounds like "coney jah waker," is actually, "call me when you try to wake her up."
When trying to name-check Dr. Seuss in this song, lead singer Michael Stipe kept saying "Zeus." The laughing that can be heard on the track is Stipe laughing at his own inability to pronounce that correctly, which Mike Mills kept trying to get him to do. Stipe says he loved Dr. Seuss as a kid but always pronounced his name the wrong way.
This song topped a 2010 poll, which sought out the most misheard lyrics. Four out of ten people polled thought "Call me when you try to wake her up" was "Calling Jamaica."
Making an effort to interpret Michael Stipe's lyrics in this song, R.E.M. bass player Mike Mills said, "Half of the song is about somebody trying to get in touch with someone who can sleep on his floor. The other half - you're on your own."
In the liner notes for Part Lies, Part Heart, Part Truth, Part Garbage, Stipe says this "holds on of my favorite lines ever, in 'their world has flat backgrounds and little need to sleep but to dream.' Cartoon characters never just get sleepy, they always have to have a dream of some floaty kind."
Peter Buck on the decision to include this song on the album: "We included this song on Automatic in order to break the prevailing mood of the album. Given that the record dealt with mortality, the passage of time, suicide and family, we felt that a light spot was needed. In retrospect, the consensus amongst the band is that this might be a little too lightweight."
The music video was directed by Kevin Kerslake but is often falsely credited to Peter Care, who directed several other R.E.M. videos, including "Drive
," "Man On the Moon
," and "What's the Frequency, Kenneth?
" The "Sidewinder" video shows Stipe singing in a room with a lone chair and flashing lights, while the camera sweeps past the rest of the guys performing in separate rooms.