R.E.M.’s Automatic for the People: Inspirations and Influences
R.E.M.’s eighth album came out 25 years ago, and was given a deluxe anniversary reissue last week. Often considered the Georgia quartet’s masterpiece, Automatic for the People is solemn and low-key, and proved an unlikely slow-burn hit and lasting ’90s touchstone. To investigate the album’s roots further, we’ve looked to the music that the band’s members have cited as influences on their work. We’ve rounded up 19 of R.E.M.’s diverse inspirations for Automatic into a playlist that lovingly echoes the classic 1992 album.
Setting the tone is Elton John’s “Bennie and the Jets,” a childhood favorite for frontman Michael Stipe, and a pastoral ballad from Led Zeppelin, whose John Paul Jones arranged the album’s strings. Album opener “Drive” borrows its rock-themed imperatives from David Essex’s “Rock On” and “Stop It” by fellow Athens indie greats Pylon. “Try Not to Breathe,” about Stipe’s grandmother, has a touching precursor in John Prine’s “Hello in There,” which Stipe covered live.
Of course, “The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite” is a winking riff on the Tokens singalong “The Lion Sleeps Tonight,” and “New Orleans Instrumental No. 1” is steeped in The Meters’ soupy funk. The heartbreaking “Everybody Hurts,” meanwhile, gathers ingredients from many sources: Nazareth’s power ballad “Love Hurts,” Otis Redding’s Southern soul smolder, and the angelic ascension of The Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.” We’ve also included Patti Smith, since Stipe originally wanted her to sing the song with him.
The album’s second half borrows Neil Young’s favored tuning on the biting rocker “Ignoreland,” and nods to Chris Isaak and 10CC with the suggestive crooner atmosphere of “Star Me Kitten.” The Andy Kaufman homage “Man on the Moon” cites Mott the Hoople and Elvis, and the vulnerable “Nightswimming” was played on the same piano as the original version of “Layla.” Finishing the playlist are two songs R.E.M. covered during a 1992 show that’s included in this week’s reissue – Iggy Pop’s “Fun Times” and The Troggs’ “Love Is All Around.” They’re just two more odd bedfellows to inform an album that so fruitfully mingles the classic and the offbeat. Listen to our playlist of influences for the alt-rock classic, and stream the reissue below.
Inspiration & Influences Playlist:
Automatic for the People 25th Anniversary Deluxe Reissue: