When Garth Brooks was combing through hundreds of songs for 2014’s Man Against Machine, his first studio album of all new material since 2001’s Scarecrow, one song immediately stood out: “People Loving People,” co-written by busbee, Lee Thomas Miller and Chris Wallin. The song became the album’s lead single.
Busbee, whose real name was Michael James Ryan, died Saturday from glioblastoma after only being diagnosed months before. Other artists the Grammy-nominated songwriter and producer wrote for included Maren Morris, Keith Urban, Lady Antebellum and P!nk.
“People Loving People” made the gentle statement that loving each other was “the enemy of everything that’s evil” and that we didn’t need powerbrokers to make a difference; all we needed was to be kinder to each other.
The uplifting song followed the messages espoused in Brooks’ 1992 song “We Shall Be Free,” a song the superstar co-wrote, and 1995’s “The Change,” written by “The Dance” author Tony Arata and Wayne Tester. “I loved it,” Brooks tells Billboard of “People Loving People.” “He did it without preaching. ‘We Shall Be Free’ is preachy. I don’t say that in a negative sense at all. [Busbee] just found a way to state it matter-of-factly, and you can’t argue with that. You just heard it and loved it. He did the demo, and I’m still not sure we beat it. It was a neat record to listen to, a record I still pull out and listen to.”
Brooks released “People Loving People” in September 2014. Like “We Shall Be Free” and “The Change,” the song became the rare Brooks single not to crack the top 10 on Billboard’s Country Airplay chart (it peaked at No. 19) but became a fan favorite and sing-along in concert.
The pair never wrote together but had a few warm conversations about the song when they would run into each other. “I just talked to him about the message and reiterated that you don’t know how many swings you’ll get in the business, so if my comeback was going to be one swing and I was gone, I wanted a song that said the most out there,” Brooks says. “That was it.”