Tears for Fears

TrackAlbum
Mad WorldThe Hurting
Suffer The ChildrenThe Hurting
ShoutSongs From The Big Chair
I BelieveSongs From The Big Chair
Woman In ChainsThe Seeds Of Love
Sowing The Seeds Of LoveThe Seeds Of Love
Fish Out Of WaterElemental
SorryRaoul And The Kings Of Spain
Everybody Loves A Happy EndingEverybody Loves A Happy Ending
CreepRaoul And The Kings Of Spain
(expanded edition)

 

Tears for Fears photo 1

Curt Smith and Roland Orzabal (photo: Michael Putland 1985)

 

 

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Tears for Fears playlist

 

 

Contributor: Dave Ross

Tears for Fears. Let’s think about that name for a minute. Tears, the physical manifestation of pain, fear, hurt or upset. Fears, the mind’s worst enemy, things that make us scared, frightened, anxious or reserved. This combination of words chosen for an early 80s pop combo sets up the narrative for this selection of songs. Tears for Fears arrived as Adam Ant, Duran Duran, Spandau Ballet and others were embracing all that the 80s would come to stand for: colour, video, dressing up, escapism and uptempo songs all expressed with a smile or cheeky look to camera. So, Tears for Fears, in the middle of this decadent hedonistic period for pop music, introduced themselves to the public with Mad World, a song dedicated to loneliness, depression and suicidal thoughts to a repetitive, hypnotic, haunting backing track.

I find it kinda funny
I find it kinda sad
The dreams in which I’m dying are the best I’ve ever had
I find it hard to tell you cos I find it hard to take
When people run in circles it’s a very very
Mad World

The rest of the lyric is equally heartbreaking telling tales of childhood, school, rejection and isolation. Yet there on Top Of The Pops they were. Curt trying his hardest to express the sadness. Roland looking out of place, almost invisible apart from that mop of hair, and moving clumsily while all the kids in the audience danced like it was Rio that was being performed. It climbed the charts, cemented them as a duo to be reckoned with and proved that here were a couple of lads from Bath that were not only talented but different; different enough to stand out from the rest, take risks and still crash the top 10. This article will explore these themes while selecting 10 songs that only Curt and Roland could have made. Mad World is the first, if only to remind everyone what a remarkable record it is.

I’ve been known to call Roland Orzabal a genius, it’s a hill I’m prepared to die on. The creative force behind the band. Driven by a childhood surrounded by strippers, circus performers and domestic abuse with a love of Peter Gabriel and ska. All is explained in this fabulous Rockonteurs podcast.

This piece isn’t meant to be a psychoanalysis of Roland but a celebration of his inspiration, unique style, creativity, intensity, and ear for a tune to accompany the most extraordinarily powerful lyrics dressed up as pop songs. It will, however, concentrate on those themes that clearly drive him to his genius. I don’t dismiss Curt; he’s certainly no Ridgeley to Roland’s Michael as is proved later. A great singer of some of their biggest hits and a fine bass player but to understand Tears for Fears you need to understand Roland Orzabal.

So, back to the music. Their first album The Hurting – of course it was called “The Hurting” with a crying child on the cover – is chock-full of hits. Mad World, Change, Pale Shelter are stone cold classics. For my second choice though I’m going to keep to the theme and select Suffer The Children. This version sung live by Carina Round takes the song to a new level. I saw this tour in 2019 and I watched this performance spellbound almost without breathing. Lyrically as dark as anything Morrissey would come up with later but with a melody and hook that makes it quite magical.

And it seems so strange
That at the end of the day
Making love can be so good
But the pain of birth
What is it worth
When it don’t turn out the way it should

Before leaving The Hurting, I have to mention the song Ideas As Opiates inspired by the work of the psychotherapist Arthur Janov. Just think about that for a minute. Who does that? Roland Orzabal at 20 years old, that’s who. It all makes a straight-up love-lost song like Memories Fade seem quite light. The scars still linger indeed.

Did the success of The Hurting lighten Roland’s angst? We would find out when Songs From The Big Chair was released in 1985 after the standalone single The Way You Are which seemed an odd choice and didn’t exactly light up the charts. The storming drum heavy Mothers Talk was the first single release from the album and, while I think it’s one of their best, it again received lukewarm public support. Had they blown it? No, they hadn’t.

I remember exactly where I was when I first heard Shout; in Halfords warehouse where I was working. It exploded out of the radio one morning and blew my mind. What a song. Once again Orzabal tapped into the work of Janov and wrote a song directly about primal scream therapy and released it to an unsuspecting yet very appreciative pop public. The album was produced by Chris Hughes, also known as Merrick, one of the drummers from Adam and the Ants. He and keyboard player Ian Stanley wanted Tears for Fears to be bigger, louder, brasher and Orzabal’s acceptance of this allowed for Songs From The Big Chair to explode across the world. I think it’s probably the album I’ve listened to most in my life. It’s definitely in my top 3 of all time. I could fill this selection with all the songs from it. I recommend the Classic Albums documentary still available on BBC iPlayer to fully understand the processes required to produce something this special.

I will choose two songs that continue the theme of pain and hurt dressed up as power pop. Even the radio-friendly, driving with the windows down pop classic Everybody Wants To Rule The World (originally … “Wants To Go To War”) is lyrically quite dark praying as it does on our anxieties.

All for freedom and for pleasure
Nothing ever lasts forever
Everybody wants to rule the world

But I have to go with Shout. An absolute game changer for the band. Roland on vocals imploring us to “let it all out”. Therapy in a 4 minute pop song. It took me years to realise and then I just loved it more because of it. It’s become a tub-thumping, crowd participation, live encore. I feel better just writing about it never mind shouting about it. I’ve clearly taken down my guard …

My next choice is the remarkable I Believe. I don’t really know what to add to the lyrics, the song, the video. It’s stark, bleak and exposes the very depths of Orzabal’s soul. Beautiful …

I believe that when the hurting and the pain has gone
We will be strong
Oh yes we will be strong, yeah

And I believe that if I’m crying while I write these words
Is it absurd?
Or am I being real

I believe that if you knew just what these tears were for
They would just pour
Like every drop of rain

That’s why I believe it is too late for anyone to believe
I believe that if you thought for a moment, took your time
You would not resign yourself
Resign yourself to your fate, no no no, no no, no no

And I believe that if it’s written in the stars, that’s fine
I can’t deny
That I’m a Virgo too

I believe that if you’re bristling while you hear this song
I could be wrong
Or have I hit a nerve?

That’s why I believe it is too …

I love this album so much, even after 36 years and hundreds of plays. I must move on now or we’ll be here all day.

The success of Songs From The Big Chair meant non-stop touring and tensions between Curt and Roland but through it all they wrote the next album; mostly Roland but with contributions from Curt. The Seeds Of Love has taken on legendary status for the time and money it took to put together. It was finally released in 1989 as the Stock Aitken Waterman bubble was bursting and the baggy Manchester scene had arrived. Where did Tears for Fears sit with their 60s inspired mix of production, guitars, Oleta Adams’ voice and more of Roland’s pain? They sat where they always did during the 80s, just outside of where everyone else was in their own world of Roland’s creation. What’s more it has aged better than any of its contemporaries. I wasn’t instantly bowled over but over 30-odd years it has matured into one of my favourites. The Rockonteurs podcast can tell you more but I need to choose some songs and I have to go with Woman In Chains. It’s an absolute epic showcasing Oleta Adams’ remarkable voice (the record company wanted Whitney Houston). I think, lyrically, it’s another journey into Roland’s past touching on the domestic abuse that he grew up around. I may be wrong but that’s my interpretation.

You better love loving and you better behave
You better love loving and you better behave
Woman in chains
Woman in chains

Calls her man the great white hope
Says she’s fine, she’ll always cope
Ohh, woman in chains
Woman in chains

It’s a majestic 6 minute wail of pain that somehow manages to lift the spirits yet leave you drained. The Seeds Of Love is a phenomenal album when heard as a whole. It has bettered with age and is a great way to lose yourself in all its excesses.

The song Sowing The Seeds Of Love is a batshit crazy production, drawing on all the inspiration Roland could muster, with the kitchen sink thrown at it. It’s a rallying cry against everything, even Paul Weller doesn’t escape with the pleading line “Kick out the style, bring back The Jam”. It has to be front and centre of this Toppermost Top Ten. What a song.

If you haven’t listened to The Seeds Of Love for a while please revisit; it’s a genuine work of art.

Tensions between Curt and Roland reached breaking point at the end of the last gig of the “Seeds of Love” tour and they went their separate ways without even saying goodbye. While commercially achieving all they could possibly have hoped for, they had lost their personal and professional partnership. Their first three albums spanning the 80s can be held up as a perfect history of that decade’s sound. The electronically haunting The Hurting capturing everything about the early 80s pop music scene. Songs From The Big Chair, for some, exemplifies all the worst excesses of the mid 80s, over-produced and manufactured. They are clearly wrong. It’s a masterpiece of just what could be achieved when the songs, performance and production come together in perfect harmony. The Seeds Of Love bookends the 80s perfectly; over the top, over budget and it’s over. The perfect record for the CD generation. Like many 80s bands the music world had moved on and they weren’t able to meet the demand.

On his own, Roland Orzabal produced two more Tears for Fears albums in the 90s. The slightly underwhelming Elemental in 1993, full of bitterness and angst still but leaving the tunes behind. Maybe Curt was more important than we thought? Talking of Curt, my selection from Elemental is the brutal character assassination of Curt by Roland, Fish Out Of Water. Lyric after lyric recalling their friendship and how badly it’s turned out.

To exorcise our past was our adolescent dream
But now it’s sink or swim since your memory fails
Now in Neptune’s kitchen you will be food for killer whales
And on the crucifix his mother made
Hangs one more martyr to the hit parade
You’re dreaming you’re life away
Fish out of water

1995’s Raoul And The Kings Of Spain is a return to form. The title track an absolute Britpop stormer of a song that Noel Gallagher would have given one of his eyebrows for. Roland found his rock for this album and threw everything at it again; with Falling Down starting with a tribute to Smoke On the Water in its intro and Secrets going for an Imagine piano intro, he was wearing his influences firmly on his sleeve. Sketches Of Pain is right out of the Orzabal songbook of suffering. My choice from this album though is Sorry, a rock song that could have come from The Seeds Of Love. Is it a follow up to Fish Out Of Water? A realisation that maybe he’d overstepped the mark?

I love it and the album is the one I’d recommend if 90s Tears for Fears has passed you by. So where did that leave the band, Roland and Curt? Not exactly washed up but at the height of 90s Britpop, raves, e’s and wizz, completely out of favour as their eighties-ness pigeonholed them as earnest bed wetters and persona non grata in the middle of a lad culture that didn’t talk about its emotions; it just drunk or drugged them into oblivion.

In 2000, due to some unfinished business – paperwork that needed co-signing – Smith and Orzabal got together for dinner and now both in their forties put their differences behind them to work together again. They produced the wonderfully titled Everybody Loves A Happy Ending and, after all that had gone before, it was released in 2004. I love it. It’s everything a Tears for Fears album should be. Bombastic, over the top, a natural successor to Sowing The Seeds Of Love. My choice is the title track which contains influences from just about every band you could name from the 60s and 70s without a hint of embarrassment. After all the pain in my other choices, finally there’s some light at the end of the tunnel. Or is there? The title is a bunch of sunflowers hiding poison ivy beneath the big yellow petals but it’s just a great big old mess of a song that I absolutely love.

Apart from a couple of Best Of’s that’s about it, although there is talk of more new music soon. In the interim Tears for Fears have honed their live act to become one of the best nights out doing the rounds. I wholly recommend them if the day ever comes when we can all go to gigs again. They play the hits, mix things up on a couple of them and throw in the odd cover … which brings me to my final choice. The first time I heard this on a BBC 2 In Concert performance in 2017, I remember sitting spellbound as every single word made everything about Tears for Fears and Roland Orzabal in particular make sense. It was made even more poignant by the news that Roland’s wife had died earlier in the year. I adore it and when I saw him do it live at Hampton Court in 2019 it was a real highlight. I wanted to give him a hug and if I’m honest I still do. It’s Radiohead’s Creep. Goosebumps …

So that’s my ten. It’s been quite a journey going through these songs again and almost impossible leaving some out. It’s not easy feeling concern for a multi-millionaire pop star who’s travelled the world playing his music to legions of fans who clearly adore him, but it was really great to hear Roland sound so relaxed and urbane on the recent Rockonteurs podcast. He was singing about mental health issues before it was trendy. Now these songs show a real strength of character to be admired. I hope this piece is enjoyed by those like me who love Tears for Fears, and encourages those who maybe never got over Roland’s truly awful dancing and crazy hair, to give them a listen with fresh ears. Me? I’ll continue to shout, shout, let it all out, about one of the great misunderstood British bands and a genius called Roland.

 

 

Tears for Fears photo 2

 

Tears for Fears official website

Tears for Fears Discography

Tears for Fears biography (AllMusic)

Dave Ross lives nr Windsor and hides under his online pseudonym Dave Amitri to talk mainly about cricket and music. He has written a drama, “Jimmy Blue”, featuring the music of Del Amitri and is currently writing a series of posts on listening to David Bowie albums for the first time. For updates you can follow him on twitter @DaveAmitri. His previous posts for this site are on The Associates, Thompson Twins.

TopperPost #958

2 Comments

  1. David Lewis
    May 28, 2021

    One of those bands in which you forget the really efficient and good pop. Genius? Not out of the question – the dreams in which I’m dying are the best I ever had – but I’ll require another listen. Loved the article.

  2. Austin
    May 30, 2021

    I enjoyed this – thanks!
    Songs from the Big Chair is an album my wife and I bonded over quite early on. Waiting for the last train back into town at a totally deserted railway station, singing the songs at increasing volume and confidence and both of us knowing all the words.
    Shout is a masterpiece – kicks into a blissful overdrive at “and when you’ve taken down your guard…” . A great moment.

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