REM – Everybody Hurts

When I heard this song in the 90s…I knew then it was one of those songs that would become an instant classic.

Most of this song was written by R.E.M. drummer Bill Berry. It is an anti-suicide song. Berry wanted to reach out to people who felt they had no hope. He quit the band in 1997 shortly before recording their album Up after an aneurysm. After that album, the band almost broke up, but decided to continue as a trio.

While he wrote this, he did not actually play on it. They used a Univox drum machine. R.E.M. bass player Mike Mills claims he bought Univox drum machine for $20, but it was perfect for the song’s metronome-ish feel.

It was on the album Automatic For The People, considered by some as the best album they ever released. The album peaked at #2 in the Billboard Album Charts, #1 in the UK, #4 in Canada, and #1 in New Zealand.

The album title was inspired by Weaver D’s soul food diner in Athens, Georgia. They had a sign that said “Delicious Fine Foods – Automatic For The People.”

The song peaked at #29 in the Billboard 100, #8 in Canada, #7 in the UK, and #12 in New Zealand in 1993.  I’m shocked now that it wasn’t in the top 10 in Billboard.

The string arrangement was done by no other than Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones.

Michael Stipe: “It saved a few. People have told me. And I love hearing that. That’s for me, that’s my Oscar, that’s my gold on a shelf right there… that something we did impacted someone’s life in such a profound way. That’s a beautiful thing.”

Mike Mills: Mike (Stipe) and I cut it live with this dumb drum machine which is just as wooden as you can get. We wanted to get this flow around that: human and non-human at the same time.”

Peter Buck: The reason the lyrics are so atypically straightforward is because it was aimed at teenagers.

From Songfacts

On many R.E.M. songs, Michael Stipe purposefully sings indecipherably. He sang very clearly on this one though, because he didn’t want his message getting lost. “I don’t remember singing it,” he noted in Part Lies, Part Heart, Part Truth, Part Garbage 1982-2011, “but I still kind of can’t believe my voice is on this recording. It’s very pure. This song instantly belonged to everyone except us, and that honestly means the world to me.”

The Nevada legislature commended R.E.M. for “encouraging the prevention of teen suicides,” noting this song as an example (Nevada has a high rate of teen suicide).

The music video was directed by Jake Scott, son of movie director Ridley Scott, famous for movies like Blade Runner (1982) and Gladiator (2000). Filmed on Interstate 10 in San Antonio, Texas, the clip is set during a traffic jam where people’s thoughts are revealed through subtitles.

The video won four MTV Video Music Awards: Breakthrough Video, Best Direction, Best Editing and Best Cinematography. When it won for Best Direction, Adam Yauch of the Beastie Boys, who were nominated for “Sabotage,” got to the podium before Michael Stipe. Dressed in character as his Swiss alter ego Nathanial Hornblower, he went on a rant, calling it a “farce” before being ushered off.

Disrupting an award for such a somber song is in poor taste, but it was hard to take this awards show seriously. Hosted by Roseanne Barr, it is best remembered for a cringe-worthy kiss between newlyweds Michael Jackson and Lisa Marie Presley. MTV didn’t harbor any resentment: they gave the Beastie Boys the Video Vanguard award in 1998.

This was used on an episode of The Simpsons when Marge is walking in a thunderstorm and thinks she has no friends. 

In February 2010 a charity cover was recorded by a collection of artists, Helping Haiti, to raise money for the victims of the earthquake that devastated the country. It sold over 200,000 copies in its first two days making it one of the quickest selling singles of the 21st century in the United Kingdom. Joseph Kahn directed a music video for the cover that features cameos from the performers and footage from the earthquake’s aftermath. Kahn is known for directing clips for the likes of Eminem, Britney Spears, Lady Gaga, and Taylor Swift.

This topped a poll compiled by PRS For Music, which collects and pays royalties to musicians in the UK, of the songs most likely to make a grown man cry. Second in the list came Eric Clapton’s “Tears In Heaven” followed by Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” PRS chairman Ellis Rich said: “From this chart, it is clear that a well-written tear-jerker is one that people can relate to and empathise with. It is this lyrical connection that can reach deep down emotionally and move even the strongest of men.”

In a rare authorized comedic use of this song, Mayim Bialik’s character on The Big Bang Theory plays this on the harp when she is upset over being left behind by her two girlfriends, who are shopping for bridesmaids dresses. Her “boyfriend,” played by Jim Parsons, comes by to cheer her up, resulting in an awkward cuddle scene.

Peter Buck likens the vibe of this song to Otis Redding’s “Pain in My Heart.” He wrote in the liner notes for Part Lies, Part Heart, Part Truth, Part Garbage 1982-2011: “I’m not sure if Michael would have copped that reference, but to a lot of our fans it was a Staxxy-type thing.”

This was used in the 1992 film version of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, starring Kristy Swanson, Luke Perry and Rutger Hauer. Speaking of the subsequent TV series, starring Sarah Michelle Gellar, Peter Buck said: “I’ve never watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but the idea that high school is a portal to hell seems pretty realistic to me.”

Pink and Kelly Clarkson sang this to open the 2017 American Music Awards. They were introduced by Jamie Foxx, who said the purpose was to “pay respect to all those affected by the events of the past year,” meaning the hurricanes, shootings and hate rallies that took place.

Another comedic use was on The Office in the season 2 episode “The Fire,” where Dwight retreats to his car and blasts the song after Michael takes Ryan’s side in a business discussion.

Everybody Hurts

When your day is long
And the night
The night is yours alone
When you’re sure you’ve had enough
Of this life
Well hang on
Don’t let yourself go
‘Cause everybody cries
And everybody hurts sometimes

Sometimes everything is wrong
Now it’s time to sing along
When your day is night alone (hold on)
(Hold on) if you feel like letting go (hold on)
If you think you’ve had too much
Of this life
Well, hang on

‘Cause everybody hurts
Take comfort in your friends
Everybody hurts
Don’t throw your hand
Oh, no
Don’t throw your hand
If you feel like you’re alone
No, no, no, you’re not alone

If you’re on your own
In this life
The days and nights are long
When you think you’ve had too much
Of this life
To hang on

Well, everybody hurts sometimes
Everybody cries
And everybody hurts sometimes
And everybody hurts sometimes
So, hold on, hold on
Hold on, hold on
Hold on, hold on
Hold on, hold on

Everybody hurts

You are not alone


Author: Badfinger (Max)

Power Pop fan, Baseball fan, old movie and tv show fan... and a songwriter, bass and guitar player.

31 thoughts on “REM – Everybody Hurts”

  1. I never knew this song back then but got to know it (and like it) in the last couple of years when it made an appearance on “Britain’s got Talent”. On a side note – there was a successful pub band in Australia way back that named their drum machine “Bruce”. I’d taught them all so they named it Bruce because I was “so unreliable”. Baskets.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. That is great Bruce… You have a legacy everywhere! Who knows…that drum machine could still be in action in some studio somewhere…being unreliable as ever.

      Like Hotfox has commented about this song…it sounds like a plea from Michael Stipe.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. This is one of those songs that I loved immediately upon purchasing the “Automatic for the People” cd. Of course, after the song playing constantly on the radio, I started to cringe everytime it came on. But after a break now for some 30 years, I can listen to it again, do enjoy when it pops up during a comedic situation, and have gained a re-appreciation for it.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I’m starting to find myself in that situation with a lot of songs. Songs like Stairway To Heaven…now I can listen to again and enjoy again because I took a break from a lot of them.

      Liked by 3 people

  3. it’s a great song from one of my all-time favorite albums. But you still managed to teach me something, I didn’t know that about the drum machine on it! This album was when I really noticed John Paul Jones too… really showed me that he was a lot more than some guy who played bass for Led Zeppelin.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I’m always afraid when I do a R.E.M. song…I’m very careful because you would see a mistake!

      John Paul Jones seemed to go back to do what he was doing before Led Zeppelin…which is cool.

      The drum machine got me also….NOW I hear it plain lol. It’ one of their best melody songs.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I think I’m in a minority by not thinking Automatic for the People is one of their best albums, but I do like this song and can see where it could reach those who are in a bad place, especially teenagers. I loved the comment:
    “Peter Buck said: “I’ve never watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but the idea that high school is a portal to hell seems pretty realistic to me.”” That’s no joke!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. My personal favorite is Monster….this one does have some good songs…It’s the one that put them way up there.
      That is a great quote…
      In school…the worse place to me was the BUS! I hated the bus and vowed Bailey would never ride one…He rode it a couple of times because he wanted to…that is one area I spoiled him on.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I really like Monster also (What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?) Thankfully as we lived in the city we didn’t have to ride the bus. That said, we lived right on the border between two school districts, and we were at the opposite end of our district from where the school was. We had to literally walk 3 miles each way to get there, and for me it was torture once I got there as my skin was the wrong color for that school. My mom and stepdad finally wised up and moved out to the country when I was 16, but I didn’t want to go and so moved in with my dad, who lived much closer to that school (even though he was in a different school district!) The down side to that is I only made it another half year of school before dropping out. Sometimes I walked part of the way with friends but most times walked alone and had more than my fair share of creepers, flashers, etc. to contend with on the way. Not a happy time. Sorry to go on and on about it!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Don’t apologize for going on….I do that constantly.
        Well you lost all the way around because of that. I was at least 10 miles from school so that wasn’t an option. I can only imagine the people you would run into.
        I grew up in a rural place so I didn’t have to deal with that. I switched schools one time because they switched where the districts were…but that was 3rd grade…much easier when you are just a kid.

        The bus was full of bullies and smart asses. It was the worse part of the school experience…when I got older I dealt with it because I was big enough to fight back.

        From high school on…I drove to school. My mom…saved and saved and got me a car…now I feel totally guilty….she was a singe mom and it wasn’t easy.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. The best parents do what it takes to make it happen, and your mom wanted the best for you. Please don’t feel guilty for making her happy. I’m sorry you went through the bullying and smart asses. Schools never seem to take bullying seriously and too many kids suffer for it 😦 I just watched a very sad movie called, “Joe Bell,” where his high school son was gay and students harassed him over his phone and he was physically humiliated and assaulted at school and the school did nothing except verbally state the kid (the VICTIM) needed counseling! I used to see it so much in my old job, where the bully target would finally fight back — and they they got charged with assault! I had my way of dealing with it!

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Social media has made it twice as bad also. If you are different in any way they will exploit it.
        I may have told you this before….Bailey got bullied in 5th grade…from a huge kid. Bailey was a real small kid. After going through the proper channels…nothing happened to prevent it. I then told him to hit him…He said he didn’t want to get in trouble…I said no trouble…we tried the right way…so the next day Bailey popped the guy in the nose…Bailey got in trouble but I told the principal WE TRIED…but no one helped. Bailey felt bad for it but hey…I told him you can’t keep being bullied.

        He never bothered him again…and they still talk to this day.

        Liked by 2 people

      5. I understand completely why you said what you said and I’m glad it turned out ok. Bullies are really good at targeting the sensitive because they know they’ll get a good response out of them. They also like to target those they think won’t fight back. They almost always back off when someone does fight back!

        Liked by 2 people

      6. Yes most are cowards…I didn’t want him to hit anyone and neither did Jen…but I told her…that is the ony way it would stop. Poor Bailey felt terribe but he understood. It worked in this case.

        Liked by 1 person

      7. P.S. I’ve heard a lot of horror stories about riding the school bus. It’s a free-for-all and there is no way the driver can keep an eye on what’s happening and drive safely. They should have school staff riding along to keep things under control. I’m glad Bailey had a choice whether to ride or not.

        Liked by 2 people

      8. No and back then you were on your on. The first fight I got into was when I was in 2nd grade and the other fellow was a 5th grader…not fun.
        He was a bully BUT…after he “fought” me….he never gave me any trouble…in fact he beat the hell out of a high schooler who was picking on me when I was in 5th grade…he was an odd guy. He stayed in trouble all of his life.

        Liked by 2 people

      9. So depressing! I can 100% guarantee that guy had some rough times at home. Some are never able to get over those childhood experiences. It doesn’t justify anyone being a bully, but it shows that there is something seriously wrong about the way a lot of parents raise their kids 😦

        Liked by 2 people

      10. Oh YES! There are some parents who either mistreat kids or just as worse..ignore them…well the two are the same.
        Those people should never have kids.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Incredible tune, Max, I’ve always loved it! Usually, I’m no fan of drum machines, but in this case, it works very well. This song has an incredibly beautiful melody and really powerful words.

    It was also great to read it evidently helped some folks who found themselves in desperate situations. Teenage suicide is such a depressing topic. It has to be the ultimate reward for a music artist when they can touch people in such a profound way!

    Last but not least, I’m sorry for all the bullying you and your son went through. I found myself in a similar situation in fifth grade. Fortunately, my parents made the wise decision to remove me from that school, put me into another school, and had me repeat the grade, so I could be in the same class with younger friends.

    Not only did this have a profound impact on my school grades, but it likely changed my trajectory.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yea usually I hate drum machines but in this one it works.
      Yea…being a kid/teenager is hard enough without somebody trying to push you around.
      I’m happy to say that Bailey is still friends with the guy….they guy stopped after that incident but Bailey was suspended for a day! I get it but I don’t…but it all ended up good. Other parents were congratulating us on Bailey standing up to him because the kid was doing it to their kids.

      I don’t like violence but….I will say we tried the procedures the school wanted.

      That is great that a change in environment brought along great things for you. I’m happy your parents did that.

      Liked by 2 people

  6. I think their 1980s albums were better but they had some amazing singles in the 1990s. This one’s a little worn out for me but still excellent. John Paul Jones’ arrangements are great – it’s a shame he didn’t pop up on more records as an arranger.

    Liked by 2 people

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