Album: Automatic For The People
. . .
File Under Sometimes
R.E.M. may have written a more straightforward and sincere song in the R.E.M. but outside of possibly “World Leader Pretend,” I can’t think of one that has fewer levels of irony or metaphor than “Everybody Hurts.” It’s all right there on the page: everybody hurts, sometimes. So hold on.
Which, of course, in the irony-drenched early 1990s, might have a bit of a hard sell, but with its slow-burn to big build Stax arrangement and utter sincerity, “Everybody Hurts” kinda cut through, which is probably why there wasn’t as much of a backlash to it as what Space Ghost called “that shiny shiny people song.”
When the 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
And while the song itself wasn’t ironic, there was irony in the fact that Bill Berry’s short country song turned into a massive soul ballad that he didn’t even really play on it, even the actual drum part was sampled — from him, but still sampled — and I guess there’s irony in the fact that “Everybody Hurts” is R.E.M.’s second most-enduring song after “Losing My Religion,” but it barely scraped the top 30.
It was also a level of sincerity that Stipe could only manage after achieving the level of stardom that R.E.M. had garnered in the wake of Out of Time, because “Everybody Hurts” was aimed directly at teenagers, who really hadn’t been considered as R.E.M.’s target audience in the 1980s — though I know plenty of people who were teens in the 1980s who loved them, and I’m sure plenty of adults took comfort in the song as well.
‘Cause everybody hurts
Take comfort in your friends
And everybody hurts
I mean, “take comfort in your friends” is great advice at any age, and when the horns and organ and the John Paul Jones string arrangement all swell at the end while Stipe is exhorting you to “hold on, hold on, hold on, hold on” it’s all overwhelmingly beautiful.
It was also endlessly coverable — which makes sense, given the simplicity of the music and the universality of the message, “Everybody Hurts” might be R.E.M.’s most covered song, with versions from people like Joe Cocker, Kelly Clarkson & Pink, Bonnie Tyler, The Corrs, and, uh, something called Gregorian.
And in 2010, it was used for one of those massive all-star charity singles — to raise money for survivors of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti — this one called “Helping Haiti” and arranged by the villain Simon Cowell, and featuring far too many people to list here. It went to #1 in the U.K., which would make it the only U.K. #1 song associated with R.E.M.
“Everybody Hurts” official music video
“Everybody Hurts” live at the VMAs, 1993
“Everybody Hurts” live in 1995
“Everybody Hurts” live at the Bridge Show, 1998
“Everybody Hurts” live in Germany, 2003
“Everybody Hurts” at Live 8, 2005
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