Tears For Fears’ breakthrough album, Songs From the Big Chair, was such a huge success in the mid ’80s that it ended up being one of those “must own” records. If you were a fan of pop music, this album was minimally on your radar, if not already in your record or tape collection. Songs From the Big Chair was a pure pop album at its heart, but also incorporated aspects of British new wave, rock and avant-garde.
In 1985, Tears For Fears was founders Roland Orzabal, Curt Smith as well as Ian Stanley and Manny Elias. Orzabal and Smith started the band together in Bath, England in the early ’80s. Their debut album The Hurting, was released in ’83 and was a success in the UK but did not cross over to American audiences. Once their second album, Songs From the Big Chair, was released in early ’85, two major singles then catapulted the band to cross-the-pond success. “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” and “Shout” both hit #1 on the US Billboard Hot 100 and received massive airplay on MTV. The album’s first single was neither of those tracks, however. It was actually “Mother’s Talk”, released ahead of the album in 1984. That song didn’t make a huge impact in the US, but it did get them some attention on college radio. In a way, preparing audiences for what was to come.
What I also found interesting and a tad confusing at the time of the band’s initial success is that Smith takes the lead singing duties on “Everybody Wants to Rule the World”, while Orzabal takes lead on “Shout”. At the time, I was still quite young (10 years old in ’85) and under the impression that bands had one lead singer. I’m not exactly sure how or why I still believed this even though bands I enjoyed prior to Tears For Fears, such as Fleetwood Mac, The Eagles, & The Cars had more than one lead singer, but it was a belief I still held. Watching the videos on MTV and seeing a different band member take lead vocals for both of their big hits threw me off at first.
Once the 4th single from the album, “Head Over Heels”, was released, I was the proud owner of the Songs From the Big Chair cassette thanks to a Christmas present from my parents in 1985. The previous Christmas I had received a tape player and The Cars’ Heartbeat City as the very first cassette I could call my own. Now that I think about it, this Tears For Fears album might have been the third album I ever owned. I believe I procured a copy of Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the U.S.A. sometime in early 1985 (maybe as an Easter gift in lieu of candy) but being the third album in a devoted music lover’s long history of music purchasing isn’t too bad of a placement. Let’s take a look at the songs that made up this masterpiece and why it still holds up today.
Shout (5/5) – What an amazing and epic song to kick off this record. One of the most iconic and well known tracks of the ’80s starts with a simple melody and simple chorus before gradually building and building to its epic finale. Fully deserving as its place in pop music history.
“I’d really love to break your heart.”
The Working Hour (4.5/5) – The opening saxophone solo is a nice touch and it meanders in and out of the entire track to give the song a strong, melancholy vibe. The saxophone is a versatile instrument that was rarely used in pop music as effectively as it was in the ’80s. The overall vibe of this song, thanks to Orzabal’s effective vocals and the instrumentation is chill yet chilling.
“We are paid by those who learn by our mistake.”
Everybody Wants to Rule the World (5/5) – The first song I recall hearing by the band, “EWTRTW” has Smith on vocals bringing the band’s pure pop sound to the forefront. This track was tailor made for radio and was destined to be a #1 hit. Everything clicks here from the music to the lyrics to the chorus to the guitar solo towards the end of the track. Pure pop perfection.
“I can’t stand this indecision, married with a lack of vision.”
Mother’s Talk (5/5) – This track has a propulsive drum beat that compels you to dance, or at least move around in your chair if you’re not feeling ambulatory. This is a rare feat for a Tears For Fears song and shouldn’t be undervalued. Interesting production techniques, including samples, erratic drum beats, string stabs, and vocal echos all make for a memorable end to side A.
“It’s not that you’re not good enough. It’s just that we can make you better.”
I Believe (3/5) – This track is droning, and honestly, a bit dull. Probably the most uninteresting track on the album, but it’s not a total dud. It’s good to show off a variety of sounds and songwriting capabilities and the band does so on this song. Just not one of my personal favorites.
“I believe that if you knew just what these tears were for, they would just pour like every drop of rain.”
Broken (3.5/5) – The energy picks back up for this short “intro” to the epic “Head Over Heels”. It has a strong new wave beat and blends aspects of the following track to create a new, yet familiar one. Overall a good song, but all it really does is get the listener ready for what’s to come next.
“Broken. We are broken.”
Head Over Heels (5/5) – Really? Do I have to explain why this song is amazing and my favorite track on the album? How about the keyboard, drums, chorus, guitar, piano, chorus, drums, piano, “la, la, la, la” and then the finale? Chill inducing and masterful. This song is all about the effectiveness of the piano melody and Orzabal vocals on the chorus. Jesus, that fucking chorus.
“Don’t take my heart, don’t break my heart. Don’t, don’t, don’t throw it away.”
Listen (4/5) – Talk about a slow burner. The longest song on the record, by only a handful of seconds, is the quintessential album closer. It has a hypnotic opening, is massive in scope, has multiple arcs and ends on a dramatic note. A great song through and through even if it doesn’t have the “hook” of the hits on this album.
I loved Songs From the Big Chair back in 1985 and whenever I play it today, I continue to enjoy the stylish sounds, emotive vocals and hooks for days that are found within these 8 tracks. It’s an album I left behind in the ’80s for a several decades until I found a vinyl copy to add to my collection in 2018. It didn’t take long after putting the needle down for the boys from Bath to take me back to being a kid, and the happiness I felt to have music that was now my own. Not my parents or my older sister’s records, but mine. Tears For Fears’, Songs From the Big Chair will always maintain a special place in my memory for it’s significance not only as a pop artifact but also as an artifact for my own personal music collection. Funny how times flies.