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R.E.M. inducted into Songwriters Hall of Fame

Year’s inductees also include Timbaland, Hillary Lindsey

By Rodney Ho, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published: March 14, 2024, 6:00am

ATLANTA — Legendary Athens, Ga., rock group R.E.M. was recently inducted into Songwriters Hall of Fame, 17 years after they entered the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

“It is always a pleasure to hear the poetry and melodic lines that go into R.E.M. songs,” said Kristian Bush, a 53-year-old songwriter and producer who is part of the country duo Sugarland.

Bush’s first notable exposure to R.E.M. happened in the mid-1980s when he had an appendectomy at age 15 and was coming out of anesthesia. “My brother Brandon brought me my Walkman with ‘Murmur’ on it,” he said. “I woke up in the hospital and listened to it on repeat.”

Growing up in rural Tennessee, Bush marveled how R.E.M. was using instruments like Appalachian dulcimers in the middle of what was dubbed college rock. “There were these spooky dirges and I felt like they were from the South,” he said. “They were teaching me it was OK to be this way.”

Steve Craig, program director at 99X, said this honor is worthy, if belated, though early on, their lyrical content was a bit disjointed.

“Michael Stipe went with what he knew sounded good,” Craig said. “He had a concept in his mind. It was never really about crafting a song as traditional lyrics go. It was more of a stream of consciousness sort of thing.”

Bush noted that for the band, “words were secondary to how they feel. Their songs were like fever dreams. You squint your eyes and listen and it’s like ’70s glam metal through tiny amps. You can’t understand what’s happening.”

“There was so much mystery to the songs,” Bush added. “Someone was singing a line on top of another and they weren’t the same words. They’ll have a melody and lyric across another melody and lyric.” He cited “Fall on Me” as especially effective.

Craig said Mike Mills helped make later songs more cohesive: “He was the glue between actual musical creation and lyrics.”

The songwriting improved in the later 1980s, Craig said, with tunes like “Orange Crush,” “Pop Song ’89” and “Finest Worksong.”

“Their lyrics started dealing more with morality, politics, the environment, social issues,” Craig said. “I think that’s when Michael’s writing really came out. He became the amazing songwriter we know him as.”

Craig said songs on albums starting with “Green” in 1988, “Out of Time” in 1990 and “Automatic for the People” in 1992 “are just amazingly attractive. He really grabs your attention.”

Their 1991 song “Losing My Religion” has become so iconic, a Netflix show “Song Exploder” spent an entire episode parsing the tune’s origins and meaning.

The other inductees this year are rock band Steely Dan, hip-hop and R&B legend Timbaland (hits for Missy Elliott, Justin Timberlake, Aaliyah), songwriter and Georgia native Hillary Lindsey (“Jesus Take The Wheel,” “Girl Crush,” “Million Reasons”), and Dean Pitchford (“Footloose,” “Fame,” “Let’s Hear It for the Boy”).

The official induction ceremony is set for June 13 at the Marriott Marquis Hotel in New York City.

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