Today’s Cool Album of the Day (#872 in the Series) is Tears for Fears, Songs from the Big Chair
I don’t know that you can name a definitive album of the 1980’s, but if you could, Tears for Fears Songs from the Big Chair would definitely be in the conversation. The follow up to their also classic The Hurting, it is a classic musically as well as a touchstone in social activism. It is an important aspect of the decade for which it rarely gets credit.
Tears for Fears, along with R.E.M., The Cure, Echo and the Bunnymen and a few others were instrumental in bringing 80’s college/alternative/indie rock into the mainstream. This was important because this new genre, and most specifically, Songs from the Big Chair, gave millions of alienated young people around the world an often more intellectual voice that provided a rousing antidote to the cold war fears and rampant glorification of the materialism of the decade
Songs from the Big Chair was also a major milestone in the use of emotive videos on MTV to gain popularity as well as give a visual representation of what a band stood for.
Tears for Fears videos helped cement into people’s consciousness the reality that we could have a more gentle and peaceful world. This potential was first demonstrated with their videos for “Change” and “Pale Shelter” off of The Hurting which championed multiculturalism and the common man but their vision was fully realized with the release of their video for “Shout” the second single release off of Songs from the Big Chair (Mother‘s Talk).
The video for “Shout” is, in reality, quite a simple concept. It just has alternating scenes between Curt Smith and Roland Orzabal singing lyrics into a canyon. What makes it so effective is they are obviously venting some of their world as well as personal frustrations in a beautiful setting juxtaposed to lyrics such as:
“In violent times / you shouldn’t have to sell your soul /
In black and white / they really, really ought to know
Those one-track minds / that took you for a working boy /
Kiss them goodbye / you shouldn’t have to jump for joy”
As well as:
“And when you’ve taken down your guard /
If I could change your mind / I’d really like to break your heart /
I’d really like to break your heart”
Of course, the next video to be released was for their definitive “Everybody Wants to Rule the World.” A dream like song on its own and the video only augments this attribute.
Once again a contradiction in that the video contained serene images of Curt Smith driving in the California desert and along the coast while making a statement on a militaristic and imperialistic world with the songs title and lyric.
The video as well as the song were saying: Yes the world is messed up, but you can still find tranquility and beauty and make a difference if you want to. In fact, the literal meaning of the lyrics according to Curt Smith is “it’s about everybody wanting power, about warfare and the misery it causes.”
The final single released off of Songs from the Big Chair was “Head Over Heels” which once again used video to demonstrate the band’s commitment to education and children by having the narrative take place within a library.
I love “Everybody Wants to Rule the World,” however, “Head Over Heels” is my personal favorite from the album It is one of the most beautifully haunting songs of the decade along with Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart,” Echo and the Bunnymen’s “The Killing Moon,” OMD’s “So in Love,” A-ha’s “The Sun Always Shines on TV” (a vastly superior composition to “Take on Me”) as well as any number of songs from New Order’s catalogue.
The sheer power of the song is aptly demonstrated in the film Donnie Darko in a scene which is the most effective way I’ve ever seen a song used to underscore a scene in a movie, television show or commercial.
Of course, there’s much more to this album than the singles. “The Working Hour” demonstrates the bands vast affinity for pure musical composition and instrumentation. The complexity of the music, in fact, is a vastly underappreciated staple of many bands of the decade including the criminally underrated Talk, Talk as well as Oingo Boingo to name a few. Not to mention, “I Believe” is a beautifully crafted introspective ballad with amazing sax solo interludes and unbelievably heartfelt lyrics.
The entire album is amazing or else it wouldn‘t be as frequently mentioned as being one of the 80‘s best. Put simply, listening to Songs from the Big Chair is to listen to a pastoral, inspirational and hopeful beacon in a primarily morally and ethically corrupt world.
— Clint Corey, Arizona, USA
- “Shout” 6:32
- “The Working Hour” 6:31
- “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” 4:11
- “Mothers Talk” 5:06
- “I Believe” 4:54
- “Broken” 2:38
- “Head over Heels/Broken (live reprise)” 5:02
- “Listen” 6:50
Tears For Fears
- Roland Orzabal – guitar, keyboards, lead vocals, grand piano, bass synth
- Curt Smith – bass guitar, vocals
- Ian Stanley – keyboards, synths,
- Manny Elias – drums
- “Shout”: Sandy McLelland – backing vocals, Chris Hughes – drums
- “The Working Hour”: Jerry Marotta – percussion, Will Gregory – saxophone solos, Mel Collins – saxophone, Andy Davis – grand piano
- “Everybody Wants to Rule the World”: Neil Taylor – second guitar solo, Chris Hughes- Drums & Midi Programming
- “Mothers Talk”: Stevie Lange – backing vocals
- “I Believe”: Will Gregory – saxophone
- “Broken”: Neil Taylor – guitar solo
- “Head Over Heels”: Sandy McLelland – backing vocals, Andy Davis – grand piano, Annie McCaig – backing vocals, Marilyn Davis – backing vocals
- “Listen”: Marilyn Davis – operatic vocal
- See our piece on The Hurting
- See our piece on The Seeds of Love
- Follow author Clint Corey on twitter
Listen to the album on a playlist. Click “Play All”
Here’s the “Shout” video that is referred to. (Sorry about the ‘ad’ but we really wanted the video as part of the piece.)