REM reunite at Songwriters Hall of Fame ceremony

AP Reporters

A surprise reunion of REM was the highlight of the 2024 Songwriters Hall of Fame induction ceremony in New York City.

The event also honoured legendary band Steely Dan, R&B and rap producer Timbaland, Nashville hitmaker Hillary Lindsey and Dean Pitchford, who helped Kenny Loggins with the megahit Footloose.

SZA, Jason Isbell, Carrie Underwood, Trey Anastasio and Kevin Bacon were among the performers who brought the work of the songwriters to life during the gala at the Marriott Marquis Hotel.

The members of REM had joked only hours beforehand that it would take “a comet” to get the band to perform together one last time. Yet there they were, reunited during the annual event.

Michael Bacon and Kevin Bacon on stage
Michael Bacon and Kevin Bacon performed Footloose (Invision/AP) Photo by Evan Agostini

Bill Berry, Peter Buck, Mike Mills and Michael Stipe were behind numerous alt-rock hits such as Everybody Hurts and It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine).

On Thursday, they stunned audiences with the undisputed highlight of the night: reuniting for an acoustic version of Losing My Religion.

“We are REM,” Stipe said. “And this is what we did.”

The singer highlighted their strength as a group and early endeavours to own their master recordings and split songwriting credits equally. “There are a lot of people who believed in us,” Stipe said.

Inductee Timbaland also performed at the event in New York City (Invision/AP) Photo by Evan Agostini

Jason Isbell covered the group’s hit, It’s The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine). Afterward he joked: “I’ve never said that many words that quickly in my whole life.”

Nashville hitmaker Hillary Lindsey, who helped write Girl Crush for Little Big Town and Jesus, Take the Wheel for Carrie Underwood, was inducted along with Dean Pitchford, who helped Kenny Loggins with the megahit Footloose and co-wrote Fame and Holding Out For a Hero.

The Bacon Brothers, the folk-rock duo of actor Kevin Bacon and Michael Bacon, introduced Pitchford with a rambunctious take on Footloose, tambourine and all. Denise Williams removed her shoes to dance while belting her Pitchford-penned hit, Let’s Hear It For The Boy.

“It’s been 40 years, can you believe it,” Pitchford said. “I’m deeply grateful … Above all, thank you for hearing me.” He then sang his composition, Once Before I Go.

Donald Fagan
Steely Dan’s Donald Fagan paid tribute to his late songwriting partner (Invision/AP) Photo by Evan Agostini

Irving Azoff led the celebration of Steely Dan, telling a story about the legendary band submitting a blank glossy image as their promo artwork.

“To say they had a great sense of humour would be an understatement,” he said.

Co-founded by Donald Fagan and the late Walter Becker, Steely Dan are known for their classic rock songs including Do It Again and Hey Nineteen.

“I’d like to thank my partner Walter Becker wherever he may be,” Fagan said in his acceptance speech.

Phish frontman Trey Anastasio covered Steely Dan’s Kid Charlemagne and Reelin’ In The Years. Their “real genius” is their songs, Anastasio said.

Carrie Underwood
Carrie Underwood took to the stage at the New York Marriott Marquis Hotel (Invision/AP) Photo by Evan Agostini

Nile Rodgers presented SZA with the Hal David Starlight Award for “gifted young songwriters who are making a significant impact in the music industry”.

“There would be no music industry if there were no songs,” Rodgers told the artists and industry professionals in the room. “Everything begins with a song.”

Rodgers received roaring applause when he veered off the prompter to comment: “Spotify we need you to make a point of songwriters being your priority.”

“This means the most to me,” SZA said in front of the crowd that included her parents. “I struggle at the artist thing. But writing is where I felt like a person, that I had value … it was beyond, was I pretty, was I liked.”

Deniece Williams performs
Deniece Williams performed her classic hit (Invision/AP) Photo by Evan Agostini

Receiving the award “validates my entire career,” she said before leading the crowd in a stripped down version of her hit, Nobody Gets Me.

Carrie Underwood honoured Lindsey, one of her longtime songwriters she called “the queen of modern Nashville songwriters”, before jumping into a full-band rendition of the tearjerker, Jesus, Take the Wheel.

Lindsey joked that the first song she wrote “was probably about poops and boogers and things,” later describing a childhood spent singing into anything in the house, including “my mom’s tampons”.

Missy Elliott shouted out the late rapper Magoo for introducing her to Timbaland in an energetic introduction to her longtime writing and production partner, noting he had “a gift”.

“Timbaland literally changed the cadence of the time, because he also treated hip hop records like R&B records,” she said. “He would take the hooks and put a different sound.”

Timbaland told the audience the songwriting recognition was the best award he could get.

“I don’t really talk too much. I just talk with my music,” he said, centring his speech on his collaborators and his family, including his grandmother who allowed him to work in her home to write One In A Million for the late singer Aaliyah.

Jason Isbell
Jason Isbell was among the stars at the Gala event (AP) Photo by Evan Agostini

“I want to thank baby girl, rest in peace, I hope you’re watching,” he said.

Paul Williams presented Diane Warren with the Johnny Mercer Award, the highest honour bestowed by the event, joking that artificial intelligence “worries about Diane Warren”.

Andra Day performed Stand Up For Something, written by Warren, who previously was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2001.

The night ended with a performance marking the 40th anniversary of another song written by Warren: DeBarge’s Rhythm Of The Night.