Faithless’ timeless classic Insomnia was released on this day (27 November) in 1995, meaning it’s exactly 25 years (or 219,000 hours) since Maxi Jazz confessed his longing for a good night’s slumber.
It wasn’t the London-based trio’s first single – that prize goes to Salva Mea, released in July of the same year – but Insomnia would undoubtedly become the group’s signature hit, topping the charts across Europe and offering a sobering alternative to the ‘happy house’ that was permeating the market at the time.
Awarding the track its Single of the Month honour in December 1995, Muzik magazine described it as “one of the sounds of 1995. While Josh Wink is, quite rightly, being acclaimed as the producer of the moment, (Sister) Bliss and Rollo’s records have rocked more audiences than any other knob-twiddler this year.
“Following the success of Salva Mea, Insomnia has been huge in a lot of clubs for some time, and might well be chart material. That said, it has soul grave, emotion and a siticntly dark, melancholic side. […] Those purists who aren’t able to open their minds to the qualities of this track clearly don’t get out enough.”
Elsewhere, US publication Billboard praised the track as featuring “urgent dance rhythms, a complex and infectious pop melody, and vocals that are notches above the typical vamps heard on club-originated records.”
As Sister Bliss told The Guardian earlier this year, the track’s title and somnambulant atmosphere wasn’t a reference to a drug-fuelled all nighter, rather it was down to plain old overwork.
“We wrote Insomnia in a garden shed, since that was where our producer Rollo Armstrong had his studio,” she explained. “Being in there all day and then DJ-ing all night was like having permanent jetlag. So I came up with the title Insomnia because I couldn’t get to sleep.”
The original version of Insomnia was reportedly nine minutes long, with the radio-friendly version that proved to be a hit thanks to some editing work by producer and songwriter Bill Padley, who would go on to enjoy chart success producing Atomic Kitten and Ronan Keating.
When penning the lyrics, Maxi Jazz called on “personal experience”, and while he wasn’t personally suffering from insomnia, an abscess in his tooth provided the necessary ‘pain’ required.
“It was so painful it would keep me awake,” he told The Guardian. “The lines about having no electricity and reaching for the pen in the darkness were also from real life. I had an electricity meter and when the money ran out you’d get six or seven pounds of credit and then – “Boom!” – the lights would go out. So I used to write by candlelight.”
And as for the track’s signature, oft-repeated clarion call – “I can’t get no sleep”?
“None of us realised how the line “I can’t get no sleep” would resonate with generations of clubland audiences,” said Jazz. “Suddenly the song was being played to crowds who had arguably taken 50 quid’s worth of high-powered drugs and weren’t thinking of getting much sleep for days.
“If we’d tried to write about that deliberately, it would have turned out cheesy and corny, but afterwards you think: ‘Of course!’”