R.E.M. – Everybody Hurts
Originally released on the band’s 1992 album Automatic for the People.
“Everybody Hurts” is a song by American rock band R.E.M., originally released on the band’s 1992 album Automatic for the People and also released as a single in 1993. It peaked at number 29 on the US Billboard Hot 100 and reached the top 10 on the charts of Australia, Canada, France, Iceland, the Netherlands, the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom. In 2003, Q magazine ranked “Everybody Hurts” at number 31 in their list of the “1001 Best Songs Ever”. And in 2005, Blender ranked the song at number 238 in their list of “Greatest Songs Since You Were Born”.
Much of the song was written by drummer Bill Berry, although as R.E.M. share songwriting credits among its members, it is unknown how much he actually wrote. Berry’s drums are largely absent from the song—a Univox drum machine took his place—but he was responsible for the sampling of the drum pattern on the track. The string arrangement was written by Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones.
Guitarist Peter Buck commented on the making of the track, saying:
“Everybody Hurts” is similar to “Man on the Moon”. Bill brought it in, and it was a one-minute long country-and-western song. It didn’t have a chorus or a bridge. It had the verse… it kind of went around and around, and he was strumming it. We went through about four different ideas and how to approach it and eventually came to that Stax, Otis Redding, “Pain in My Heart” kind of vibe. I’m not sure if Michael would have copped that reference, but to a lot of our fans it was a Staxxy-type thing. It took us forever to figure out the arrangement and who was going to play what, and then Bill ended up not playing on the original track. It was me and Mike and a drum machine. And then we all overdubbed.
In the liner notes of the album In Time: The Best of R.E.M. 1988–2003, Buck writes that “the reason the lyrics are so atypically straightforward is because it was aimed at teenagers”, and “I’ve never watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but the idea that high school is a portal to hell seems pretty realistic to me.” Incidentally, the song was used in the 1992 film of the same name that preceded the show.
In 2005, Buck told the BBC: “If you’re consciously writing for someone who hasn’t been to college, or is pretty young, it might be nice to be very direct. In that regard, it’s tended to work for people of a lot of ages.”
Michael Stipe had originally intended for Patti Smith to be a second vocal on the track, but it did not work out.
The song received favorable reviews from most music critics. AllMusic editor Stephen Thomas Erlewine wrote that it has “a comforting melancholy”. David Bauder from The Associated Press said that it keeps “the pace slow and the mood melancholy.” Larry Flick from Billboard called it a “spare, honest, and emotional track”, adding “when the strings kick in, there’s no denying this song’s power.” Bevan Hannah from The Canberra Times noted “the smoothly caressing guitar”. Another editor, Larry McShane described it as “haunting”. Randy Clark from Cashbox said it is the “strongest” cut of the album. Another editor, Troy J. Augusto felt that it “might be a hard sell at radio, given the somber mood and suicide related theme”. He complimented the singer’s “silky vocals and the song’s lush string section [that] provide this track’s main appeal.” Also Justin Wilson from The Cavalier Daily said it is “the best song on the album, one of R.E.M.’s best songs ever”. He noted it as “emotionally moving” and “deeply affecting”. Greg Kot from Chicago Tribune stated that it is “a ballad that would border on the maudlin if Stipe didn’t sing it with such conviction”. Greg Sandow from Entertainment Weekly wrote,
“The record’s biggest surprise, however, is its one surefire pop hit, “Everybody Hurts”, an almost unbearably passionate argument against suicide. It sounds like a gigantic arena transfiguration of a ’50s rock ballad, with Stipe’s voice pleading over triplets and massed strings, and surely will be played on radio for generations to come, right next to unforgettable anthems like “Bridge Over Troubled Water”.”
Ron Fell from Gavin Report said that Stipe’s “powerful and emotional life-affirming message comes across very clear.” He added it as “a favorite track” from the album. The Gazette commented that Automatic for the People ponders frustrations of life in the “Bee Geeish” “Everybody Hurts””. Music & Media described it as a “ultra melancholic ballad”, noting that with string arrangements by ex Led Zeppelin bass player John Paul Jones, it is “the Bridge Over Troubled Water for the ’90s with Michael Stipe as Simon & Garfunkel rolled into one.” Alan Jones from Music Week deemed it “a torchy ballad, with Stipe’s fragile and waivering vocal offset at times by discreet strings.” He also added it as “radio-friendly”. People stated that the vocalist “succeeds at talking a friend out of suicide” on the song. Scripps Howard News Service wrote that the singer “has never sung better” and noted that “the unabashedly emotional” track “gives him plenty of range to display those pipes.” David Cavanagh from Select said that “Everybody Hurts” is “virtually beyond words.” He added, “It will have non-REM maniacs in hysterics with its delicate Spector structure and childlike message (“everybody hurts, everybody cries…when you think you’ve had too much of this life, hang on…”). It will make everyone else cry. It really is that straightforward.”
In the video for the song, directed by Jake Scott and filmed along the double deck portions of I-10 near the I-35 Interchange in downtown San Antonio, Texas in February 1993, the band is stuck in a traffic jam. It shows the people in other cars and subtitles of their thoughts appear on screen. A man standing on an overpass drops pages from a book he is reading onto the cars below, while the subtitles read “Lead me to the rock that is higher than I” and “They that sow in tears shall reap in joy”, quotes from the biblical Book of Psalms 61 and 126 respectively. At the end, all the people leave their cars and walk instead; then they vanish, followed by scenes of a newscast reporting on the unfamiliar event. Although Michael Stipe is featured prominently in the video, he remains silent until the final “Hold On, Hold On” part of the song. The video was heavily inspired by the traffic jam in the opening dream sequence of Fellini’s 8½.
Usage in media
In 1995, British emotional support listening service The Samaritans, in response to the high suicide rate but low crisis service take-up amongst young men, launched a UK press advertising campaign consisting solely of the lyrics to “Everybody Hurts” and the charity’s hotline number.
The song was placed on R.E.M.’s Warner Bros. “best of” album In Time: The Best of R.E.M. 1988–2003 in 2003. It was one of four songs from Automatic for the People to make the compilation, more than from any other album. The song is included on R.E.M. Live.
U.S. President Donald Trump used the song in a Twitter video showing several Democratic politicians with sad-looking reactions towards his 2019 State of the Union Address. The former members of the band responded to this on their Twitter page saying, “World Leader PRETEND!!! Congress, Media–ghost this faker!!! Love, R.E.M.” Eventually, Twitter removed the video following a copyright complaint from Concord Music, the band’s record label. Trump later re-uploaded the video, using Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the U.S.A.” instead. Both versions of the video were created by a self-proclaimed Trump supporter named @CarpeDonktum.