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R.E.M. reunite at Songwriters Hall of Fame ceremony also honoring Timbaland and Steely Dan

NEW YORK (AP) — A comet must have landed at the 2024 Songwriters Hall of Fame induction ceremony. The members of R.E.M. had joked only hours before it would take “a comet” to get the band to perform together one last time.
R.E.M. band members, from left, Peter Buck, Mike Mills, Michael Stipe and Bill Berry attend the Songwriters Hall of Fame Induction and Awards Gala at the New York Marriott Marquis Hotel on Thursday, June 13, 2024, in New York. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

NEW YORK (AP) — A comet must have landed at the 2024 Songwriters Hall of Fame induction ceremony. The members of R.E.M. had joked only hours before it would take “a comet” to get the band to perform together one last time. Yet there they were, reunited during the gala at the Marriott Marquis Hotel in New York City Thursday night.

The annual event celebrated a talented group of songwriters that included R.E.M., Steely Dan and Timbaland, who conducted a medley of his massive hits.

R.E.M.'s 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 R.E.M.," Stipe said. “And this is what we did."

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

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.”

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 humor would be an understatement,” he said.

Co-founded by Donald Fagen 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,” Fagen 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.

Nile Rodgers presented singer 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.”

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 honored 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.”

“Country done come to town y’all,” she said, before playing a short medley of songs she co-wrote, including Lady Gaga's “Million Reasons” and a duet with Keith Urban on his “Blue Ain’t Your Color."

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, centering 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.

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

He conducted a group of musicians in a medley of some of his most recognizable songs including Aaliyah’s “Are You That Somebody,” Ginuwine’s “Pony,” Justin Timberlake’s “SexyBack” and “Suit & Tie," Elliott’s “Get Ur Freak On,” Beyoncé’s “Drunk in Love" and Nelly Furtado’s “Promiscuous."

Paul Williams presented Diane Warren with the Johnny Mercer Award, the highest honor 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.

“I have to thank my mom for being the first one I had to prove wrong,” Warren said. “Songwriting isn’t something I do, it is who I am.”

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

Ahead of Thursday's festivities, country star Cindy Walker was posthumously inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. Walker wrote songs performed by some of the biggest names in country music history and beyond, including Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, B.B. King, Cher, Glen Campbell, Gene Autry, Bing Crosby and Roy Orbison.

The Songwriters Hall of Fame was established in 1969 to honor those creating popular music. A songwriter with a notable catalog of songs qualifies for induction 20 years after the first commercial release of a song. Some already in the hall include Gloria Estefan, Carole King, Paul Simon, Billy Joel, Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora, Elton John and Bernie Taupin, Brian Wilson, James Taylor, Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, Lionel Richie, Bill Withers, Neil Diamond and Phil Collins.


A previous version of this story incorrectly spelled the name of Donald Fagen.

Maria Sherman, The Associated Press

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