7 Best Moments From Songwriters Hall of Fame: R.E.M. Performs, Diane Warren’s Truth Bombs & More (2024)

SZA, Hillary Lindsey, Timbaland and Dean Pitchford were also honored at the 2024 ceremony.

7 Best Moments From Songwriters Hall of Fame: R.E.M. Performs, Diane Warren’s Truth Bombs & More (1)

Every year, the Songwriters Hall of Fame induction ceremony usually provides at least one wow moment by having a superstar deliver a breathtaking version of a song written by one of the honorees, or delivering a pairing that creates a watercooler moment, but this year, the 53rd annual edition — held Thursday (June 13) at the Marriott Marquis in New York — topped itself by reuniting inductees R.E.M. on stage for the quartet’s first public performance in more than 15 years.

In addition to the seminal alternative rock band, this year’s class included Timbaland, who innovatively blended R&B, hip-hop and pop elements; Dean Pitchford, whose songs for movies have proved as indelible, if not more so, than the films themselves; Steely Dan, who created a whole new cool paradigm with their combination of ennui, jazz and rock; and Hillary Lindsey, whose more than 27 No. 1 country songs have taken artists such as Little Big Town and Carrie Underwood to new creative heights.

A songwriter whose catalog has made a significant commercial and artistic impact is eligible for induction 20 years after their first song was commercially released. The exception for the 20 years is made for the recipient of theHal David Starlight Award, which is presented to a rising songwriter who has already delivered a distinguished body of work. This year’s honoree was multiple Grammy winner SZA.

The SHOF’s highest honor is the Johnny Mercer Award, which is given to a past honoree whose body of work upholds the esteemed standards set by legendary songwriter Mercer. This year’s recipient, Diane Warren, was originally inducted into SHOF in 2001.In a separate ceremony in Nashville, trailblazing country writer Cindy Walker was posthumously inducted into SHOF.

The event opened on a sad note with SHOF show committee chairman Evan Lamberg (who is also North American president of Universal Music Publishing Group), announcing that SHOF’s president/CEO and the organization’s heartbeat, Linda Moran, was missing her first ceremony in 23 years because she is fighting leukemia. “She is under great care and is pointed in the right direction,” Lamberg said assuringly before filming a video of the audience sending love and cheers Moran’s way.

From R.E.M.’s unexpected reunion to Warren’s delightfully profane acceptance speech and SZA’s heartfelt comments on being a songwriter, here are some of the best moments from the 2024 Songwriters Hall of Fame.

  • R.E.M. Leads the Crowd to Lose Their Religion (and Minds)

    7 Best Moments From Songwriters Hall of Fame: R.E.M. Performs, Diane Warren’s Truth Bombs & More (2)

    There had been hints and whispers that R.E.M. would perform as part of their induction, but it seemed implausible given that bassist Mike Mills seemingly ruled it out during an interviewwithCBS Mornings ahead of the ceremony, but it turns out that was just a deflection. (The band revealed on the morning show the following day that the performance had been in the works since February.) For the first time in nearly 16years, the foursome — Michael Stipe, Mills, Peter Buck and Bill Berry — reunited publicly to sing a gorgeous, emotional rendition of“Losing My Religion” that had the crowd capturing the special moment on their phones as soon as Buck started strumming the famous mandolin riff. The performance took the audience back in time to 1991, when the song about unrequited love was ubiquitous and went on to capture two Grammy Awards.

    The performance was preceded by Jason Isbell, who feted the band with a spirited, note-perfect rendition of the tongue-twisting “It’s the End of the World As We Know It (and I Feel Fine),” a song he said he learned when he was 10.

    During his acceptance speech, Stipe shared his thoughts on the band’s success and longevity. “Writing songs and having a catalog of work that we’re all proud of that is out there for the rest of the world for all time is hands down the most important aspect of what we did,” he shared. “Second to that is that we managed to do so all those decades and remain friends. And not just friends, dear friends.”

    He also noted that the band owned its masters from the start.

  • Diane Warren Drops Some Truth Bombs

    7 Best Moments From Songwriters Hall of Fame: R.E.M. Performs, Diane Warren’s Truth Bombs & More (3)

    “I’m a pain in the a–,” Warren said to great laughter before adding that she was proof that “with the combination of hard work and never taking a ‘no,’ nothing is impossible — nothing. Thanks to every door that slammed in my face for teaching me how to kick those motherf–kers down. For every no that taught me one yes is a ‘F-ck you’ to the no that came before it. You just need one believer.”

    The 15-time Academy Award nominee then got serious about the power of music. “To think that something that I came up with in my little room could touch someone’s heart, make someone feel less alone or just make them feel good for three-and-a-half minutes — or 15 seconds on TikTok — how f—king cool is that?”

    Warren wassaluted by Andra Day, who sang “Stand Up for Something,” the Warren-penned song she performed for the movieMarshall,as well as El DeBarge, who sang “Rhythm of the Night,” Warren’s breakthrough hit in 1985.

  • Trey Anastasio Does Steely Dan Justice

    7 Best Moments From Songwriters Hall of Fame: R.E.M. Performs, Diane Warren’s Truth Bombs & More (4)

    Steely Dan songs don’t get covered much because no one can quite match the same level of detached cool or handle the high degree of musical complexity, but Phish’s Anastasio proved more than up to the task when he worked his dexterous guitar magic on a sinewy version of “Kid Charlamagne” before segueing into “Reelin’ in the Years” and capturing that 1972 bouncy hit’s blazing guitar solo.

    Anastasio brought the estimable guitar chops, but the band’s longtime manager, Irving Azoff, brought the backstory, recounting hilarious anecdotes of Steely Dan’s antics in the early days, and calling Donald fa*gen and the late Walter Becker. “To say they had a great sense of humor is an understatement,” he said. “I once needed an approved photo for an ad matte. In those pre-internet days, things came via the U.S. mail. Several days later I received from Donald and Walter a blank 8×10 glossy with a note saying, ‘Please use this. We think it captures us perfectly.’”

    Azoff also told a winding tale of planning what was to be the group’s first U.S. tour, which they agreed to after much negotiation. “The tour’s booked, it’s ready to go on sale,” he recalled. “Donald and Walter called me and said, ‘Where’s the first show?’ I said, ‘Detroit.’ They said, ‘OK, just put that one show on sale.’ I said, ‘Well, normally, we put most of the tour up at once.’ They said, ‘No, no, no. Just Detroit. We want to make sure we can sell the tickets.’ We put it on sale. It sold out in moments. I called them with the good news, told them I was going to put the rest of the tour on sale, and they said, ‘Oh no, no, no. Don’t do that. We have no intention of touring. We just wanted to see how big we are in case we ever change our mind.’”

  • Hal David Starlight Award Winner SZA Reveals a Vulnerable Side

    7 Best Moments From Songwriters Hall of Fame: R.E.M. Performs, Diane Warren’s Truth Bombs & More (5)

    After thanking her parents for “making me,” SZA delivered a raw, touching speech that explained why the honor was so significant. After a year that saw her albumSOScatapult her into superstardom and winning three Grammys, she said, “I feel like this [award] means the most to me because … as an artist, I’ve been a lot of different people. I’ve been 200 pounds, I’ve been 130 pounds. I’ve been someone who doesn’t dance at all on stage … to someone who is dancing and trying their best. All these different things and I think, ‘Oh man, I struggle with the artist thing, but writing was where I felt like a person and I had value and showed that I was smart. It was beyond ‘Am I pretty? Am I Liked?’ and that meant everything to me.It made me feel like a person that was doing something worth something. Basically receiving this award validates my entire career … thank you for seeing me.”

    She then performed an acoustic version of “Snooze,” which captured the Grammy for best R&B song at this year’s awards.

  • Carrie Underwood Shows Why Hillary Lindsey Is One of Nashville's Top Writers

    7 Best Moments From Songwriters Hall of Fame: R.E.M. Performs, Diane Warren’s Truth Bombs & More (6)

    Last year, Lindsey helped induct her Love Junkies’ songwriting partner Liz Rose. This year, she was inducted herself, and from the first note, Carrie Underwood showed why. Underwood took the stage to perform “Jesus Take the Wheel,” the first single from the American Idol season four champ’s 2005 debut album and the song that showed the world she was much more than a reality-show winner. Her stunning vocals captured all the emotion of Lindsey’s beautiful, soaring composition (co-written with Gordie Sampson and Brett James) that tells of a distracted young mother and her infantwho narrowly avoid a horrible car accident when Jesus takes the wheel.

    Even though the song is nearly 20 years old and Underwood has sung it numerous times, she delivered a passionate version that brought home why Lindsey was joining the Hall. The song, which became Underwood’s first of 15 consecutive No. 1s, is one of 27 No. 1 songs co-written by Lindsey, who was also feted by Keith Urban, who duetted with Lindsey on “Blue Ain’t Your Color,” a song that spent 12 weeks at No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart, following Lindsey’s charming and humble acceptance speech.

  • The Bacon Brothers Fete Dean Pitchford in an Emmy-Worthy Performance

    7 Best Moments From Songwriters Hall of Fame: R.E.M. Performs, Diane Warren’s Truth Bombs & More (7)

    Once it was announced that Kevin and Michael Bacon, who collectively perform as The Bacon Brothers, would take part in the ceremony, there was little doubt that the pair would celebrate Dean Pitchford’s induction with a performance of “Footloose,” and they didn’t disappoint. But first, they delivered an induction speech with unsurprisingly pitch-perfect timing that had the audience laughing out loud, noting that Pitchford’s music was heard everywhere — not just in movies such as Fame and Footloose, but “in Trader Joe’s while you’re buying avocados” — while with a wink and a nod kept referencing noteworthy lyrics from Pitchford’s biggest hits. Then they cut loose with a fun version of “Footloose” that had Kevin dancing as he sang, though he resisted throwing in some of his trademark moves from the film (which Pitchford wrote the screenplay for).

    Following Deniece Williams’ buoyant performance of “Let’s Hear It for the Boy” — also fromFootloose — and the Bacon Brothers, Pitchford, who appeared in the original Broadway cast ofGodspell, sang a poignant version of the gorgeous ballad “Once Before I Go,” which he co-wrote with Peter Allen, and which was later incorporated intoThe Boy From Oz, the Broadway musical about Allen’s life.

  • Missy Elliott Goes Deep ona Young Timbaland & His Animal Sounds

    7 Best Moments From Songwriters Hall of Fame: R.E.M. Performs, Diane Warren’s Truth Bombs & More (8)

    Lots of presenters shared long histories with the songwriters they inducted, but perhaps none as much as Missy Elliott, who became the only female rapper inducted into SHOF in 2019. She took the stage to affectionatelywax nostalgic about her friend Timbaland (Timothy Mosley), whom she grew up with in Virginia.

    Melvin “Magoo” Barcliff, Timbaland’s former and late duo partner, introduced Timbaland and Elliott to each other when they were in high school. “He was named DJ Timmy Tim and he had this keyboard that had the dog [and] cat sounds and hand claps. He had these big hands and this little keyboard and he used to do beats on this little keyboard and I was always amazed that he could make a sound like these animal sounds, “Elliott recalled. “I would get in there and start rapping and singing, and his dad was a truck driver and he’d be like, ‘Y’all get out of here, I’ve got to go to work. I’ve got to drive down the road and y’all are making all this boopity-bop-bop.’”

    Elliott then dissected what makes Timbaland so innovative and special as a songwriter and producer. “I could hear and see that he had something that I don’t think even he knew he had that was a gift. Timbaland the cadence of [hip-hop] at the time because Tim also treated hip-hop records like R&B records,” she shared. “If you are musicians or songwriters, just go back and listen to the way our records worked. He would take the hooks and he would take a different sound. Most of the time in hip-hop, you hear songs that just sound one way all the way through, but he treated them like R&B records because when the hook would come around, he would add a string. And then when the verse would come around, he would take stuff out. And when the hook would come around again, he would add something else. And that’s what made Timbaland different … Timbaland has changed music not one time — he has changed music time and time and time again.”

    After his acceptance speech, Timbaland then conducted the house band through a medley of some of his biggest hits, including“Big Pimpin’,” “Pony,” “SexyBack,” “Get Your Freak On,” “Drunk in Love,” “Promiscuous”and“Suit & Tie.”

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7 Best Moments From Songwriters Hall of Fame: R.E.M. Performs, Diane Warren’s Truth Bombs & More (2024)
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