R.E.M.'s "Automatic for the People," released 25 years ago last month, is considered by many critics to be one of the best albums of all time. This month R.E.M. re-released the record including a deluxe anniversary edition with 20 previously unreleased demos.
"CBS This Morning: Saturday" co-host Anthony Mason sat down with bandmates Michael Stipe and Mike Mills to talk about the making of the classic album and its continued resonance among fans.
"I think this one is strongest from start to finish," Mills said of "Automatic for the People."
Mills, Peter Buck, Bill Berry and Michael Stipe went into the studio in 1992.
"Singing 'Drive' at the top of a stairwell in a haunted mansion on the edge of the French Quarter in New Orleans and reading the lyric off a laptop. It was the first time I used a computer to write the lyrics," Stipe said of how he recorded their song "Drive."
The name of the record came from Weaver D's Soul Food in Athens, Georgia, the band's birthplace
"Automatic for the People" would include the song, "Nightswimming," which started with a Mike Mills melody.
"I wrote 'Nightswimming' just when I was goofing around on the piano. And Michael heard it and loved it and said, 'just keep playin' that.' So I just played it and played it while you listened," Mills said.
The track was laid down at Criteria Studio in Miami, on the same piano used for a Derek and the Dominos classic.
"It's recorded on the Layla piano," Mills said. "Which is, as I've said, not the best piano in the world. But the history of it is fantastic and it sounds great."
Led Zeppelin's John Paul Jones arranged the strings for the song as he did for the album's biggest hit, "Everybody Hurts," which won the band four MTV Video Music Awards.
The last song written for the album was "Man on the Moon."
"The song was pretty much completed except for any singing and we all knew that it was a song that had to be on the record. And we knew that there was something great lurking in there, we just had to get it out," Mills said.
Stipe found inspiration unexpectedly in videos of comedian Andy Kaufman:
"I had no intention of writing a song about Andy Kaufman, but that's how, that's what came out," Stipe said.
The chorus of "yeahs," Stipe says, was an attempt to outdo Kurt Cobain.
"My goal was to write a song that had more 'yeahs' in it than Nirvana. Than anything Kurt had written and we had a good laugh about that 'cause i managed to do it," Stipe said.
"Automatic for the People" reached No. 2 on the charts, but the band did not tour behind it, which led to rumors about Stipe's health.
"People thought I was HIV positive or living with AIDS, which I wasn't," Stipe said. "I turned away. I mean, I just went quiet. I just didn't wanna feel like I was adding to the voices of people that were distancing themselves from people who were living with HIV. That was my community. And so I'm not sure that I made the right choice."
Stipe says he might have said "I'm healthy" instead of staying quiet.
"But I didn't think that's what it was about. I thought people were just trying to force me to talk about my sexuality and I, you know, I just didn't think it was really anyone's business," Stipe said.
"Automatic for the People" seems to be a record that only gains popularity with time.
"That's the sign of a really good record. One of the things we always try to do from the very beginning was to make records that when you listen to them, you couldn't say, 'Well, that's clearly from 1986' you know. If you can do that, then a record has a chance of lasting longer," Mills said.
"I love the idea that the record could find a newer, younger audience of people that might know some of the songs, but they haven't put it together that it's R.E.M. or that those songs created something called an album in a faraway century called the 20th century. That makes me feel like, well, I can look back 25 years and feel okay about it," Stipe said.