It doesn’t rain often in Los Angeles, but when it does, it’s time to listen to Tears for Fears. Specifically, Songs from the Big Chair. The vocals are soothing yet powerful, the instrumentals are enticing yet modest. The album is an old friend who always has your back. This album is my comfort zone.
Released in 1985, Songs from the Big Chair is the British band’s second studio album and biggest success. It managed to top the charts in the United States as well as in Canada, and gave us some of the biggest hits of the 1980s. Whenever a friend asks me what '80s music to listen to, my recommendations almost always include this album.
Side-A is a spiritual experience. It begins with “Shout,” which is arguably one of the most recognizable songs of its time. The song demands to be heard and, frankly, impossible to ignore. The bar is set high for the rest of the album to come, as it starts not with a bang, but a life-altering explosion.
And then we get to “The Working Hour.” I first heard it a year or two ago when a friend texted the song to me. I started playing it and audibly gasped as soon as I heard its sultry saxophone-filled introduction. I listened to the song one, two, three times before texting my friend back THANK YOU. This song is sexy, without trying too hard to be. Two saxophones were used for the songs, and the last two minutes are sans Roland Orzabal’s vocals.
“Everybody Wants to Rule the World” is another stand-out hit of the '80s as the gateway song to Tears for Fears. It was even covered by Lorde as part of the soundtrack for one of The Hunger Games movies in 2013, and in 2017, Tears for Fears opened for Hall and Oates playing the well-respected cover. While the song has a lighter tone to it, Orzabal wrote the song as a commentary on corruption, power, and greed. “Mothers Talk” finishes up the first side, with a reveal of just how edgy the band can be. It was released six months before the album and helped the band gain more recognition.
The second half of the album takes on a softer side with “I Believe.” The song acts as a complimentary whisper to the shout of the album’s first track. It is a necessary break for the listener before what is to come.
Things pick back up with “Broken” and “Head Over Heels,” which are occasionally performed as a single mix, as the two songs bleed easily into one another. “Broken” spends most of its short time without vocals, showing a strong sense of instrumentation. When it ends, there is a defining moment of silence before the opening of “Head Over Heels” that allows us to breath again.
The album ends with “Listen,” a more experimental and softer song compared to everything that has come before it. At almost seven minutes, the song is almost completely instrumentals that sound like the inner workings of a dream you would never want to wake up from.
Most of Tears for Fears’ success can be attributed to their work on Songs from the Big Chair, and over half of the tracks are still popular today. The band, consisting of Orzabal and Curt Smith, broke up in 1991 after three albums together, but the two reunited in 2000. They are currently on tour, as well as regularly played in my apartment. With or without the rain.
- Aly on The Rewind
Want more Tears for Fears? Check out this profile with Rolling Stone from 1985, or watch their 2014 Spotify Landmark performance (which goes to show that they're just as good now as they were back then).